WASHINGTON, DC, September 24, 2008 (ENS) - The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing today to review the Bush administration's record on public health and environmental matters, but it was conducted in the absence of Ranking Member Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a Republican and former chair of the committee.
Senator Inhofe was not ill or out of town, he boycotted the hearing, and he asked the two government witnesses scheduled to honor his objection. Neither one attended the hearing nor did any of the Republican committee members.
Inhofe's spokesman Marc Morano said this is the first time the senator has objected to an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing. "Senator Inhofe's actions were in response to the Majority's refusal to grant a single Minority requested hearing this entire 110th Congress, despite numerous requests," said Morano.
Senator Inhofe requested a hearing twice in writing, Morano said, to examine the "emerging questions surrounding ethanol's effects on world food and livestock feed prices, its economic sustainability, and its transportation and infrastructure needs, its water usage, and numerous other environmental issues."
As the former chairman of the committee when the Republicans controlled the Senate before the 2006 elections, Inhofe granted three minority requests for hearings, said Morano.
A Majority staff source says that, in fact, committee chair Senator Barbara Boxer of California has agreed to hold the ethanol hearing Inhofe requested, but finding a date has been a challenge.
Other Inhofe requests for hearings have been met, according to this source, who said that on August 23, 2007, Boxer permitted Senator Inhofe to chair a hearing in Oklahoma on the Endangered Species Act and the oil industry, a hearing the Oklahoma senator had specifically requested.
Senator Inhofe requested additional hearings on Lieberman-Warner climate change bill, and they did take place as well, the source said.
Today, the Democratic senators on the committee heard from a variety of witnesses who were unanimously critical of the Bush administration's environmental and public health record.
Witness Jamie Rappaport Clark, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife, worked for the federal government for 20 years at the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior. She served as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1997 to 2001 in the Clinton administration.
"The record of the Bush administration amply demonstrates that it decided to slow-walk the listing of species under the Endangered Species Act," Clark told the committee.
"The net result of the administration's policies has been to thwart protection for hundreds of species deserving protection under the act. Species such as jaguars, wolverines and pygmy owls have had Endangered Species Act protections denied or removed by the Bush administration on the dubious and illegal grounds that those species are found in Canada or Mexico and, consequently, protecting them in our own country is not necessary," she said.
"The Bush administration also has hamstrung recovery of many species by making decisions based on political agendas rather than scientific data," Clark told the committee.
"The scope and magnitude of political interference revealed by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General and the GAO interviews is unprecedented in my experience, but no longer surprising given the unrelenting hostility the Bush administration has shown to the conservation of endangered species," she said.
Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope underscored Clark's criticism of the administration's treatment of endangered species.
But Pope told the committee, the administration's attempts to dismantle environmental protections have been thwarted by the checks and balances written into the U.S. Constitution.
"The good news is that little of the Bush administration's affirmative environmental agenda has survived the challenges our system of checks and balances makes possible - Congress, the Courts, the states, and direct intervention by the public has undone most of the legal damage which the Administration sought to do," Pope said.
"The entire edifice of administration policy on clean air lies shattered in judicial smithereens - and in its place a vigorous, state based air quality protection structure is being put in place in much, but sadly not all, of the country," said Pope.
"The Courts have thrown out the Bush EPA's mercury rules and interstate transport policy and blocked its efforts to repeal the requirements that power plants be cleaned up when they are expanded or modernized," Pope said. "During the period when the Administration's mercury rule was on the books, more than 20 states rejected its permissive emission limits and adopted much more effective rules of their own."
"For six years the administration sat by while oil imports increased, gas prices rose and global warming became more and more threatening," said Pope. "It refused to set higher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles even when the data showed that the current trajectory was actually hurting the U.S. auto industry, desiccating its market share."
"But California acted on its own, and other states virtually stampeded to follow it," Pope said.
"While EPA has yet to issue the needed waiver for those standards to take effect, that matter is before the Courts, and perhaps more important, both candidates for president have pledged that they will allow California and the 13 other states which have joined it to act on their own," he said.
Reverend Jim Ball, president and chief executive of the Evangelical Environmental Network, quoted Scripture to the committee, but he also exhorted the members to rely on science.
"Take lead as an example," said Ball. "As the best scientific evidence demonstrates, it clearly causes harm to children, a vulnerable group within our society over whom we have power. As the most current evidence and analysis by both the EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and the EPA's staff scientists suggests, the current standard set in 1978 is clearly outdated and should be strengthened or improved.
"My hope is that when the EPA issues their final ruling in mid-October the EPA Administrator will abide by the unanimous recommendations of the EPA's own scientific panel as well as his scientific staff," Ball said.
He also urged more regulation for mercury and for climate-warming greenhouse gases.
"On June 7, 2007, I and other religious community colleagues testified before you on the dangers climate changes poses, especially to the poor, and the ethical reasons for action. The situation is even more urgent now than it was then," Ball said. "Given the current state of our efforts at the federal level, this represents a tremendous opportunity for the next Congress and administration to do better."
Perhaps the strongest criticism of the Bush environmental record came from Chairman Boxer in her opening statement, which cited reports from the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, GAO.
"According to a recent GAO report prepared at my request," Boxer said, "EPA political officials worked with the White House and the Pentagon to undermine the process for evaluating toxic chemical risks."
"EPA has severely weakened its Office of Children's Health Protection and largely ignored its Children's Health Advisory Committee, as we learned from GAO just last week," said Boxer.
"EPA's record on global warming could hardly be worse," she said. "Despite the president's campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, the White House reversed course and rejected actions to control global warming pollution."
"In one of its first official acts, the Bush EPA announced that it was suspending the newly strengthened standard for arsenic in tap water. After a public outcry and legislation blocking it, EPA finally retreated," she said.
The EPA story is the same for soot, smog, and lead standards - all weaker than its own scientists recommended, Boxer said.
"EPA has slowed down its Superfund program to practically a crawl," Boxer said. "Over the last seven years, the pace of Superfund cleanups has dropped by about 50 percent compared to the last seven years of the prior administration, from about 80 cleanups per year to 40 or less."
"We just learned that EPA has decided that it will not set a health standard for the toxic rocket fuel perchlorate in our drinking water, even though EPA data show that up to 16.6 million people are exposed to unsafe levels," said Boxer. "Perchlorate is especially risky for infants and children, because it interferes with their thyroid, which controls normal development."
"On occasion, EPA has taken a positive step, including the issuance of cleanup orders to the Department of Defense, though more work is needed to ensure DOD follows through," Boxer said. "Unfortunately, the Bush record of rollbacks overshadows these efforts."
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