Better Angels

"...all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." ---Abraham Lincoln, First Innaugural Address

Monday, August 30, 2004

When in doubt, make stuff up.

Like many Americans, the Biblios belong to AAA. This month's member's magazine has a special report on the election, wherein the candidates answer AAA's questions about mobility. In his answer to a question about traveling "without hurting the environment" Bush states:

In addition, I am currently finalizing a rule to dramatically lower
sulfur emissions from diesel engines along with an interstate air quality rule
that will reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by nearly 70% by 2018. The Natural Resources Defense Council called this rule the most
significant public health step in a generation.

Wow. That's really impressive. Except it isn't true. The NRDC did call a proposed EPA rule reducing diesel emissions in light trucks and buses "the most significant public health advance in a generation." But it wasn't one of Bush's. That statement, attributed to the NRCD's senior attorney Richard Kassel, was included in a press release dated December 21 2000. Hey, wasn't somebody named Clinton the president then?

When Bush took office in 2001, much ado was made of the fact that new EPA head Christine Todd Whitman was planning on proceeding with the Clinton-era diesel reductions. The new diesel fuel standards were effective starting in March 2001. Unfortunately...

Almost immediately after Governor Whitman's historic announcement last year, industry associations representing the oil industry, the engine makers and several individual companies filed lawsuits challenging the regulation and seeking to stop EPA from implementing it. NRDC and several other environmental and health organizations intervened in the litigation to help defend EPA's rule. Today's decision soundly rejected the industry contentions, and allows EPA to proceed with implementing its rule. (NRCD press release, May 3, 2002)

Two years after it was first proposed, the EPA was finally able to implement the rule. Even with the delay, this can't be the rule Bush is talking about in his response to AAA. So what does he mean?

The strange thing is, the quote by Kassel has a life of its own. Somehow, it got attached to a completely different diesel emissions rule proposal, this one regarding off-road diesel engines, like tractors and bulldozers. The NRDC expressed disapproval of this rule when it was proposed in 2002. Kassel is quoted in a June 2002 article from the San Francisco Chronicle:

But Rich Kassel, at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, said he viewed the administration initiative as "a back-door way for the oil industry and its friends in the Bush administration to reopen last year's highway diesel rule. Obviously, we will strongly oppose it if it goes forward in any forum." The EPA appears to be "ceding its full regulatory authority to the White House Office of Management and Budget to jointly produce a rule that would consider emissions trading between trucks and buses and farm and construction equipment."

A NRDC press release from the same month uses similar language:

"The White House OMB shouldn't be involved in writing environmental regulations, especially when it favors a scheme to allow emissions trading between trucks and buses and farm and construction equipment," said NRDC attorney Rich Kassel. "Although beneficial to the oil industry, trading away reductions in diesel emissions would be unhealthy for citizens and unacceptable to NRDC."

The NRDC supported the 2003 proposal for an off-road diesel emissions rule, warning, however that

"...It is critical that industry lobbyists do not weaken the proposal -- by weakening the 2007 Highway Diesel Rule, exempting any engines from the final rule, or by creating emissions trading or other schemes that would reduce the environmental and public health benefits of the EPA's proposal. Moreover, this Proposal shouldn't be a Trojan horse for radical cost-benefit analyses promoted by the White House Office of Management and Budget that could undermine other important environmental and public health and safety programs."

When the rule, now known as the Nonroad Diesel Rule of 2004 was finally enacted in May of 2004, Kassel was quoted as saying "This rule will go a long way toward reducing the significant pollution problem of nonroad diesel engines...Unfortunately, this positive step stands in contrast with the administration's backward slide on other air pollution issues, especially power plants."

So, again, this can't be the rule Bush mentions in the AAA magazine, unless he was asked the question back in April. Even assuming that is the case and that Bush was referring to the Nonroad Diesel Rule sometime in the weeks before it was finalized...it is still NOT the rule that inspired the Kassel quote. But this doesn't stop the Bush Administration from repeating it on the White House website. (Scroll down to M.S. Mclead's question)

The other plan Bush mentions in his answer to AAA, the interstate air quality rule, sounds like something to do with the interstate highway system. But it's actually a rule to regulate the emissions from power plants that blow across state lines. It has nothing to do with the question asked, and is certainly not what Kassel was referring to in his quote. In fact, the NRDC criticized the proposed rule in a December 17, 2003 press release:

"As expected, the Bush administration's plan to clean up air pollution is too little, too late," said John Walke, director of NRDC's clean air project. "It's no wonder power companies and industry lobbyists are cheering this plan."

The Sierra Club reports that the Bush "Clear Skies" program actually allows for MORE pollution than allowed by adequate enforcement of our current Clean Air Act. Although the EPA has bundled the IAQR into what it calls the Clean Air Rules of 2004, it is still clearly the same program proposed in the 2003 State of the Union Address, which also called for reducing air pollution 70% by 2018. The Sierra Club isn't alone in objecting to Clear Skies. The American Lung Association, Clean Air Task Force, Clean Water Action, Clear The Air, League of Conservation Voters, National Environmental Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and World Wildlife Federation released this press backgrounder on 2/7/03, stating, in part:

The Bush administration's air pollution plan would weaken the public health protections of the current Clean Air Act. It would threaten public health and help big polluters by delaying and diluting cuts in power plants' sulfur, nitrogen and mercury pollution compared to timely enforcement of current law. It would roll back the current law's public health safeguards protecting local air quality, curbing pollution from upwind states, and restoring visibility in our national parks. Finally, it also would do nothing to curb power plants' growing emissions of carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming.

Huh. So I guess that means Bush's statement in the AAA magazine is, well, not true. Amazing. The nation's largest organization of automobile drivers asks the President of the United States if it is possible to "travel safely and efficiently and at reasonable cost without hurting the enviroment" and he answers them with misleading statements about unrelated programs that actually do less to reduce pollution than current legislation. Sure, it might sound good to the uninformed reader, especially with all those scary chemicals and percentages and that endorsement by the NRDC, but in the end it's just another Bush lie.

How stupid does he think we are?