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ACT Inspector General Finds Bush EPA All Business, No Science
(Beyond Pesticides, February 7, 2005)
In a scathing indictment of the Bush Administration’s EPA, the agency’s own administration-appointed Inspector General, Nikki L. Tinsley, found that EPA “senior management,” (meaning political appointees) had rigged data and not met its legal responsibility to protect children’s health. While the issue is mercury emissions from coal-fired electric utilities, environmentalists and public health advocates have pointed to a pattern of agency proposals, analyses, and decisions which ignore scientific data, exposure, and impact on children, instead deferring to industry wishes. Ms. Tinsley's office issued a press release on February 3, 2005.

The EPA Inspector General’s report, Additional Analyses of Mercury Emissions Needed Before EPA Finalizes Rules for Coal-Fired Electric Utilities, Report No. 2005-P-00003, February 3, 2005, was requested in April 2004 by one Independent and six Democract U.S. Senators -- U.S. Senators Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Joe Lieberman (D-Ct.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), and Ron Wyden (D-Or.). A summary of the report is also available. See Senators' letter.

The February 3, 2005 report finds, “Evidence indicates that EPA senior management instructed EPA staff to develop a Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standard for mercury that would result in national emissions of 34 tons annually, instead of basing the standard on an unbiased determinaion of what the top performing units were achieving in practice.” The evaluation finds that because the assumptions imposed on the analysis are incorrect, the allowable level of mercury pollution proposed by EPA does not meet “the minimum level for a MACT standard required by the Clean Air Act.” EPA issued proposed rules for regulating mercury emissions on January 30, 2004 and the final rule is expected in March 2005. EPA says that onece airborne, mercury can be deposited into water, where it bioaccumulates in fish and animals at the top of the food chain. Human cosumption fo fish is, according to EPA, the primary method of exposure to mercury, which as been shown to cause neurological and fetal developmental problems.

The seven Senators had asked the Inspector General to examine four serious concerns with how the EPA prepared its proposed rule to regulate mercury emissions from power plants: 1) the Agency failed to perform an analysis of a range of regulatory options, which is required by a standing Executive Order; 2) interagency reviewer(s) appear to have scrubbed the rule's language to downplay scientific evidence about the hazards of mercury pollution; 3) the Agency appears to have taken action against senior career staff after EPA Children's Health Advisory Committee criticized the rule; and 4) the rule contains verbatim or very similar language to what is in industry documents. The proposed rule, the Senators said, has been tainted by industry influence and scientific dishonesty.

A bipartisan group of 45 senators also sent a letter to former EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt urging him to withdraw the mercury proposal and re-propose something stronger. As evidence of the serious health threat that mercury-laced emissions pose, the Senators cited an EPA report that concluded that the number of infants with unsafe levels of mercury in their blood had doubled from EPA's original estimates, to 630,000 newborns.

"Congress and the public need to know whether EPA's rulemaking process can be trusted to put the public's health first," said Mr. Jeffords. "The health of hundreds of thousands of American children is in jeopardy because of mercury pollution. We must be able to rely on the federal government to serve and protect the public, not just the special interests. But so far the Bush Administration has attempted to shut down our efforts to conduct oversight of its air pollution policies. I urge the EPA Inspector General to investigate quickly to discover any improprieties, so they can be resolved and EPA can produce a better, more credible rule."

"The Administration's credibility and EPA's independence in making these decisions about mercury are so dubious by now that only a top-to-bottom review can get to the bottom of this," said Mr. Leahy. "How and why was this industry-ghostwritten, scientifically bankrupt mercury mess created? The American people deserve to know the answers, and the public deserves a mercury plan that will put their interests over the special interests."

"Once again, President Bush has decided to distort science to justify a policy that was tailor made for industry," said Ms. Clinton. "We already know that language written by industry lobbyists was cut-and-pasted directly into the proposed rules, and the President's staff doctored the proposal to down play the health threat posed by mercury. New Yorkers deserve a full, independent investigation as soon as possible."

According to environmentalists and public health advocates, EPA’s problem of biasing science to support special interest industry groups is not unique to mercury, but extends throughout the agency, including its pesticide program. In comments submitted to EPA January 31, 2005 on the hazards of pentachlorophenol (PCP), by Beyond Pesticides and other groups, the agency was told, “In its first [1999] analysis, EPA estimated that children’s residential post-application exposure resulting from widespread use of PCP-treated utility poles poses an unacceptable cancer risk. Rather than address this risk and protect children, this risk has disappeared from the risk assessment with a simple unsubstantiated statement that this exposure does not occur.“ EPA is moving to reregister PCP without analyzing the high hazard impact on public health and the environment from its acknowledged contaminants dioxin and hexachlorobenzene.

TAKE ACTION: For more information on what you can do to protect your family and fight a politicized EPA on this issue, see NRDC’s Mercury Contamination in Fish: A Guide to Staying Healthy and Fighting Back. Write your members of Congress and let them know that you disapprove of EPA’s lack of science on this issue, and pentachlorophenol, 2,4-D, and other pesticides.