February 23, 2004

The Junk Science of George W. Bush by ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.

The Bush cabal's effort to lie, buy and bully their
way into a second term has officially begun...It began
on NotBeSeen's Meat The Press, not two weeks ago when
the _resident sunk like a stone, despite Tim Russert's
indulgence, but yesterday with the politically
delusional shell-of-a-man-formerly-known-as-Ralph-Nader,
announcing his candidacy...whether consciously or
unconsciously, he is a pawn in Rove's hand...But we
must seize it as an opportunity, and make the best of
it...This struggle is not only a referendum on the
is also a decision on who can deliver better SECURITY
and ENVIRONMENTAL SECURITY. And the choice will be
between the _resident, who has a dubious military
record, and has led us into a quagmire in Iraq and a
$7 trillion debt at home, and Sen. John F. Kerry, who
has a heroic military record, and has a distinguished
record in the US Senate, which includes in-depth
knowledg of and feirce advocacy for what NATIONAL SECURITY, ECONOMIC SECURITY and ENVIRONMENTAL SECURITY really mean...That's the truth, and as Al Gore bellowed in Tennessee a few weeks ago, "TRUTH SHALL RISE AGAIN!"

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: Today, flat-earthers within
the Bush Administration--aided by right-wing allies
who have produced assorted hired guns and conservative
think tanks to further their goals--are engaged in a
campaign to suppress science that is arguably
unmatched in the Western world since the Inquisition.
Sometimes, rather than suppress good science, they
simply order up their own. Meanwhile, the Bush White
House is purging, censoring and blacklisting
scientists and engineers whose work threatens the
profits of the Administration's corporate paymasters
or challenges the ideological underpinnings of their
radical anti-environmental agenda.

Save the Environment, Show Up for Democracy in 2004:
Defeat Bush (again!)


The Junk Science of George W. Bush by ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.

[from the March 8, 2004 issue]

As Jesuit schoolboys studying world history we learned
that Copernicus and Galileo self-censored for many
decades their proofs that the earth revolved around
the sun and that a less restrained heliocentrist,
Giordano Bruno, was burned alive in 1600 for the crime
of sound science. With the encouragement of our
professor, Father Joyce, we marveled at the capacity
of human leaders to corrupt noble institutions. Lust
for power had caused the Catholic hierarchy to subvert
the church's most central purpose--the search for
existential truths.

Today, flat-earthers within the Bush
Administration--aided by right-wing allies who have
produced assorted hired guns and conservative think
tanks to further their goals--are engaged in a
campaign to suppress science that is arguably
unmatched in the Western world since the Inquisition.
Sometimes, rather than suppress good science, they
simply order up their own. Meanwhile, the Bush White
House is purging, censoring and blacklisting
scientists and engineers whose work threatens the
profits of the Administration's corporate paymasters
or challenges the ideological underpinnings of their
radical anti-environmental agenda. Indeed, so extreme
is this campaign that more than sixty scientists,
including Nobel laureates and medical experts,
released a statement on February 18 that accuses the
Bush Administration of deliberately distorting
scientific fact "for partisan political ends."

I've had my own experiences with Torquemada's modern
successors, both personal and related to my work as an
environmental lawyer and advocate working for the
Natural Resources Defense Council and the Waterkeeper

At the time of the World Trade Center catastrophe on
September 11, 2001, I had just opened an office at 115
Broadway, cater-corner from the World Trade Center and
within the official security zone to which access was,
afterward, restricted for several months. Upon
returning to the office in October my partner, Kevin
Madonna, suffered a burning throat, nausea and a
headache that was still pounding twenty-four hours
after he left the building. Despite the Environmental
Protection Agency's claims that air quality was safe,
Kevin refused to return and we closed the office. Many
workers did not have that option; their employers
relied on the EPA's nine press releases between
September and December of 2001 reassuring the public
about the wholesome air quality downtown. We have
since learned that the government was lying to us. An
Inspector General's report released last August
revealed that the EPA's data did not support those
assurances and that its press releases were being
drafted or doctored by White House officials intent on
reopening Wall Street.

