EPA being forced to censor environmental concerns

Warnings about the Bush Administration's plans to build more roads across national forests from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been self-censored.

According to documents released this week by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), comments about a host of environmental problems ranging from impaired public drinking water to invasive plant issues were deleted from papers submitted to the US Forest Service by the EPA.

This summer, the Bush Administration announced its decision to repeal the Roadless Area Conservation Rule and replace it with a plan that allowed road building in general unless the host state objected and submitted its own plan for protecting in-state roadless areas (see related story).

In response to a call from the Forest Service for comments on the new plan, the EPA prepared a document that proposed making alterations in order to:

  • Lessen the deterioration of water quality in streams affected by sediment washing from logged areas and the resulting loss of wildlife habitat

  • Address the US $8.4 million backlog "for road repair and maintenance of existing roads" in national forests

  • Give states more than 18 months to put together and initiate their own protection plans

    Executive director of PEER, Jeff Ruch claimed that EPA employees said a political appointee within the EPA office for enforcement and compliance dismissed the staff's draft as a "rant" and ordered the objections stricken.

    As a result, the final letter raised no opposition to the plan, merely suggesting that its concerns about water quality be addressed by an advisory board.

    "Things have got pretty extreme when the Environmental Protection Agency is no longer permitted to voice environmental concerns," Mr Ruch pointed out.

    He added that "never was heard a discouraging word" was no longer just a lyric from Home on the Ranch, but the new federal environmental mantra.

    According to PEER, this is just the latest in a string of recent occurrences in which the EPA's pollution-related concerns have been self-censored out of inter-agency communications.

    Similar objections by EPA specialists to Bush Administration plans to allow snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, to greatly expand coal bed methane production on federal range lands and to exempt Pentagon agencies from toxic waste regulations have all been removed from official correspondence, the organisation claims.

    This comes in stark contrast to the UK Government, which is currently trying to lead both governmental departments and industry by its own example, putting environmental and sustainability issues at the top of its agenda (see related story).

    "Message control is no substitute for stewardship," Mr Ruch concluded. "The Bush Administration has raised toadyism to an art form."

    Dr James Hensen, a former top climate scientist at NASA also recently went to the New York Times and blew the whistle on attempts by the Bush Administration to suppress scientific information about carbon emissions and global warming (see related story), saying that political interference in the flow of scientific information had become "institutionalised" under President Bush.

    By Jane Kettle

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