Public Comment

Commentary: Putting Science Back in Environmental Policy

Friday April 21, 2006

Since taking office, the Bush administration has waged what amounts to a war on science. On issues ranging from climate change to contraception to AIDS prevention, policies based on sound science have routinely been cast aside in favor of policies that fa vor the economic interests of corporate contributors or the ideology of right wing supporters. 

While the competition is stiff, it is difficult to find an area where science has suffered more at the hands of the Bush administration than that of protecting the environment. 

April 22 marks the 36th annual celebration of Earth Day, a time when, around the world, people reflect on our commitment to preserving and protecting the planet we live on. 

On the sixth Earth Day under the Bush administration, it is pa st time to commit ourselves to putting the science back into our environmental policies, and returning to policymaking for the common good, not political pandering. 

Over the last five years, through legislation and rule changes, the Bush administration h as weakened or rolled back an array of environmental laws that were originally enacted to protect public health, air quality, water quality, plant and animal wildlife, the global climate, or the environment—effectively gutting the regulatory infrastructur e for environmental protection. 

By and large these environmental rollbacks have prioritized the short-term economic needs and interests of businesses over the long-term interest of public health and the people. 

Under Orwellian names like “Healthy Forest s” and “Clear Skies,” they have opened up millions of acres of public lands to logging, grazing and drilling, exempted polluters from a host of regulations to reduce their toxic emissions, and made it easier to contaminate our nation’s rivers, lakes and w etlands. 

These rollbacks of our most basic environmental protections are having a devastating impact on the health of communities across our country, particularly low income communities of color. The Bush administration’s attacks on longstanding pollution controls are contributing to increased rates of asthma, heart disease and other conditions that have been scientifically linked to exposure to harmful substances in our air and water.  

Children who live in West Oakland, a low income community of color located right here in the 9th Congressional District, are estimated to be seven times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma than are children anywhere else in the state due to a high volume of local goods movement activity and truck traffic. Despite the existence of similar public health crises in communities throughout the United States, the Bush administration continues to strip away environmental health protections and drain income, in the form of health expenses, from the most vulnerable among us while the wealthiest of his corporate supporters become even wealthier. 

That is why next week I will be introducing the “Environment and Public Health Restoration Act of 2006.” This bill is designed to return to environmental policymaking that is based o n sound science. It will require an unbiased scientific review by the National Academies of Science of eight rule changes made during the Bush administration to the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the National Forest Management Act, as well as the so-c alled Healthy Forests Restoration Act, and the President’s proposed Clear Skies Initiative to asses the impact on public health, air quality, water quality, wildlife, or the environment. 

The NAS will submit a publicly available report to Congress and the relevant departments and agencies that recommends either the restoration of the pre-existing rules or laws, or proposes improvements upon them in whole or in part. The administration will then have six months to report to Congress with a plan that implem ents the recommendations of the NAS. 

Science provides the basic foundation for the creation of policies that serve the common good, not just the interests of a powerful few. The decisions about how much mercury goes into the air, or whether mining or ind ustrial waste can be dumped into lakes and rivers should not be up to the polluters. We should not undermine our children’s health or the future of our planet just to line the pocket books of the president’s polluting friends. 


Congresswoman Barbara Lee r epresents California’s District 9.