The New Year began with environmentalists pressing two separate lawsuits charging the Bush administration with gutting the Clean Air Act and pushing policies that have accelerated global warming that poses a long term threat to life on earth.
The lawsuits underlined that George W. Bush and his minions pose the gravest threat to the global biosphere of any administration in history. It is driven by their unwavering allegiance to maximum profits for the giant oil corporations, the gas and electric utility companies and the auto-makers.
The administration is pushing for expanded drilling for oil even in areas already protected by votes in Congress, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Forests. Of course, oil is also the overriding factor in the war policy against Iraq, which has the world’s second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia, and their covert schemes to destabilize Venezuela, which provides a million barrels of oil each day to the U.S.
A war in the Persian Gulf will mean other environmental threats, including the Pentagon’s heavy reliance on depleted uranium warheads. The ultimate environmental threat can no longer be discounted now that Bush has proclaimed a doctrine of preemptive use of nuclear weapons.
Extraction and burning of fossil fuels is belching tens of millions of tons of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere each year. However, the Bush-Cheney administration studiously ignores proof that such greenhouse gases have pushed global temperatures one degree Fahrenheit higher over the past century. While that may seem a small increase, it has already triggered worrisome changes in climate, more violent storms and droughts while pushing many species onto the endangered list.
New York Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer and the attorneys general of eight other states in the Northeast filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging that rules approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will permit utility corporations to evade Clinton-era rules aimed at forcing them to bring their old coal-fired power stations into compliance with the Clean Air Act. “The Bush administration has taken an action that will bring more acid rain, more smog, more asthma and more respiratory disease to millions of Americans,” Spitzer said. He accused the administration of “the most serious effort at rolling back the landmark Clean Air Act since it was enacted more than 30 years ago.”
Sulfur dioxide and other toxic emissions from these plants is blamed for acid rain that has destroyed forests, fish and other wildlife in lakes and streams throughout the Northeast while also causing an epidemic of asthma and other respiratory illnesses in the region. The nine states joining in the lawsuit were Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, together with the cities of Boulder, Colo., and Oakland, Calif., are pressing ahead with a lawsuit they filed last summer against the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) charging that they “illegally provided over $32 billion in financing and insurance for oil fields, pipelines, and coal-fired power plants over the past ten years without assessing their contribution to global warming” and their impact on the environment as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
Brian Dunkiel, a leader of the northeast regional chapter of Friends of the Earth (FOE), is a lead attorney in the global warming lawsuit. “The Bush administration has made very clear where they stand on global warming,” Dunkiel told the World in a phone interview from his office in Burlington, Vt., “George W. Bush promised during the 2000 election campaign to support limits on carbon dioxide emissions, the main factor in global warming. Once he came into office, he broke that promise. He also rejected the Kyoto Protocol, unilaterally, which requires reduction of greenhouse gases. The Bush-Cheney energy policy strongly favors reliance on fossil fuels.”
Yet, he pointed out, the Bush administration released a report last year that admitted that human consumption of fossil fuels is the main factor in generating carbon dioxide (CO2), the main culprit in global warming. Bush has openly ridiculed this report by his own scientific experts. “They actually acknowledged in that report that climate change is taking place because of human activity but their answer is voluntary compliance and adaptation.”
Their policies, he charged, stand in the way of a real solution to the crisis of global warming.
With Bush-Cheney and the U.S. Congress controlled by rightwing, pro-oil lawmakers, FOE and Greenpeace opted for the lawsuit to force action, he said. “These two agencies, the Ex-Im Bank and OPIC are not in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act,” he said. “This lawsuit is an opportunity for grassroots people to get involved, to send a signal on where the people stand and to demonstrate strong support for clean, renewable energy.”
The urgency of environmental degradation was brought home by a flurry of reports at the end of 2002. Earth Policy Institute (EPI) released its annual report on global warming, Dec. 11, proving that 2002 “will likely be the second warmest on record exceeded only by 1998” with global temperatures averaging 58.37 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Studying these annual temperature data, one gets the unmistakable feeling that temperature is rising and that the rise is gaining momentum,” wrote EPI’s Lester R. Brown. “Each year since detailed recordkeeping began in 1959, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has climbed to a new high, making it one of the most predictable of all global environmental trends.”
It is, he added, “the result of massive fossil fuel burning that has simply overwhelmed nature’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide.”
The accelerating rise in temperatures, Brown said, is triggering “deadly heat waves, scorched crops, and ice melting” around the world. “In May 2002, a record heat wave in southern India with the temperatures reaching 114 degrees Fahrenheit, claimed more than 1,000 lives in the state of Andhra Pradesh alone.”
