This year brought more bad news than good when it came to stories about the environment. Let’s start with the good news:
–A stinker of an energy bill didn’t pass the Senate, falling two votes short to break a filibuster. The bill would have been a huge boon to the coal, oil, gas and nuclear industries–as well as some other rather unusual pork-barrel projects.
Sen. McCain called it the “Polluters and Hooters” bill. The reference was to a mall to be built in Louisiana with taxpayer dollars, complete with a Hooters restaurant.
–At the beginning of the year the Bush administration’s EPA announced that it would review Clean Water Act regulations that protect many streams and wetlands. New draft regulations were written that would have stripped approximately 20 percent of the wetlands outside of Alaska of protection.
Hunters, anglers and other concerned citizens sent over 133,000 comments in protest. Just recently, the administration announced that it was scrapping the proposed regulations. However, it has yet to instruct its officials to begin re-enforcing the current safeguards.
–Remember the EthicsDaily.com story on our WWJDrive Tour, about my wife and me driving our 2003 Toyota Prius through the Bible Belt? Well it turns that the 2004 Prius is Motor Trend’s Car of the Year!
The newly designed 2004 Prius hit U.S. showrooms in October. Toyota expects annual sales of the next-generation hybrid car to top 35,000. The base price for the car is about $20,000. Would Jesus drive a Prius? You be the judge.
–The most important congressional vote ever on global warming took place this fall. The McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act failed but garnered a surprising 44 votes. That was quite a showing given strenuous opposition from industry and the Bush administration. Equally surprising was that a fellow Republican was leading the charge, Sen. John McCain. The vote represents a solid political foundation to build on.
–For those in favor of government regulations that protect the environment and public health, there’s a small, little-known agency that sends shivers up the spine. It’s called the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. It’s a part of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and it can hold up any federal regulation it doesn’t like.
No one expects good environmental news from OIRA. However, even OIRA couldn’t deny the truth about the overwhelming benefits of cleaning up the air. A surprising report released this fall by OIRA concludes that the health and social benefits of enforcing tough new clean-air regulations during the past decade were five to seven times greater in economic terms than were the costs of complying with the rules.
–This spring the Bush administration unveiled a plan to make off-road diesel engines much cleaner beginning in 2008. Such engines–found in bulldozers, backhoes, cranes, earthmovers, excavators, tractors, combines, portable generators and airport equipment–account for 44 percent of soot emissions and 12 percent of smog-forming emissions from mobile sources nationwide, the EPA has estimated.
Scientists and doctors have linked diesel emissions to many respiratory and cardiovascular health problems. In fact, off-road diesel engines are second only to power plants in emissions associated with lung cancer, asthma and other health threats.
The new rules would force diesel manufacturers to use new technology to slash cancer-causing particulate emissions by up to 95 percent and cut smog emissions by up to 90 percent. These measures would avoid more than 9,500 premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks annually.
–A decade-long study of southern Florida and the Everglades released in November concluded that tough regulations of airborne mercury emissions have a profound and almost immediate effect in removing the toxic pollutant from the environment and the food chain.
The report, a joint project of the state of Florida and the U.S. EPA, found that strict government controls of emissions can produce dramatic improvements in much less time than scientists once assumed. The levels of mercury contaminant found in largemouth bass and other wildlife of the Everglades declined by 60 to 75 percent.
This is indeed good news, given that the Centers for Disease Control recently found that 8 percent of women of childbearing age had mercury in their blood exceeding levels deemed safe, that over 40 states have fish advisories related to mercury, and that 10 states have advised pregnant women not to eat canned tuna, the most consumed fish in the U.S.
And now some of the bad news:
–The good news is that mercury regulations work. The bad news is that the Bush administration is trying to gut new mercury regulations before they take effect. Until this month, the EPA was on track to issue new rules requiring the nation’s 1,100 coal- and oil-fired power plants to install equipment to achieve the maximum possible reductions in mercury. Not anymore. Instead, the White House is set to announce a significant weakening of the proposed regulations that would reduce even less mercury than industry groups had suggested.
–When it comes to clean air, the president appears less interested in saving money and lives than in easing requirements on the energy industry. At just about every step (except for proposed off-road diesel regulations) the administration is trying to gut clean-air regulations.
–A version of the Bush administration’s “Healthy Forests” bill passed Congress in November. The pretext for passing the bill was the fires that burned out of control in California this fall. With President Bush’s signature, the bill has now become law–and protections for certain old growth forests and endangered species are now up in smoke as well.
–For the third year in a row there have been fewer cleanups than the previous year at Superfund sites, the most toxic sites in the U.S. This year cleanups were completed at 40 sites. That compares with 42 completions in fiscal year 2002 and 47 in 2001. During the Clinton administration, EPA completed an average 76 cleanups a year.
–The EPA recently proposed a new policy that would allow partially treated sewage to be released directly into rivers and streams during heavy rains. This would allow sewage treatment facilities to skip an important step in getting rid of biological pathogens that make people sick. It could also lead to fish kills, beach closings and destruction of shellfish beds.
Jim Ball is Executive Vice President for Policy and Climate Change at the Evangelical Environmental Network and author of the award-winning book, “Global Warming and the Risen LORD: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change.”