Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has just created a new, top level position for Homeland Security, one of several recent moves emphasizing security operations at the expense of children’s health and other key environmental protections, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
On May 1, 2006, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson announced that Tom Dunne would serve as the agency’s first Associate Administrator for Homeland Security and will report directly to Johnson, who has also created a “national security and intelligence” center in the new Homeland Security Office. In addition, the Bush administration has proposed channeling $45 million of EPA research funds into a “Water Sentinel” program, to help monitor water infrastructure safety in the event of a terrorist attack.
“EPA is cannibalizing its children and public health functions in order to run programs that should be paid for by the Department of Homeland Security, an organization not suffering from a lack of funding,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that no other agency will pick up the anti-pollution efforts discarded by EPA. “We do not need EPA researchers playing junior G-men.”
At the same time these new security functions are being expanded, EPA’s overall budget is being cut. The budgetary axe is falling on traditional environmental programs, such as those designed to improve water quality. EPA is also closing most of its libraries as a cost-saving measure.
Programs that affect children’s health have also been particularly hard-hit. This fall, Johnson announced the elimination of EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, an entity dedicated to ensure that the special vulnerability of children is safeguarded in environmental standard-setting, enforcement and prevention efforts. The Office of Children’s Health Protection was collapsed into the Office of Environmental Education, considered one of EPA’s lowest priority programs.
In January, the EPA Office of Inspector General issued a report criticizing serious inadequacies in the agency’s ability to assess the effects of pesticides on fetuses, infants, toddlers, and youngsters. The agency claims that it lacks funding to collect data, conduct cumulative effect analyses and develop standards for determining the developmental neurotoxicity of the pesticides that EPA is approving for commercial use. Significantly, EPA is overdue in producing a plan for corrective actions that address the material weaknesses identified by the Inspector General.
“It is unconscionable that EPA is certifying pesticides as safe without doing the basic research to determine their effects on growing children,” Ruch added.