Editorial: EPA's fugitive list targets the wrong criminals


by Scott Thill


The Bush administration's lamentable stint in the White House is coming at last to a close, but not before rendering the Environmental Protection Agency further ridiculous. Recently, the EPA decided to import the administration's favored most-wanted meme into its already compromised arms, posting a list of 23 environmental fugitives the agency would like you to consider but not apprehend. As usual, the administration vastly overstated the importance of these fugitives, with a top EPA official calling them a "brazen universe of people that are evading the law." A "brazen universe" of 23 people, including a sad-sack importer of automobiles that do not meet U.S. emission standards? In the words of Stephen Colbert's Christmas special, "Are you high?"


Don't get me wrong. Environmental crimes are among the worst, given that they are throwing our planet's delicate balance into chaos. I can think of automakers, industrial polluters, and nuclear wastrels that are screwing Earth right now—but they are not on this list. In fact, the reason they aren't on the list is because of the corrupt politicization of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Bush EPA's list of controversies is longer than its list of accomplishments. From  allowing American Petroleum Institute and Exxon Mobil stooge Philip Cooney to unilaterally edit all-important climate reports to actually closing its library doors to the public over the objections of federal employees who know better, the EPA has deviated so far from its mandate to regulate industry's penchant
for pollution and in so doing protect the public's health that it probably couldn't find a way back to sanity and science with a hand-held GPS. Twelve states and several cities had to actually sue the agency in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency to force it to control greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, to do its job.

All of the Bush's EPA administrators have been worse than jokes: They have been liars. Christine Todd Whitman, who worked in the Nixon administration under Donald Rumsfeld, reversed Clinton-era improvements on arsenic in drinking water and even falsely told New Yorkers after the 9/11 attacks that their air was safe to breathe. On top of it, she had as much science background as Bush himself. Her successor, the hapless Michael Levitt, had zero science background, lasted only a year on the job, and went on to notoriously hijack the Center for Disease Control's Gulfstream jet for a campaign to privatize social security. His replacement and current administrator Stephen L. Johnson, the worst of the lot, not only championed the Bush administration's refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but has also been asked to resign by everyone from senators to the EPA's own labor unions. In March 2008, Nature went so far as to complain that, "In a rational world, Johnson would resign in favour of someone who could at least feign an interest in the environment."

True enough. And in a rational world, the EPA wouldn't be wasting our time and money privileging small-time enviro fugitives who have engaged in witness tampering, mail fraud, and illegal dumping over bigshot polluters like Exxon Mobil, General Motors, and many others, who through their unregulated emissions and corruption have led us to a geopolitical and ecological precipice that it may be too late to pull back from. No, like other fancy distractions like the occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration has steered the Environmental Protection Agency into dangerous waters and left it to sink, irrelevant and compromised. As the Nature article explained, "The US Environmental Protection Agency is fast losing the few shreds of credibility it has left."

Don't look now, but I think those shreds just shredded.

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