Behind the Closed Door

Bush Seeks Approval for Secret Meetings, Polluting Trucks

The Supreme Court yesterday granted the Bush Administration's requests to intervene in two important environmental cases the White House wants overturned.

The first one involves whether the White House can continue to keep secret records of Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force, which shaped the controversial energy bill currently stalled in the Senate. The second case involves whether the administration should have to conduct an environmental study before issuing permits to trucks from Mexico.

In the energy task force case, public interest groups won access to some information about who was on the task force and how it operated, but Cheney appealed.

Created by presidential executive order in 2001, the task force routinely met behind closed doors and recommended a host of industry-backed proposals, such as opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and many other public lands to oil and gas drilling. Cheney has repeatedly refused to reveal who his group met with, even to congress's investigative arm, the General Accounting Office.

In the Mexican trucks case, a federal appeals court ruled in January that the administration violated environmental laws when it took steps to grant Mexican trucks full access to U.S. highways without adequately reviewing their environmental impact. The Bush Administration then asked the Supreme Court to step in, even though the Department of Transportation had already begun to comply with the court order.

At least 30,000 Mexico-domiciled diesel trucks could enter the U.S. every year, including older, pre-1994 trucks -- the most egregious polluters. A study shows that by 2010, trucks from Mexico will emit twice as much particulate matter and nitrogen oxides as U.S. trucks.

Meanwhile, one of the Supreme Court justices to decide "Cheney v. U.S. District Court" was the guest of the vice president last week. According to the Washington Post, Justice Antonin Scalia joined Administration leaders celebrating the holidays at the Cheneys' Christmas party in the vice president's residence last Thursday.

EPA Works Out Secret Deal with Factory Farms

Perhaps taking its cue from the Cheney Energy Task Force, the EPA has been holding secret meetings with the agribusiness industry this year, putting together a "sweetheart deal" with lobbyists to exempt factory farms from Clean Air Act and Superfund regulations.

The EPA has proposed offering "an industry-wide pardon" for air pollution violations to massive hog, cattle and chicken farms, says Sierra Club attorney Barclay Rogers.

"This deal is being negotiated behind closed doors, and the Sierra Club and other environmental groups are trying to pry those doors open through a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act," Rogers told BushGreenwatch.

The lawsuit demands the Bush Administration divulge information about the secret meetings between EPA and industry. Even though documents had been leaked to environmental groups, EPA denied the existence of a deal until after the lawsuit was filed in September. The plaintiffs have asked the court to order EPA to immediately turn over its records.

A copy of the deal obtained by environmentalists indicates that EPA would agree not to pursue factory farms for polluting if they paid a $500 penalty and agreed to take part in a study to monitor emissions.

Localities, some of which have been unable to meet air quality standards because of farm emissions, have complained.

"The result would be an evisceration of states' and localities' ability to address air quality problems emanating from agricultural operations," two organizations representing state and local air quality officials said in a letter to EPA.

A small number of corporate farming giants dominate the U.S. meat industry -- in 2001, for instance, 75 percent of all hogs were packed into just 9 percent of U.S. hog farms, resulting in roughly 5,000 hogs per operation. With so many animals -- and manure -- concentrated onto so few farms, they are a major source of hazardous gas emissions and particulate matter proven to cause lung ailments and even premature death.

BushGreenwatch provides daily updates on the Bush Administration's assault on our environment and public health.

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