Feds to Test Common Chems” was the headline of a fairly innocuous article from this newspaper last month. Taken from a report by the Environmental Defense Fund, it tells us that Vice President Gore, the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) were working together to “test nearly 3,000 major industrial chemicals for their effects on health and the environment.”
Chemical manufacturers are soon to volunteer specific chemicals they produce for testing, “using agreed-upon tests.”
The EPA will then order tests performed on high-production chemicals not volunteered by industry. The process of testing 3,000 chemicals will include the chemical industry, “environmentalists” at EDF and EPA.
The question we should all be considering: Is it likely this process will be conducted in the public's best interests?
It seems unlikely. Edward Herman describes EPA as “--a seriously underfunded organization, unable to do its job properly, sometimes captured and often driven to industry-friendly compromises...” (Z Magazine, 2/99). In the same article he describes how large corporations have pushed it around in the pesticides industry, such as Ciba Geigy's ability to keep atrazine on the market for farmers for more than 30 years, despite that chemical's known carcinogen qualities.
Monsanto, the corporation from Hell, has pressured EPA to keep alachlor on the market despite the same concern.
Questions have also been raised regarding EPA's motives in letting industries regulate themselves.
In their struggle with Monsanto over whether Monsanto should be allowed to introduce Santogard between 1986 and 1990 EPA discovered evidence that Monsanto scientists suppressed the results of studies they conducted which revealed negative side-effects from use of their chemical.
By law EPA was entitled to fine Monsanto $20 million--and they requested 1% of that. EPA then fined Monsanto at a similarly paltry rate after encouraging Monsanto to find more negative studies they were hiding (they found 164).
EPA then offered up a general “amnesty” for the rest of the pesticide industry, offering nominal fines for the next three years in exchange for the industry coughing up hidden studies.
As the industry discovered nearly 11,000 documents pertaining to unsafe chemicals on the market, the EPA did little more than slap their wrists while the mainstream media looked the other way.
Herman cites the book No Margin For Safety (Paul Merrell and Carol Van Strum, Greenpeace, 1987) as saying that EPA colluded with the U.S. paper industry between 1986 and 1993 in keeping information regarding dioxins produced by paper mills “out of the public domain, to characterize any [studies] they were compelled to release as 'preliminary' and to fix dioxin standards at politically acceptable levels.”
Both The New York Times and the Washington Post were given the stories of the industry-EPA collusion and each suppressed the matter. The Times actually went so far as to run articles suggesting that the EPA had found less harm in dioxins than it expected to, while the Washington Post merely buried it.
Herman's article has more examples of EPA either colluding with or buckling under pressure from large corporations interested in keeping potentially hazardous chemicals exposed to the public.
The newsletter Counterpunch (1/96) reported that the EPA had in 1995 assisted the Clinton Administration's efforts at gutting the Toxic Substances Control Act. The Clintonites did this to reverse the ban on importing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), an extremely toxic chemical used as an industrial lubricant and as a fire retardant in electric transformers.
PCBs are now being trucked into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico so that they can be burned in hazardous waste incinerators here, spewing out even deadlier dioxin. This helps revitalize our hazardous waste incineration industry, which, because of the ban on importing PCBs, was on its last legs. As before, there wasn't a mainstream newspaper in the US that reported this story.
The environmentalists at EDF are famous for supporting George Bush's amendments to the 1970 Clean Air Act (supported also by EPA), which allowed for corporations to trade credits for the right to emit pollutants.
(The mainstream media is also very fond of this idea, judging by the frequency with which they run Op-Ed commentary on behalf of this “market-oriented” approach to controlling pollution.)
The problem with this blatantly industry-friendly scheme is it depends on the market value of the credits to remain fixed or rise for the environment to actually benefit. When auction prices for the credits fell between 1993 and 1995 it became increasingly attractive for companies to buy credits rather than invest in pollution controls, with predictable consequences. (Dollars and Sense, 3-4/96).
CounterPunch describes EDF as a mainstream green group beholden to industry. They’re certainly living well. In 1995 their director, Fred Krupp, made $193,000 a year in salary. This figure has probably risen since then.
The Times Mirror Corporation has been a significant donor of EDF. Since the Times Mirror Corp. also owns the Baltimore Sun one can hardly expect the Sun to run commentary critical of EDF.
While the Clinton Administration has been the most anti-environmental in recent memory, Al Gore has stood by silently or directly assisted in the effort. A typical story involves Al, his staff, and Carol Browner, the EPA’s uncharacteristic director. Browner, citing a hundred studies linking dirty air to asthma and premature death, wanted the EPA to establish tough regulatory standards to check industries that produce air pollutants such as ozone and soot emissions.
When she announced her position she was immediately the subject of insults from the right-wing media. She was then told the White House wanted a 10-year delay in implementing the new standards, a 30-50% reduction in the proposed standards for soot emissions (from her desired level) and a reduction of the amount of money the EPA could fine corporations once found to have violated the standards.
With Gore’s staffers calling the mainstream media organizations (certainly including EDF) to get them to back the White House on this matter, Browner was left with no political cover to make a stand. She backed down and the media remained virtually silent about the surrender.
It would be news indeed if EPA, EDF, Al Gore and the chemical industry were to actually work together on behalf of the public’s interest regarding the environment.
The only thing worse for us than this combination are the reporters for the mainstream media who answer to the chemical industry’s every beck and call.