Monday, June 26, 2006

Clean Air Watch to EPA: Don’t Let Oil Industry Pollute Clean Air Standards

Frank O’Donnell,
Clean Air Watch
June 27, 2006
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Public Workshop on National Ambient Air Quality Standards

Thank you very much for taking the time to receive public comment on this critical issue.

And let me also join with my colleagues from the American Lung Association in thanking EPA’s career staff for their consistent dedication to working in the public interest.

I have one over-riding message for you:

Don’t pollute this process with politics.

And don’t let the oil industry or other big special-interest polluters -- or White House political operatives -- interfere with the EPA’s scientific integrity.

We fear that’s exactly what is going on here. Indeed, that might be the principal purpose of this exercise.

The integrity of this process – which is fundamental to the Clean Air Act – could be destroyed if you follow through with the American Petroleum Institute suggestion to eliminate the so-called staff paper and replace it with a more politically driven approach.

Let me say that no reasonable person would scorn efforts to truly improve the process, and I will have a few observations in a minute about potential improvements.

But the real question is – is this about improving the process, or about corrupting it with special-interest politics?

In reviewing the background, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the fix might be in.

Let’s do a quick review:

Last December, the EPA administrator proposed changes to the national air quality standards for particle soot. His proposal was weaker than that recommended by EPA’s career staff or by the agency’s science advisers.

When confronted with the discrepancy, the EPA administrator had no coherent response. Indeed, he sounded like a naughty child who had been caught fibbing.

And later it was revealed that unknown red-pen censors had made changes in EPA’s earlier drafts. The situation was reminiscent of the White House aide who censored the government’s scientific assessments of global warming – before he resigned and went to work for ExxonMobil. And there is concern that the secret hand of the oil industry may be at work once again.

Just as EPA was about to make its position on particle soot public, it was disclosed that Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock had ordered a review of the standard-setting process.

We believe this review was ordered to make sure that the head of the EPA or the White House would never again be embarrassed by truth-seeking agency professionals. It was ordered to make sure that politics would be interjected into the process earlier to make sure those professionals toed the line. It was designed to bring out the red pen much earlier.

Indeed, the arbitrary deadline imposed on EPA’s staff bolstered the concern that there was political urgency to this “review process.” Various stakeholders were told to get their opinions in pronto or miss the bus. Some, including Clean Air Watch, the American Lung Association and others, noted that the initial deadline was “far too abbreviated to provide for adequate public input and review.” But the bus was indeed pulling out of the station.

Our concerns were heightened in March, when the bus arrived, in the form of recommendations by assistant administrators William Wehrum and George Gray.

Amid the smoky fumes of bureaucratic jargon, came the suggestion by the American Petroleum Institute: kill the traditional staff paper and replace it with an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking drafted by EPA’s political management.

Well, that would solve the problem of the White House being embarrassed by those tree-hugging bureaucrats! But would that actually improve the agency’s mission of protecting public health? Quite the opposite.

I don’t think there is a need to take up time reviewing how the process works today. The American Lung Association has done an excellent review and I would like to associate Clean Air Watch with it.

Just a few quick things to highlight: As you know, the National Ambient Air Quality Standards are the heart and lungs of the Clean Air Act. They form the life support for all the specific cleanup programs under the Clean Air Act.

The law charges EPA with setting public health standards based solely on scientific information. Economic or political considerations are not to be factored in. A unanimous Supreme Court came to that conclusion – rejecting the arguments by the oil industry and other special interest polluters who sought to make this a political rather than a scientific exercise.

Until now, the process has worked pretty well. As I noted earlier, improvements to any system are always possible. We agree with the American Lung Association on potential improvements here, including:

  • Devoting more resources to the review process;
  • Spending more attention on the effects of pollution on children and other vulnerable groups;
  • and Creating an integrated planning document vetted by the agency’s science advisers and the public.

    But, fundamentally, we expect you to protect the scientific integrity of the standard-setting process.

    That means rejecting the oil company special-interest attempt to win here what they lost at the Supreme Court – their attempt to corrupt the process with politics.

1 comment:

henrykwool said...

This is ridiculous. The owners of the companies are also humans.Their rights also have to be protected.
It was the federal government that mandated the use of MTBE.MTBE use was legal.And when the government took this action back in 1990, they of course knew about the effects that MTBE could cause. Ok, You might argue that the government didn't know. Then how do you suppose the government can legalise a chemical in the market without appropriate testing done?
First itself, the government should not have mandated its use even when it knew about its effects. And now holding the oil industry liable for following a congressional mandate is not appropriate.
I saw this sentence in your article "But the EPA says that the additive was not specifically required and that refiners could have chosen to use ethanol or other oxygenates." .The oxygenates were MBTE and Ethanol.And, now, looking at the present scenario of the price rise, do you expect that any oil company would have prefered the use of ethanol over MTBE.After all business is done for profit.
The issue about MTBE and MTBE LITIGATION has to be better researched before making the oil companies liable for the clean -up.