Environment under attack with Bush | VailDaily.com

Environment under attack with Bush

Alan Braunoltz

Critics of laws that provide safeguards for our common assets (air, water, public lands, national wildlife) like to focus public attention on arcane and obscure animals that supposedly are blocking progress. This is an old conjuror’s trick of distraction. The laws they want to dismantle are the ones that also help protect the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat and the land you live on. This is all part of the environment.

Sen. Inhofe consistently scores a zero with the League of Conservation voters and refers to government departments like the Environmental Protection Agency as Gestapo bureaucracies. So much for that warm and fuzzy election literature!

His Web site uses phrases like “common sense,” “sound science,” “true benefits S true costs” of environmental regulations.

I’m guessing this is the same “sound science” that the Bush administration is applying to the National Institute of Health. The NIH is the nation’s premier health research center and is supposed to follow the scientific method of impartial analysis of available evidence.

In an unprecedented move, White House staffers have grilled well-respected health professionals who are potential appointees to advisory committees. Their political views need to conform. Questions asked include “Did you vote for the president?” and if not, “Why aren’t you supporting the president?” So much for insulating medical research at the NIH from politics. “Sound science” apparently only reflects Republican morals.

One rejected appointee scored a black mark because he favored reducing the spread of HIV by providing free syringes to addicts. That’s a policy morally opposed by the president.

I can see both sides to the moral argument over needle exchange, but selecting scientists to fit a particular view isn’t good science.

Cost-benefit analysis is really a subjective and manipulative game when applied to something as complex and interconnected as the environment. Where do you draw the line on what it does for us and how to put a dollar value on it? It is relatively easy to count the short-term dollars saved by dumping waste and earned by resource extraction. Apply cost-benefit to an elephant and you end up with ivory knick-knacks. Myopic focus on the bottom line allows one to disregard those little side issues of ethics and morals, Enron, anyone?

A recent study published in the Journal of Health Affairs found that air pollution significantly increased medical problems and associated costs. The report concluded that reducing pollution’s impacts on health could save society tens of billions of dollars per year, not to mention save and improve some lives. The moral-ethical bit. Asthma attacks are frightening to watch, and I can’t imagine struggling to breathe.

Sounds like reducing air pollution could be one of those “common sense” “sound science” cost-benefit slam dunks. Apparently not. Our government is starting to dismantle parts of the Clean Air Act by changing the “new source review” requirement to reduce

pollution emissions when upgrading power plants or factories. Sort of like bringing your house up to current code when you remodel.

Proponents of the rule change say its greater flexibility will encourage small improvements in pollution reduction. Up to now plants tended to do nothing, since any work would require a whole new and expensive system. Opponents claim that now the plants can upgrade without doing any pollution work, and we are losing ground on cleaning up the air.

Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords called it “a gift to industry S means more pollution and less protection.” As the order to change the NSR came from an energy task force comprised mainly of business interests, I’m inclined to agree. This isn’t a Republican versus Democrat issue. This is industry versus the public.

Republican New York Gov. George Pataki is a supporter of planned lawsuits by Connecticut and New York prosecutors against the proposed change. The states will sue to safeguard their citizens. An administration comprised strongly of former CEOs and industry lobbyists seems to prefer healthy balance sheets to healthy people.

Cynics may point to the $4 million that the power industry donated to election coffers. I’m not so sure, as that’s looking to the past and true leaders look ahead. What you can get in the future is much more interesting.

Alan Braunholtz writes a weekly column for the Daily.

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