The Fox Is Regulating the Hen House


According to Republican Senator John McCain, who chairs the Science, Commerce and Transportation Committee: "The United States government is responsible for 25 percent of the worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. It is time for the United States government to do its part to address this global problem, and a discussion of mandatory reductions is the form of leadership that is required."

Contrast this with one of the first acts of the present Bush administration upon taking office, declining to join the Kyoto Treaty (ratified by 100 countries) on climate control, taking instead a let's-wait-for-more-research stance.

 

The Kyoto Treaty is pegged to actual reduction of emissions compared to 1990 levels, unlike voluntary measures which are pegged to "intensity," the amount of emission per unit of economic production. Citing that more research was needed to clarify if indeed potential environmental risks exist to warrant taking strong measures, Bush has set a policy that until 2012 will rely on industries voluntarily reducing growth in emission of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide.

 

Critics charge the consequences of not dealing with global warming will have profound effects upon life on this planet.

 

The average earth surface temperature has increased over the past century, by .5 Celsius, a result, no doubt, of the emission of "greenhouse" gases. Some scientists estimate .7 to 2 C of additional warming once the oceans reach equilibrium, plus 2 to 5 of additional warming by 2020 if no action is taken.

 

If these conditions occur, human existence will be negatively affected as sea levels rise by six meters and poleward shifts of climatic belts occur. The number of days per year with ice covering the Great Lakes has decreased by 22 percent since the mid-1800s. If current trends continue, all glaciers in national parks will be gone by 2070. The decline of sea ice by approximately 6 percent from 1978 to 1995 means a continuing rise of sea levels, literally inundating parts of our present seashore, causing beaches to recede. Costal cities might very well be submerged as this century comes to a close.

 

Meanwhile, we have an anti-environmental administration. On March 2001, the fossil fuel industry received a clear victory when the newly installed president decided not to impose new controls on carbon dioxide emissions, a gas believed to be a major cause of global warming. The energy-industry-friendly administration may be due to the links between the industry and crucial White House positions and upper rank positions within key agencies like the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency of the Bush administration.

 

Fredrick Palmer, executive vice president of external affairs for Peabody Energy boasted: "The people running the United States government are from the energy industry. They understand it and they believe in energy supply."

 

Ergo, Secretary of Commerce Evans worked for a Denver oil and gas company for 25 years. Secretary of the Interior Norton reported receiving $285,630 from the energy and natural resources industries during her 1996 bid for the U.S. Senate. And White House chief of staff Card lobbied against fuel efficiency and emission standards when he was president of the American Automobile Manufacturers.

 

Throughout the Bush administration, charged with preserving our environment, are key industry positions held by alumni and supporters of the energy industry who make far-reaching regulatory and policy changes. This helps explain why the Environmental Protection Agency refused to conduct analysis that conflicts with the president's air pollution agenda.

 

According to a recent New York Times front page news report, EPA employees have been told not to analyze, nor release information about mercury, carbon dioxide, or other air pollutants.

 

More recently in November 2003, EPA dropped the investigation of 50 power plants for violations of the Clean Air Act after the agency rewrote regulations to make them less stringent, thus saving the utility industry billions of dollars by no longer requiring them to install new pollution controls.

 

These recommendations came from Vice President Cheney's energy task force, a task force composed mainly by lobbyists and executives of the energy industry whose fortunes are dependant on weakening environmental regulations. Hence it should not be surprising that the utility industry was among the biggest campaign donors to the Bush/Cheney 2000 presidential campaign, and why the procedures and participants of the task force have been kept a "security" secret.

 

Here then, is the question I am left asking: Is it ethical to appoint industry leaders to agencies originally charged with regulating said agencies, to key administrative positions? In other words, should foxes be given the task of regulating the chicken coop?

 

Miguel De La Torre, a self-described progressive Baptist, teaches in the religion department at Hope College in Holland, Mich. His column also appears in the Holland Sentinel.

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