Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Giving Corporate Polluters A Helping Hand

At some point it bears asking: is the Bush Administration actually trying to be the worst on record? Is it some Machiavellian plot to prove the old conservative adage that "government is the problem, not the solution" by being the most irresponsible and ineffectual leadership possible, thus making such conservative drivel a self-fulfilling prophecy? One wonders...

From RedOrbit:

If the Bush administration has its way, some factories won't have to report all the pollution spewed from their smokestacks, making it harder for government scientists to calculate the health risks of the air Americans breathe.

Those changes would exempt companies from disclosing their toxic pollution if they claim to release fewer than 5,000 pounds of a specific chemical - the current limit is 500 pounds - or if they store it onsite but claim to release "zero" amounts of the worst pollutants. Those include mercury, DDT, PCBs and other chemicals that persist in the environment and work up the food chain.

The normal gauge by which the effectiveness of government is measured, or at least should be measured, is how effectively it promotes the common welfare. In this instance, the EPA is certainly not acting in that capacity for the people of the United States. These changes essentially amount to tacit permission to pollute from the Bush Administration.

Certainly this is just another gambit from the old conservative playbook, from the section on the evils of corporate regulation. Unfortunately, an equal commitment to corporate responsibility never seems to enter the conversation at the White House. After all, one of the cornerstones of Bush's environmental policy is an adherence to voluntary reductions in factory emissions in lieu of mandatory standards like the Kyoto protocols. Both of these policies place companies on the "honor system" for reducing hazardous pollution. Since they will no longer have the "regulatory burden" of measurement and reporting bemoaned by the Bush EPA, companies will have no real reason other than civic responsibility to curb emissions. In the America of Enron, WorldCom and Exxon-Mobil, an honor system based on civic responsibility is laughably naive.

Further, this proposed change also underscores the Bush Administration's love of restricting the flow of information. After all, with no measurement system in place, no reporting on the dangers posed by polluting companies is possible. Without that sort of meaningful reporting, it is impossible for scientists to generate any kinds of theories or predictions on the effects of pollution to human health. Perhaps most important of all to Bush, a lack of scientific data on the harm company's are doing to the health of Americans defangs the lobbying efforts of activists looking to curb corporate abuse of the environment. Big wins all the way around for a Republican Administration that values the privileges of corporations over the needs of the people.

So which Americans are most affected by industrial pollution and stand to be harmed even further? Sadly, it doesn't take much imagination to guess (via The Progress Report):

"In 19 states, blacks were more than twice as likely as whites to live in neighborhoods where air pollution seems to pose the greatest health danger," despite President Clinton's executive order to protect all Americans from pollution regardless of race or income. "Poor communities, frequently communities of color but not exclusively, suffer disproportionately," former Clinton EPA director Carol Browner said. "If you look at where our industrialized facilities tend to be located, they're not in the upper middle class neighborhoods."

It seems that, for Bush, there is no price too high for short-term corporate gain, especially when it's not his supporters picking up the tab.

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