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EPA Muzzle Tightens

June 25, 2003

The Environmental Protection Agency's first comprehensive report on the state of the environment is mute on global warming and says little about the growing threats of pesticides and industrial pollution. The draft report did say the nation's land, air and water were better off than they were 30 years ago. That is no surprise because landmark environmental laws were passed and the EPA was created three decades ago.

The document says of global warming, "This report does not attempt to address the complexities of this issue." Change -- probably for the worse -- might occur by the time the report becomes final, after a new administrator succeeds Christie Whitman, who leaves office Friday.

An early version included two pages on the general scientific consensus about the threat posed by global warming, believed to be caused primarily by the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The White House insisted that there was no such consensus and ordered the section rewritten.

Rather than serve up "pablum," as she put it, Whitman purged the two pages. At least she will be remembered for having stuck to her guns during her final days in office. The next EPA administrator must be watched closely to make sure that the pablum or flat-earth science is not reinserted.

A defensive White House official says the administration has produced a number of reports about global warming. But what matters is not what an administration says, but what it does. One of President Bush's first acts in office was to renounce the Kyoto treaty, which calls for a concerted world effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Then the administration relaxed rules requiring utilities to install state-of-the art emission control systems on dirty old power plants when they were rebuilt.

In fact, despite repeated assertions that the administration wants to use "good science" in providing the strongest protection of the environment and promoting "healthy" forests, this administration has spent two years repealing or relaxing the ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, the prohibition of logging in roadless areas, regulations that protected vast areas from oil and gas development and a host of other environmental protections.

In fact, Whitman's report could be both the first and the last of its kind. The next one would have to document the gulf between the glowing ways that the Bush administration speaks of the environment and the policies it pursues.

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