Food production is at risk, he continues. “Farmers may now be facing higher temperatures than any generation of farmers since agriculture began 11,000 years ago. Crop yields have fallen as temperatures have climbed in key food-producing countries such as the United States and India.” The world grain harvest in 2002 of 1.8 billion tons was well below projected consumption of 1.9 billion tons.
EPI’s report echoed two ominous reports in the Jan. 2 edition of the journal, Nature, proving that many species of plants and animals are already struggling to adapt to global warming. In some cases, species ranges have shifted 60 miles or more, mainly toward the poles to escape hotter temperatures, the report by teams at the University of Texas, Wesleyan, Stanford, and other universities found.
Egg-laying, migrations and pollination is coming earlier in the season “with the danger that some species may be separated in both time and place from their sources of food,” states the report. Already some varieties of penguins and polar bears are threatened because of the rapid melting of ice caps and early breakup of ice fields in the Arctic Ocean.
In the synopsis of their article headlined, “Fingerprints of Global Warming on Wild Animals and Plants,” one team of biologists reported, “These analyses reveal a consistent temperature-related shift or ‘fingerprint’ in species ranging from molluscs to mammals, and from grasses to trees. Indeed, more than 80 percent of the species that show changes are shifting in the direction expected on the basis of known physiological constraints on species.”
Consequently, the report adds, “the balance of evidence from these studies strongly suggests that a significant impact of global warming is already discernible in animal and plant populations. The synergism of rapid temperature rise and other stresses, in particular habitat destruction … could easily disrupt the connectedness among species and lead to a reformulation of species communities, reflecting differential changes in species, and to numerous extirpations and possibly extinctions.”
The report continues, “Clearly, if such climatic and ecological changes are now being detected when the globe has warmed by an estimated average of only 0.6 degrees centigrade, many more far-reaching effects on species and ecosystems will probably occur in reponse to changes in temperatures to levels predicted by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) which run as high as 6 degrees centigrade by 2100.” (That translates to a whopping 11 degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperatures. Some environmental biologists forecast extinction of half the species on earth if global temperatures reach those highs).
The report continues, “Projected future rapid climate change could soon become a more looming concern, especially when occurring together with other already well-established stressors, particularly habitat destruction. … Research and conservation attention needs to be focused not only on global warming and each of the other stressors by themselves, but also on the synergism of several pressure that together are likely to prove to be the greatest challenge to animal and plant conservation in the 21st century.”
Gary Skulnik, a Washington representative of the Sierra Club working with the Global Warming and Energy Program told the World, “These reports are just more proof that global warming is a very real threat to the natural environment and the future of our planet. It is not a question of the science any more. It’s a question of whether we have the political will to implement solutions to global warming. Each day that we delay action is really an irresponsible procrastination, leaving the problem for our children to clean up. Bush Junior has embraced policies eerily similar to those of his father, to turn back the clock.”
The guiding principles on energy policy, said Skulnik, should be efficiency, clean energy and conservation. “Automakers now have the technology to make cars that get 40 miles per gallon. That would be the single biggest step to slow down global warming,” he said.
Instead, the Bush administration and Congress continue to lavish billions in tax subsidies for the production of enormous, unsafe, gas-belching Sport-Utility Vehicles. Those tax incentives should be terminated.
“There are also bills pending in Congress that promote clean energy in the industrial sector,” Skulnik said.
While the threats to the global environment are accelerating and could reach a point of no return, Skulnik stressed that there is still time if a coalition movement is strong enough to force federal and state governments to act. “We like to focus on the positive solutions that are at hand,” he said. “Clearly, global warming is the single largest threat to our environment. But people have to understand that there are realistic solutions. We have a challenge, no doubt about it. This is not an administration that is open to our views. But it doesn’t mean we are going to give up. We are going to redouble our efforts.”
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States get dirty over Clean Air Act
The Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday issued changes to the Clean Air Act. Nine states are filing suits in response – New York, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont. The states charge that the changes violate federal law by allowing companies to pollute more without having to install new emission controls.
Key elements of clean air rules issued by the EPA include:
* Companies are given greater flexibility to modernize or expand without having to install new pollution controls, although the changes may lead to greater air emissions.
* Plants with installed stateof-the-art pollution controls are assured exemption from having to install more effective equipment even if they expand operations.
* Plants with numerous pollution sources may increase pollution from some sources as long as overall, plantwide air emissions are not increased.
* Companies are given greater leeway in calculating pollution to reduce the likelihood that new pollution controls will be required.