On September 13, just two days after the terror
attack, the EPA announced that asbestos dust in the
area was "very low" or entirely absent. On September
18 the agency said the air was "safe to breathe." In
fact, more than 25 percent of the samples collected by
the EPA before September 18 showed presence of
asbestos above the 1 percent safety benchmark. Among
outside studies, one performed by scientists at the
University of California, Davis, found particulates at
levels never before seen in more than 7,000 similar
tests worldwide. A study being performed by Mt. Sinai
School of Medicine has found that 78 percent of rescue
workers suffered lung ailments and 88 percent had ear,
nose and throat problems in the months following the
attack and that about half still had persistent lung
and respiratory illnesses nine months to a year later.

Dan Tishman, whose company was involved in the
reconstruction at 140 West Street, required his crews
to wear respirators but recalls seeing many rescue and
construction workers laboring unprotected--no doubt
relying on the government's assurances. "The
frustrating thing is that everyone just counts on the
EPA to be the watchdog of public health," he says.
"When that role is compromised, people can get hurt."

I also recall the case of Dr. James Zahn, a nationally
respected microbiologist with the Agriculture
Department's research service, who accepted my
invitation to speak to an April 2002 conference of
more than 1,000 family farm advocates and
environmental and civic leaders in Clear Lake, Iowa.
In a rigorous taxpayer-funded study, Zahn had
identified bacteria that can make people sick--and
that are resistant to antibiotics--in the air
surrounding industrial-style hog farms. His studies
proved that billions of these "superbugs" were
traveling across property lines daily, endangering the
health of neighbors and their herds. I was shocked
when Zahn canceled his appearance on the day of the
conference under orders from the Agriculture
Department in Washington. I later uncovered a fax
trail proving the order was prompted by lobbyists from
the National Pork Producers Council. Zahn told me that
his supervisor at the USDA, under pressure from the
hog industry, had ordered him not to publish his study
and that he had been forced to cancel more than a
dozen public appearances at local planning boards and
county health commissions seeking information about
health impacts of industry mega-farms. Soon after my
conference, Zahn resigned from the government in

Ignoring Bad News

The Bush Administration's first instinct when it comes
to science has been to suppress, discredit or alter
facts it doesn't like. Probably the best-known case is
global warming. Over the past two years the
Administration has done this to a dozen major
government studies on global warming, as well as to a
report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, in its own efforts to stall action to control
industrial emissions. The list also includes major
long-term studies by the federal government's National
Research Council and National Academy of Sciences, and
by scientific teams at the EPA, the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, and a 2002
collaborative report by scientists at all three of
those agencies.

The Administration has taken special pains to shield
Vice President Dick Cheney's old company, Halliburton,
which is part of an industry that has contributed $58
million to Republicans since 2000. Halliburton is the
leading practitioner of a process used in extracting
oil and gas known as hydraulic fracturing, in which
benzene is injected into underground formations. EPA
scientists studying the process in 2002 found that it
could contaminate ground-water supplies in excess of
federal drinking water standards. A week after
reporting their findings to Congressional staff
members, however, they revised the data to indicate
that benzene levels would not exceed government
standards. In a letter to Representative Henry Waxman,
EPA officials said the change was made based on
"industry feedback."

As a favor to utility and coal industries, America's
largest mercury dischargers, the EPA sat for nine
months on a report exposing the catastrophic impact on
children's health of mercury, finally releasing it in
February 2003. Among the findings of the report: The
bloodstream of one in twelve US women is saturated
with enough mercury to cause neurological damage,
permanent IQ loss and a grim inventory of other
diseases in their unborn children.

The list goes on. In October 2001 Interior Secretary
Gale Norton, responding to a Senate committee inquiry
on the effects of oil drilling on caribou in the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, falsely claimed that
the caribou would not be affected, because they calve
outside the area targeted for drilling. She later
explained that she somehow substituted "outside" for
"inside." She also substituted findings from a study
financed by an oil company for some of the ones that
the Fish and Wildlife Service had prepared for her. In
another case, according to the Wall Street Journal,
Norton and White House political adviser Karl Rove
pressed for changes that would allow diversion of
substantial amounts of water from the Klamath River to
benefit local supporters and agribusiness
contributors. Some 34,000 endangered salmon were
killed after National Marine Fisheries scientists
altered their findings on the amount of water the
salmon required. Environmentalists describe it as the
largest fish kill in the history of the West. Mike
Kelly, the fisheries biologist on the Klamath who
drafted the biological opinion, told me that under the
current plan coho salmon are probably headed for
extinction. According to Kelly, "The morale is very
low among scientists here. We are under pressure to
get the right results. This Administration is putting
the species at risk for political gain. And not just
in the Klamath."

