Thursday, July 20, 2006

An example of a dying art: real journalism

A quick note here to point out an excellent example of a dying art: real journalism!

All too often these days, reporters at big newspapers or broadcast networks simply repeat what they are told by the government or other powerful entities.

In this case, the writer (from Cox News Service in DC) actually delved beneath the superficial baloney.

In this story, which appears in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he did a good job pointing out that a local Georgia witness before a Senate committee basically made up stuff about pollution coming from Africa – and that her senator, Johnny Isakson, just repeated the fiction. All of it part of an effort to apply political pressure to prevent the US EPA from setting air pollution standards that would actually prevent us from dropping dead so quickly.


**

EPA pressured on dirty air standard

Jeff Nesmith - Cox Washington Bureau
Thursday, July 20, 2006

Washington --- Bebe Heiskell says she doesn't know the origin of the soot and dust that has her northwest Georgia county on the environmental hot seat.

She thinks some of it may be coming from Alaska and some from Africa.

"Sixty percent of it's not coming from here," Heiskell, the lone commissioner of Walker County, said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

Walker County was classified as a "nonattainment" county last year by the Environmental Protection Agency because of high levels of dust and soot.

The classification restricts federal grants for highway construction and, equally important in Heiskell's view, frightens off new industry.

Heiskell testified last week before a Senate committee hearing on an upcoming EPA decision to set new limits for "fine particle" air pollution standards.

Walker isn't the only Georgia county with soot trouble. Around the state, 28 counties did not meet the EPA's standard in 2005, including a majority of metro counties.

The federal agency, which proposed last year to leave the annual average limits unchanged, is under federal court order to make a final decision by Sept. 27.

Under the rule it has proposed, the air in a county could have an annual average concentration of fine particles no greater than 15 micrograms (or millionths of a gram) per cubic meter of air, the same limit set under the Clinton administration in 1997.

Allowable daily averages would be reduced from 65 micrograms to 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

Jobs vs. health

EPA has been under pressure from environmental and health groups to set stiffer standards when it adopts the final rule.

On the other side are industries and officials in places like Walker County and its next-door neighbor, Catoosa County, who say an annual standard any more stringent would cost jobs.
They are supported in Congress by Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and others.

Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental organization, said two sets of hearings on the issue by Inhofe's Senate Environment and Public Works Committee were "designed to apply political pressure to the EPA" to weaken the final standards.

EPA's own scientists and organizations such as the American Heart Association, the Sierra Club and numerous national, state and local groups have charged that EPA's proposed standard would leave uncorrected air conditions that cause thousands of deaths per year in America.
Fine particles are bits of dust and soot that are no more than 2.5-millionths of a meter in diameter. Most of this pollution comes from industry smokestacks and the exhausts of automobiles, scientists say.

'Outside influences'

The north end of Walker County touches the southern city limits of Chattanooga and the west side runs along the Alabama line.

Ignored by designers of the interstate highway system and reeling from decades of industrial decline, it has little vehicle traffic or industrial pollution, Heiskell said.

"Walker County's nonattainment status is almost exclusively due to outside influences on our air quality, including up to 60 percent ... transported from Alaska, Canada and, amazingly, Africa," she testified during last week's hearing.

She added in the interview Wednesday that none of the dust pollution appears to originate in Atlanta because some of the counties between Walker County and Atlanta have not been declared in "nonattainment."

"I don't know what I'm going to do," she said. "My hands are tied. I don't know what to do."
She said the county hired Atlanta atmospheric chemist Craig Smith two years ago to try to find out where the pollution was coming from.

Smith said EPA's nonattainment decision would have gone the other way if agency officials had not counted 10 days in 2002 and 2003 when the level of dust in Walker County "spiked" unaccountably.

He reasoned --- in a report rejected by EPA --- that particulates on those days resulted from fires in Kansas, Canada, Arkansas and Alaska.

It's not clear where Heiskell heard that some of Walker County's pollution might have drifted over from Africa. Smith said that was not part of his report.

Even so, Isakson said Wednesday that Walker County is "the recipient of pollution from another continent."

"We're punishing the wrong person," he added.

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