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June 30, 2003
Volume 81, Number 26
CENEAR 81 26 p. 5
ISSN 0009-2347


Omissions on climate change engender controversy


On June 23, outgoing EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman released a "Draft Report on the Environment" that shows many positive trends. The document, which she called the "first-ever national picture" of the environment, documents some real improvements in the nation's air quality and drinking water. But it omits any significant discussion of climate change.

Among the good news is that emissions of the six major pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act have declined about 25% over the past 30 years, even though population and vehicle miles traveled increased. In 2002, 94% of Americans were served by water systems that met health-based standards, in contrast to 79% in 1992. And releases of toxic chemicals declined 48% since 1988.

The report "begins an important national dialogue on how we can improve our ability to assess the nation's environmental quality and human health, and how we can use that knowledge to make improvements," Whitman said.

Despite such trends, the document, which analyzes data from 30 other federal agencies, is highly controversial. Because of concerns expressed by the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), several pages in earlier drafts describing the risks of global climate change were whittled down to a few sentences.

According to an official EPA memo obtained by the National Wildlife Federation, and two EPA draft reports given to the New York Times, agency staff considered whether to accept changes proposed by CEQ and OMB or try to reach some sort of compromise with the White House.

Eventually, EPA chose to delete all sections on the potential impacts of climate change on human health and ecological systems. According to the memo, agency officials knew this decision would be subjected to "severe criticism from the science and environmental communities for poorly representing the science." They also realized the deletions would "undercut" key scientific assessments by the National Research Council and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The report discusses some areas of the state of the environment that need improvement or additional research: Although the U.S. infant mortality rate is at an all-time low, it is the highest among 20 industrialized countries; most estuaries are in fair to poor condition and face increasing threats from non-point-source pollution; and there are significant data gaps in understanding the link between pollution and health.

"The Administration must be held to account for its stewardship of the environment," says Mark Van Putten, president of the National Wildlife Federation. "This document provides disturbing evidence of the Administration's readiness to reject or spin scientific findings on crucial environmental issues that do not suit the White House's political agenda."

The draft report is a "work in progress," Whitman said. EPA is soliciting comments on it from the public.


Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2003 American Chemical Society

Related Stories
Clean Air Standards
[C&EN, May 26, 2003]

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Plan
[C&EN, Feb. 17, 2003]

Clean Up Or Shut Down
[C&EN, Apr. 18, 2003]

Clearing The Air
[C&EN, Mar. 11, 2002]

Climate Change
[C&EN Archive]

Related Sites
"Draft Report on the Environment"

White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB)

Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)

National Wildlife Federation

National Research Council

United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

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