Roger Kennedy, former director of the National Park
Service, told me that the alteration and deletion of
scientific information is now standard procedure at
Interior. "It's hard to decide what is more
demoralizing about the Administration's politicization
of the scientific process," he said, "its disdain for
professional scientists working for our government or
its willingness to deceive the American public."

Getting the Right Answer

But suppressing or altering science can be a tricky
business; the Bush Administration has found it easier
at times simply to arrange to get the results it
wants. A case in point is the decision in July by the
EPA's regional office overseeing the western
Everglades to accept a study financed predominantly by
developers, which concludes that wetlands discharge
more pollutants than they absorb. There was no peer
review or public comment. With its approval, the EPA
is giving developers credit for improving water
quality by replacing natural wetlands with golf
courses and other developments.

The study was financed by the Water Enhancement and
Restoration Committee, which was formed primarily by
local developers and chaired by Rick Barber, the
consultant for a golf course development for which the
EPA had denied a permit because it would pollute
surrounding waters and destroy wetlands. The study
contradicts everything known about wetlands
functioning, including a determination by more than
twenty-five scientists and managers at the Tampa Bay
Estuary Program that, on balance, wetlands do not
generate nitrogen pollution. Bruce Boler, a biologist
and water-quality specialist working for the EPA
office, resigned in protest. Boler says the developers
massaged the data to support their theory by
evaluating samples collected near roads and bridges,
where developments discharge pollutants. "It was like
the politics trumped the science," he told us.

In a similar case, last November the EPA cut a private
deal with a pesticide manufacturer to take over
federal studies of a pesticide it manufactures.
Atrazine is the most heavily utilized weedkiller in
America. First approved in 1958, by the 1980s it had
been identified as a potential carcinogen associated
with high incidences of prostate cancer among workers
at manufacturing facilities. Testing by the US
Geological Survey regularly finds alarming
concentrations of Atrazine in drinking water across
the corn belt. Even worse, last year scientists at the
University of California, Berkeley, found that
Atrazine at one-thirtieth the government's "safe" 3
parts per billion level causes grotesque deformities
in frogs, including multiple sets of organs. And this
year epidemiologists from the University of Missouri
found reproductive consequences in humans associated
with Atrazine, including male semen counts in farm
communities that are 50 percent below normal. Iowa
scientists are finding similar results in a current

The Bush Administration reacted to the frightening
findings not by banning this dangerous chemical, as
the European Union has, but by taking the studies away
from EPA scientists and, in an unprecedented move,
giving the chemical's manufacturer, Switzerland-based
Syngenta, control over federal research. In an
interview with the Los Angeles Times, Sherry Ford, a
spokesperson for Syngenta, praised without irony the
advantages of having the company monitor its own
product. "This is one way we can ensure it's not
presenting any risk to the environment."

In a dramatic expansion of this disturbing strategy,
the Bush Administration now plans to systematically
turn government science over to private industry by
contracting out thousands of science jobs to compliant
consultants already in the habit of massaging data to
support corporate profits. The National Park Service
is preparing a first phase of contracting reviews,
involving about 1,800 positions, including biologists,
archeologists and environmental specialists. Later
phases may entail replacement of 11,000 employees,
more than two-thirds of the service's permanent work

At least federal employees enjoy civil service and
whistleblower protection intended to allow them to
operate professionally and independently. Private
contractors don't enjoy the same level of protection.
"You can shop for the right contractor to give you the
kind of result you want," says Frank Buono, a retired
Park Service veteran who now serves on the board of a
nonprofit whistleblower protection organization.

