It might seem like a long way from the dangerous streets of Baghdad to the smog-laden cities of the United States, but the two share one thing in common: both have been the subject of massive misinformation campaigns by the Bush administration.
In each case the White House has tried to mislead the American public through a pattern of deceit, deception and distortion. As “national security” became the stated rationale for the invasion of Iraq, now “energy security” has become the Bush administration’s alleged reason to gut the Clean Air Act.
We are learning daily how information about Iraq was manipulated. The White House now admits President Bush’s drum-beating State of the Union speech was inaccurate when he claimed Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Africa to make nuclear weapons. A key retired State Department intelligence official now concedes “the Bush administration did not provide an accurate picture to the American people of the military threat posed by Iraq,” according to The New York Times. Who could forget the president’s allegation of a connection between the Saddam regime and Al Qaeda? That was yet another cynical attempt to dupe the public.
And where are those weapons of mass destruction?
Just as President Bush doctored information on Iraq, he and key administration spin controllers are doing the same in their quest to destroy the nation’s flagship environmental law, the Clean Air Act. The president highlighted his dirty-air crusade during the State of the Union speech (the same speech that included the erroneous claim about Iraq and Africa) as he promoted what he termed his “Clear Skies legislation” – a misnomer if ever there was one.
The president’s real goal here, of course, is to help his college classmate and Edison Electric Institute head, Tom Kuhn, and his other big campaign contributors from the electric power industry, which is now lobbying ferociously for passage of the Bush dirty-air bill. The president’s chief propagandist in this effort is Jeffrey Holmstead, a lawyer who formerly represented the power industry and is now Assistant EPA Administrator in charge of air pollution policy.
In recent testimony to Congress, Holmstead asserted that the Bush plan would reduce pollution “in a way that is much faster and more efficient than under current law.” Separately, Holmstead released a new “analysis” which purported to back up his claim.
The “analysis” was as specious as the Bush claims about Iraq. It created a false comparison by asserting – incorrectly – that the air would remain polluted under the current Clean Air Act.
Consider how the Holmstead “analysis” treated toxic mercury, which has contaminated lakes and streams throughout the nation. Holmstead assumed there would be zero cleanup of mercury in the future. In reality, the EPA is under a court order to issue standards by next year that would require every electric power plant in the nation to reduce its mercury emissions by late 2007. In a private meeting with the electric power industry, the EPA predicted it could require as much as a 90 percent cleanup of the toxic pollutant.
The Bush dirty-air plan would eliminate the current mercury cleanup requirement and replace it with a much weaker plan that would permit power companies to emit high levels of mercury pollution well into the 2020s. When grilled about this by members of Congress like Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine), Holmstead promptly changed the subject, arguing that Congress should look “not just at mercury.”
Taking up that challenge, other members of Congress have noted that the Bush administration has either failed to analyze other cleanup proposals, including those sponsored by Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), or tried to suppress internal EPA analyses which showed that competing plans would do a better job of protecting public health.
Almost in desperation, Holmstead and the Bush administration now argue their dirty-air bill is needed for “energy security” – under the bizarre claim that we’d be more “secure” by using more home-grown coal rather than natural gas from a foreign threat ... like Canada?
Laughable as that argument may seem when put to scrutiny, it is now part of the Bush mantra.
So let’s consider what else is in the fine print of the Bush dirty-air bill. Deadlines for achieving public health standards would be postponed, possibly indefinitely. Protections for local communities would be repealed. Coal-burning power companies would be given the right to pollute. The air we breathe would become private property. State authorities would be curtailed. National parks would be under siege.
These and other protections of current law would all be sacrificed in return for a Bush promise that a “market-based” system would do better. No wonder the campaign-contributing power companies favor the Bush dirty-air plan. And no wonder Rep. Waxman refers to the Bush plan as “a faith-based idea of how we’re going to clean the air.”
Congress, the media and the public shouldn’t take this proposal on faith, any more than they should trust President Bush’s justification for invading Iraq.
Leon G. Billings is president of the Clean Air Trust. As staff director of the Senate Clean Air Subcommittee, he wrote the 1970 Clean Air Act. This article originally appeared at www.TomPaine.com