Monday, October 03, 2011

Clean Air Watch presents its first Dirty Dog of the Month award

By popular demand, Clean Air Watch is debuting a new monthly feature – a dubious achievement award in the universe of air pollution. Think of it a bit like the “darts and laurels” section of the Columbia Journalism Review.

As a watchdog organization, we think it appropriate to carry on the metaphor by designating the recipient as the Clean Air Watch Dirty Dog of the Month.

And there are so many possible “award” winners this month:

• For starters, how about House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who instigated the so-called TRAIN Act, the “worst air pollution bill ever to reach the House floor.”

Or perhaps some of those who sponsored amendments that made a foul –air bill even more odiferous? For instance:

• Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), the former coal-train lobbyist whose amendment would block EPA cleanup of deadly power plant emissions?
• Or Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), who amendment would completely re-write the Clean Air Act by forcing the EPA to set national clean air standards based partly on “what is best for industry’s bottom line, rather than what is best for public health. With this change, Americans would never know whether the air they are breathing is truly healthy.”
• Or perhaps Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-TX), who – carrying the legislative gas can for the oil industry – amended the legislation to preempt important upcoming EPA standards to reduce the smog-producing emissions from gasoline and new passenger vehicles.

Nornally, any or all of these miscreants would deserve the dart.

But this has been an unprecedented occasion.

In this case, the White House broke a campaign promise, sabotaged the hard-working professionals at EPA, encouraged the opponents of clean air, left many millions of Americans stuck breathing dirty air longer – and then tried to cover up the misdeeds with misleading information and half-based political “spin.” All out of political cowardice and the obvious assumption that environmentalists have no options when going to the polls in 2012. More on this theme at

And so the Clean Air Watch Dirty Dog of the Month Award goes to President Barack Obama, with dishonorable mention to White House Chief of Staff William Daley, and OMB regulatory czar Cass Sunstein.

For a little history and context, consider the campaign pledge the Obama-Biden team made in 2008:

“Unlike President Bush, they will listen to his scientific advisers on air quality standards. And they will reverse the Bush administration’s attempts to chip away at our nation’s clean air standards.”

Unfortunately, the President conveniently forgot this pledge when it came time for EPA to reconsider the critical national air quality standards for ozone, or smog, after industry groups trouped to the White House with politically tinged maps of the U.S.

As has been well reported, the President ordered the EPA to stop its responsible and legally correct attempt to right the Bush administration’s wrong.

To make matters worse, the White House then issued misleading information about when the EPA would have another crack at righting the Bush wrong. The President asserted that EPA continuing review of the issue “will result in the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013.”

But that isn’t true. As EPA noted in a recent memo to its regional workers, the agency intends at this point only to “propose” a decision on the ozone question in the fall of 2013. A final decision would not happen until July 2014 at the earliest. These deadlines, of course, could slip also. After the travesty we’ve just witnessed, do we really expect the EPA would be permitted to make such a decision only months before the mid-term elections?

As for Daley, he deserves special opprobrium. He became the duct-work carrying the business lobby’s dirty-air stink into the Oval Office. Daley treated the whole issue as if it were some sort of Chicago back-room deal. It could become an interesting parlor game to guess which Business Roundtable corporation he will join after leaving “public service.”

And – et tu, Sunstein? Well, we know he was once on the staff of the Harvard Lampoon, but this is no joke. He was Daley’s knife-wielding partner behind closed doors and then became the front man trying to cover up the mess. Perhaps his most outrageous comment, as reported September 14 by Politico Pro: “There was no political overriding of the science; in fact, this was a judgment on the merits, it was not a political judgment.”

Oh, please! This may be the most blatant lie I’ve seen since Seinfeld’s Mr. Peterman called out George Costanza. (“George, you're obviously lying, anyone can see that!”

Yes, we know and appreciate that the White House team now says the President would veto the dirty-air TRAIN Act. On the other hand, the shameful White House behavior in the smog case emboldened the TRAIN leaders to attack the Clean Air Act. So don’t claim too much credit for rattling the saber at legislation that may never even come up in the Senate. We will be much more positive if EPA is permitted to move ahead with plans to reduce mercury and toxic emissions from power plants.

Finally, we don’t want this to be an entirely negative review. So we will offer the laurel to those who did stand up for clean air. (We will refrain from calling them Clean Air Rescue Dogs, though you can if you insist.)

During the TRAIN debate in the House of Representatives, some traditional clean-air champs such as Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) remained faithful friends and deserve more praise than they will perhaps ever receive.

But we would like this month to single out for praise four Republican members of the House who broke ranks with their leadership – a tough task in this mob-scene environment – and voted against the dirty-air TRAIN bill.

They are:

Rep. Charles Bass, New Hampshire
Rep. Judy Biggert, Illinois
Rep. Robert Dold, Illinois
Rep. Nan Hayworth, New York

Your constituents – and the nation – should salute you for having the guts to do the right thing.

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