As a Last Resort, Fire the Messenger

Most federal employees have gone along with the Bush
Administration's wishes, but a few have tried to stand
up for sound science. The results are predictable.
When a team of government biologists indicated that
the Army Corps of Engineers was violating the
Endangered Species Act in managing the flow of the
Missouri River, the group was quickly replaced by an
industry-friendly panel. (In an unexpected--and
fortunate--development, the new panel ultimately
declined to adopt the White House's pro-barge-industry
position and upheld the decision to manage the river
to protect imperiled species.) Similarly, last April
the EPA suddenly dismantled an advisory panel that had
spent nearly twenty-one months developing rules for
stringent regulation of industrial emissions of
mercury [see Alterman and Green, page 14].

Or consider the case of Tony Oppegard and Jack
Spadaro, members of a team of federal geodesic
engineers selected to investigate the collapse of
barriers that held back a coal slurry pond in Kentucky
containing toxic wastes from mountaintop strip-mining.
The 300-million-gallon spill was the largest in
American history and, according to the EPA, the
greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of
the Eastern United States. Black lava-like toxic
sludge containing sixty poisonous chemicals choked and
sterilized up to 100 miles of rivers and creeks and
poisoned the drinking water in seventeen communities.
Unlike in other slurry disasters, no one died, but
hundreds of residents were sickened by contact with
contaminated water.

The investigation had broad implications for the
viability of mountaintop mining, which involves
literally lopping off mountaintops to get access to
the underlying coal. It is a process beloved by coal
barons because it practically dispenses with the need
for human labor and thus increases industry profits.
Spadaro, the nation's leading expert on slurry spills,
recalls, "We were geotechnical engineers determined to
find the truth. We simply wanted to get to the heart
of the matter--find out what happened and why, and to
prevent it from happening again. But all that was
thwarted at the top of the agency by Bush appointees
who obstructed professionals trying to do their jobs."

The Bush Administration appointees all had coal
industry pedigrees. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao (the
wife of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate's
biggest recipient of industry largesse) appointed Dave
Lauriski, a former executive with Energy West Mining,
as the new director of the Mine Safety and Health
Administration, which oversaw the investigation. His
deputy assistant secretary was John Caylor, an Anamax
Mining alumnus. His other deputy assistant, John
Correll, had worked for both Amax and Peabody Coal.

Oppegard, the leader of the federal team, was fired on
the day Bush was inaugurated in 2001. All eight
members of the team except Spadaro signed off on a
whitewashed investigation report. Spadaro, like the
others, was harassed but flat-out refused to sign. In
April of 2001 Spadaro resigned from the team and filed
a complaint with the Inspector General of the Labor
Department. Last June 4 he was placed on
administrative leave--a prelude to getting fired.

Bush Administration officials accuse Spadaro of
"abusing his authority" for allowing a handicapped
instructor to have free room and board at a training
academy he oversees, an arrangement approved by his
superiors. An internal report vindicated Spadaro's
criticisms of the investigation, but the
Administration is still going after his job. "I've
been regulating mining since 1966," Spadaro told me.
"This is the most lawless administration I've
encountered. They have no regard for protecting miners
or the people in mining communities. They are without

Science, like theology, reveals transcendent truths
about a changing world. At their best, scientists are
moral individuals whose business is to seek the truth.
Over the past two decades industry and conservative
think tanks have invested millions of dollars to
corrupt science. They distort the truth about tobacco,
pesticides, ozone depletion, dioxin, acid rain and
global warming. In their attempt to undermine the
credible basis for public action (by positing that all
opinions are politically driven and therefore any one
is as true as any other), they also undermine belief
in the integrity of the scientific process.

Now Congress and this White House have used federal
power for the same purpose. Led by the President, the
Republicans have gutted scientific research budgets
and politicized science within the federal agencies.
The very leaders who so often condemn the trend toward
moral relativism are fostering and encouraging the
trend toward scientific relativism. The very
ideologues who derided Bill Clinton as a liar have now
institutionalized dishonesty and made it the reigning
culture of America's federal agencies.

The Bush Administration has so violated and corrupted
the institutional culture of government agencies
charged with scientific research that it could take a
generation for them to recover their integrity even if
Bush is defeated this fall. Says Princeton University
scientist Michael Oppenheimer, "If you believe in a
rational universe, in enlightenment, in knowledge and
in a search for the truth, this White House is an
absolute disaster."

Posted by richard at February 23, 2004 03:07 PM