The Republican assault on science isn't relegated to the push to preach fairy tales about the Earth being a mere 6,000 years old or about Adam and Eve sharing their world with dinosaurs. (You think I'm joking?) As ridiculous as those efforts are, they might be considered relatively benign compared to the efforts to undermine science at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
An article by Rebecca Clarren appearing at Salon.com today exposes an EPA stacked with Bush Administration appointees whose primary goals are 1) to strangle the EPA from within, as their attitude is that the EPA equals government and government is bad, and 2) to deliberately compromise the public's health for the sake of saving a few taxpayer dollars.
The article focuses on the residents of a poor neighborhood in the San Antonio, Texas area that has the misfortune of being located near the former Kelly Air Force Base (AFB). The Air Force uses tetrachloroethylene (a.k.a. PCE) to de-grease aircraft engine parts. Lax PCE disposal techniques at Kelly, which closed in 2001, allowed the chemical to seep into the ground water in the area. As many as 23,000 houses and businesses might be situated above contaminated water. Locals can smell the chemicals on days when it rains or when they turn off their air conditioners and shut the windows in colder weather – the chemical smell seeps up through the ground into their homes. PCE is a known carcinogen and is known to be the cause of various cancers and liver and kidney diseases.
Clarren reports that residents of the neighborhoods surrounding Kelly AFB have high incidences of kidney, liver and cervical cancer, leukemia, and low birth weights. A University of Texas study found that 91 percent of adults in the neighborhood exhibited a variety of illnesses ranging from chronic sinus infections to heart and lung diseases. The neighborhood is classified by environmentalists as a "cancer cluster" – an area of abnormally high terminal illness per capita. This is reminiscent of the infamous Love Canal tragedy (read: crime against humanity) in the 1970's.
According to Clarren's article, the EPA doesn't see a problem in the neighborhoods surrounding Kelly AFB. You see, the EPA conducted air tests in five (5) homes and determined that the chemicals underfoot posed no danger. That's five out of approximately 23,000 homes that were tested. I'm no scientist, but that's a small sample size.
Indeed, a proper test may not be forthcoming, at least not from an EPA headed by Bush Administration appointees. Per Clarren's article, "EPA scientists haven't completed an updated scientific assessment of PCE, including its health risks, for a decade. Worse, a comprehensive review of the carcinogenic chemical may never be coming. Anti-regulatory crusaders inside the Bush White House have peopled the EPA with top officials apparently more concerned with limiting government spending than public health. According to critics within and outside the EPA, the agency has stifled independent research and compromised scientific assessments of all manner of toxins and carcinogens that Americans breathe, drink, and touch." Clarren reports that an EPA staff scientist, alluding to the Bush Administration's zeal to deregulate, said that, "One of the ways to undermine regulations is to undermine the science behind them." One method that Bush's appointees employed in undermining science was to question the amount of exposure to various toxins a person could endure because different individuals might react differently and, therefore, any applicable standard would be questionable.
Basically, Clarren reports, John Graham, the Bush-appointed administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a division of the powerful Office of Management and Budget, demanded that agencies such as the EPA put emphasis on cost-benefit analyses, as opposed to scientific analyses, when they draft regulations. Graham had the help of Bush's appointee to the Office of Research and Development, George Gray, whose position provided for direct oversight of the EPA's chemical assessment program. He was driven to undermine the EPA's past scientific studies.
And this brings me to the literal devaluation of human life. According to Clarren, "...under Gray's tenure at the EPA, the agency has lowered the economic value of human life by nearly $1 million, or 11 percent. A human life is now worth just under $7 million. Such calculations are critical when government determines whether a proposed regulation is financially cost-effective to enforce." Nothing like saving a buck, is there?
Clarren's article is flush with details describing the methods the Bush appointed administrators use to cut costs while making a mockery of science, and it is well worth reading. These crimes against American citizens are from the same president who boasted to anti-abortion activists in 2005 that he was promoting a "culture of life." Perhaps the only thing worse than the Bush Administration's morally bankrupt attacks on the potentially life-saving efforts of EPA scientists is the Administration's rank hypocrisy. Whatever the Bush Administration and the current crop of Republicans are, they sure as hell aren't pro-life.