Senator Boxer in The Hill: "Bush's EPA - through the looking glass"
April 22, 2008
The following was published in The Hill newspaper. To view the op-ed on their site, click HERE.
Bush's EPA - through the looking glass
By Senator Barbara Boxer
Published April 22, 2008
Environmental protection in America had a banner year in 1970. We celebrated the first Earth Day on April 22 of that year, and on December 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency opened its doors. President Nixon said it should be a "strong, independent agency" that established and enforced environmental protections. Over the next three decades, Democrats and Republicans joined together often to support EPA's progress in cleaning up our nation's air, water and other resources.
EPA's programs improved the quality of our environment, protecting our children and families from pollution.
Sadly, our nation's most important independent protector of public health and the environment has taken a turn in a new and disturbing direction. After nearly eight years of the Bush administration, the EPA is a shadow of its former self. EPA has departed from its mission of environmental protection and instead seems to have aligned itself with special interests - the very polluters they were established to defend against. This has increasingly put the agency at odds with the laws it is supposed to uphold.
I guess maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I always learned that when laws are passed by Congress, and signed by the president, they must be obeyed. But that's not what's happening when it comes to the Bush administration and the laws that protect our environment.
A look at recent federal court decisions shows just how far the Bush EPA has moved away from its responsibility to uphold the nation's bedrock environmental laws.
• In New York v. EPA, in 2006, the D.C. Circuit Court said that EPA's approach to the laws governing air pollution from power plants would make sense only "in a Humpty Dumpty world."
• In New Jersey v. EPA, this past February, the D.C. Circuit overturned EPA's rule seeking to weaken controls on toxic mercury emissions, saying: EPA's "explanation deploys the logic of the Queen of Hearts, substituting EPA's desires for the plain text" of the Clean Air Act.
• In Sierra Club v. EPA, handed down by the D.C. Circuit in March of 2007, a frustrated court overturned EPA's rules that were supposed to control toxic pollutants from large brick and ceramics kilns, telling the agency that "if the Environmental Protection Agency disagrees with the Clean Air Act's requirements for setting emissions standards, it should take its concerns to Congress. If EPA disagrees with this court's interpretation of the Clean Air Act, it should [appeal]....In the mean time, it must obey the Clean Air Act as written by Congress and interpreted by this Court."
• And in the landmark case Massachusetts v. EPA, the Administration fought to avoid its responsibility to deal with the threat of global warming. They took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected their arguments and ruled that global warming emissions are pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
There are many more examples of courtroom defeats for this administration. We are fortunate that the courts have stepped in time and time again to stop the Bush EPA in its tracks and restore the integrity of the laws that are designed to protect us.
Federal agencies like EPA are afforded great deference in their application of the law, but in several cases judges have ruled that the law is so clear on its face that EPA didn't have a leg to stand on. So these are not instances of subtle differences of opinion - the courts have turned to Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" to find words that capture the backward logic applied to environmental policy by the Bush administration.
These decisions represent the views of a wide spectrum of judges, appointed by presidents of both parties. Republican presidents appointed seven of the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Thank goodness for the balance of powers in our Constitution.
A close look at this track record leads to the inevitable conclusion that the EPA has turned from environmental enforcer to environmental outlaw.
This transformation is having real consequences. When the EPA deviates from health-based recommendations from its scientists we know one thing for sure: People will get sick, and some will die. For example, EPA's own analysis shows that EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson's recent decision to set the ozone standard at a level less protective of health than the range recommended by EPA's scientific advisory committee could result in between approximately 1,000 and 2,000 more premature deaths each year.
On this Earth Day, as we reflect upon the final days of an administration that has vandalized our environmental laws, we must remain vigilant to ensure that no further damage takes place. We must look to the day - less than a year from now - when the Environmental Protection Agency emerges from this Alice-in-Wonderland world of twisted logic and tortured arguments. Then it will be up to all of us to begin to repair the damage that has been done, so that the EPA can get back to what matters - ensuring a healthy environment for American families from coast to coast.
Senator Boxer is chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.