Clean up America by Cleaning out EPA

Published July 1, 1999

The Environmental Protection Agency, having been turned into a political tool by the current administration, has jeopardized the lives of the American people and the quality of our environment.

Sources within the troubled agency have told us that, from the time Vice President Gore’s friend and ally, Carol Browner, was installed as EPA administrator, after the 1992 election, the very character of the institution has shifted. Sound science is ignored in favor of advancing the agendas of the environmental lobbying groups that form the core of Gore’s political support. Whether those groups have good intentions for protecting the environment or simply wish to expand their political power is, perhaps, a subject for another time. The fact that they often ignore sound science when advancing their agendas via EPA is obvious and a source of concern.

The effect of Browner’s decisions, based on those agendas, is often costly and devastating. It takes only a few examples to make the point.

  • Last issue we wrote of a boy whose death is suspected to be linked to sludge from a municipal waste treatment plant–sludge containing human feces and hospital sewage–which was spread on a field near his home. Dr. Alan Rubin, who wrote the rule requiring municipal sludge to be spread on fields, rather than dumped in the ocean, as had been the practice, said in sworn testimony, “[sludge] wasn’t too toxic for the ocean. The reason we got it out of the ocean was basically an image-political type deal.” Even more disturbing, EPA had no interest in investigating the cause of the boy’s death.

David Lewis, an EPA microbiologist who has attempted to investigate the toxicity of sludge and has spoken out against the agency’s decision, has been harassed by its administrators. He has won several suits against them and his legal battles are ongoing.

  • Similarly, the decision to use oxygenates such as MTBE in gasoline was based on politics, rather than science. Automotive engineers and some of EPA’s own scientists have long doubted the value of oxygenates in reducing automotive pollution, and several have expressed concern about MTBE’s possible negative effects on drinking water.

Now, scientists at the prestigious National Research Council (composed of the National Academy of Science, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine) have found oxygenate additives to have little pollution-reducing value. Other fuel additives and new engine technologies are solely responsible for reductions in urban air pollution in recent years.

  • Convincing evidence is accumulating that a new auto emissions test, the IM 240–adopted in a number of states at EPA’s urging–is highly unreliable, far more costly than anticipated, and of little value in reducing pollutants in auto emissions. Long waiting lines at testing stations, with cars idling at times for hours, may be causing a net increase in air pollution. Moreover, the dynamometers used in the IM 240 test often damage cars, sometimes endangering drivers and other motorists.

The list of well-documented examples of science ignored in favor of politics could go on, virtually forever–because it keeps growing under Browner’s administration.

The sole solution, at this point, seems to lie with the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and consists of two parts.

First, credible, independent-peer reviewed science must be required for all regulations issued by EPA. Carefully crafted legislation must require such review for all future regulations; many highly controversial past regulations should be reviewed as well. The legislation should require National Research Council participation in all such reviews. We know many fine career scientists at EPA–whose work is currently being ignored–who would welcome such a process.

The second step is to remove Carol Browner as administrator and insist that the President nominate a replacement with solid environmental-science credentials.

These actions will be difficult. They will take hard work and courage. The environmental lobby will be fierce in its attacks on anyone who tries to reform EPA. After all, EPA funds many of these groups. But action is required. Lives and the environment are at stake.