The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

EPAâ€TMs Watchdog Sheds Some Fangs to Meet Proposed Cuts

by Jessica Azulay

Mar. 23, 2007 – The federal office that has occasionally accused the US Environmental Protection Agency of manipulating science for political reasons is now dismissing staff in anticipation of budget cuts not yet approved by Congress.

A February 9 e-mail memo sent from Acting EPA Inspector General Bill Roderick to his staff said that President Bush’s proposed 2008 budget contains millions of dollars in cuts for the Inspector General’s Office. It explained that the cuts would mean a reduction in staff. The e-mail was obtained by the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and reviewed by The NewStandard.

If the White House’s draft 2008 budget is accepted by Congress, the EPA inspector general will be left with just $45 million next year, compared to around $50 million allotted in each of 2006 and 2007.

"The President has stated his intention to achieve a balanced budget by 2012," Roderick wrote. "Therefore, resources available to fund federal non-defense, non-homeland security related programs, which have been declining in recent years, are projected to continue their downward trend in the coming years."

Even though Congress has not approved President Bush’s proposed cuts to the office’s allowance, Roderick said he would begin preparing to reduce staff and possibly close some facilities.

In a later memo, also obtained by PEER and reviewed by TNS, Roderick announced that the agency was offering incentives for as many as 30 employees to voluntarily leave their posts.

In recent years, the Inspector General’s Office has issued several reports critical of the EPA, in some cases exposing political manipulation of environmental policy.

In a statement to the press, PEER decried the cuts. "If ever an agency needed a strong Office of Inspector General, it is the EPA in 2007," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "The tremendous impact that EPA decisions have on peoples’ lives deserves independent scrutiny from auditors and other investigators who can shred agency technical double-talk and get to the bottom of problems."

In recent years, the Inspector General’s Office has issued several reports critical of the EPA, in some cases exposing political manipulation of environmental policy.

For instance, in 2005, the inspector general issued a report about the EPA’s development of mercury pollution rules. The IG concluded that instead of basing the rules on an "unbiased determination" of the best controls possible – as required by the Clean Air Act – EPA senior management instructed staff to design the regulation to comply with President Bush’s proposed Clear Skies initiative.

In another case, the IG found that the White House "influenced" how the EPA portrayed the public-health hazards caused by the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001. The 2003 report by the IG stated that the White House Council on Environmental Quality "convinced [the] EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones" in its early press releases.

More recently, the Inspector General’s Office slammed the EPA for ignoring its duty to protect people of color from disproportionate pollution. The October 2006 IG report found that 60 percent of program and regional office directors were simply not conducting "environmental justice" reviews as required by an executive order. The IG report found that the EPA "cannot determine whether its programs cause disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income populations."

"It is not surprising that the last thing the Bush administration values is aggressive investigation into corporate pollution offenses and the political collusion that lubricates them," said PEER’s Ruch in the press statement. "Congress should be consulted before irreversible steps are taken."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Jessica Azulay is a staff journalist.

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