August 22, 2008
By Javier Sierra
Should the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) change its name to the Cronyism Protection Agency? It wouldn’t be a bad idea considering the string of scandals that are shaking an entity that determines the well-being on an entire nation.
Created in 1970 to protect “human health and secure the natural environment,” the EPA is charged with keeping our communities safe from environmental degradation, something we Latinos know first hand. Sixty-six percent of us live dangerously close to a toxic site. That is two thirds of the 45 million Latinos who live the U.S.
Let’s start with the scandal that started where fish start to rot, at the head. In 2007, the State of California, for decades the victim of the country’s worst air quality, requested from the EPA a special Clean Air Act waiver to cut car emissions by 30 percent by 2016. This would have forced the car industry to produce much cleaner vehicles for their biggest domestic market. It would have also improved the quality of the air breathed by the state with the country’s largest Latino population.
But, incredibly, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, ignoring the recommendations of his agency’s own scientists, denied the request, alleging that they did not find separate California standards are needed to “meet compelling and extraordinary conditions.”
Something in Johnson’s decision smelled funny to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who after months of investigations called him to testify under oath about the controversy. During the hearings, and later before the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, Johnson repeated several times that the decision was only his and that the White House had nothing to do with his rejection.
But what goes around comes around, and last month, a former top EPA official declared before Boxer’s committee that Johnson first decided to give a temporary exemption to California but that he changed his mind under White House pressure.
Four senators, calling Johnson a “failure,” demanded his immediate resignation and requested that the Justice Department investigate whether he had lied under oath.
Johnson rejected the accusations and declined to appear to testify again. But the scandal hit the agency where it hurts. In an email leaked to the media, a top EPA official instructed the staff not to answer any questions from Congress, the EPA’s Inspector General or the press.
But this is not the first time the White House has used the EPA to protect its political ambitions. During his entire presidency, George W. Bush has insisted that curbing global warming pollution “would have crippling effects on our entire economy.” But his own administration contradicts his words. An EPA report leaked to the media found that curbing greenhouse gases would have astronomical benefits for American society.
It’s no wonder the White House has blocked the report’s publication and any Congressional investigations into the matter because the report’s conclusion turned the arguments of the global warming deniers upside down. To boot:
“Technology is readily available to achieve significant reductions in light-duty vehicle greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2020 (and beyond).”
“The benefits of these standards far outweigh the costs.”
“Owners of vehicles complying with the new standard will recoup their increased vehicle costs within 3-7 years.”
Assuming gas prices around $3.50 per gallon, “the benefit to society could be in excess of $2 trillion” through 2040.
Meanwhile just when hundreds of thousands of Latino families each week must decide whether to use their money at the gas pump or at the supermarket Big Oil has just announced their biggest profits ever.
ExxonMobil, for instance, made $1,485.55 per second last quarter, for a total of $11.6 billion. ConnocoPhillips raked in $5.4 billion, even though it sold 200,000 fewer oil barrels per day than the same quarter in 2007.
Despite these profits, Big Oil and their friends in Washington only know how to ask for more for themselves and less for the consumer.
Indeed, something is rotten at the EPA.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Visit www.sierraclub.org/ecocentro.