Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has censored the warnings of its professional staff about a Bush Administration plan to build more roads across national forests, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). EPA deleted comments about a host of environmental problems, ranging from impaired public drinking water to spreading invasive plants, from comments it submitted to the U.S. Forest Service on November 26th.
“Things have gotten pretty extreme when the Environmental Protection Agency is no longer permitted to voice environmental concerns,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “‘Never was heard a discouraging word’ is no longer just a lyric from Home on the Range; it is the new federal environmental mantra.”
This past July, the Bush Administration moved to replace a Clinton moratorium on building roads in previously undeveloped portions of the national forest system with a plan that generally allows road building unless the host state objects and submits its own plan for protecting in-state roadless areas. In response to a U.S. Forest Service call for comments on this new plan, EPA prepared material that argued for altering the plan in order to –
- Lessen deterioration of water quality in streams affected by sediment washing from logged areas and the resulting loss of wildlife habitat;
- Address the $8.4 billion backlog “for road repair and maintenance of existing roads” in national forests; and
- Give states more than 18 months to plan for initiating their own protection plans.
According to EPA employees, Steven Shimberg, an executive appointee within the agency’s Office for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, dismissed the staff draft as “a rant” and ordered the objections stricken. As a result, EPA’s final letter raised no opposition to the plan and only meekly suggested that its “water quality concerns” could be addressed by forming an advisory committee.
This latest act of self-censorship adds to a recent pattern in which EPA’s pollution-related concerns have been squelched from inter-agency communications. Similar objections by EPA specialists to Bush Administration plans to allow snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, to greatly expand coal bed methane production on federal range lands and to exempt Pentagon agencies from toxic waste regulations have all been excised from official correspondence.
“Message control is no substitute for stewardship,” Ruch added. “The Bush Administration has raised toadyism to an art form.”