Unearthed: News of the Week the Mainstream Media Forgot to Cover

EPA instructs staff not to talk to investigators on media, Canadian Arctic Ice Shelf collapse continues, EPA acknowledges voluntary global warming measures don't work.
08/01/2008 09:31 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bush Will Leave Behind Half Trillion Dollar Deficit As Legacy

President Bush will leave an estimated $562 billion dollar federal budget deficit in his wake next year, saddling the next President with the largest deficit in U.S. history.

The White House projects a $482 billion deficit for 2009, but fails to include roughly $80 billion dollars in additional Iraq war funding. The administration's refusal to include its full estimate of war costs violates new Congressional mandates requiring the White House to include inevitable expenditures in its projections, and also represents a break from tradition followed by previous administrations.

The figure is likely to be even higher still, since the White House projections assume the economy will grow at a rate of 2.2 percent next year, a rosy prediction fully a half point higher than the "blue chip" consensus of business economists. The administration also believes inflation will fall to 2.3 percent in 2009 after averaging 3.8 percent this year, while the blue chip panel predicts a 3 percent inflation rate for 2009.

The White House in February forecasted that next year's deficit would be $407 billion, far below the current projection of $482 billion, illustrating the Bush White House's tendency to exaggerate the economic outlook. The $482 billion deficit would easily shatter Bush's previous record deficit of $413 billion set in 2004.

Bush inherited a $127 billion budget surplus from President Bill Clinton, following a 10-year period of uninterrupted economic growth, the longest expansion in U.S. history.

EPA Instructs Staff Not to Talk to Investigators Or Media

An internal EPA e-mail obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a non-profit alliance of local, state and federal professionals, instructs the agency's top pollution enforcement officials not to respond directly to congressional investigators, reporters or even the agency's own inspector general. The June 16 email message instructs 11 managers in the branch of the agency charged with enforcing existing environmental laws to remind their staff members to keep quiet.

"If you are contacted directly by the IG's office or GAO requesting information of any kind ... please do not respond to questions or make any statements," the memo says, indicating that staff members should forward all inquiries to a designated EPA representative.

"The clear intention behind this move is to chill the cubicles by suppressing any uncontrolled information," PEER executive director Jeff Ruch told reporters, suggesting the e-mail reinforces a "bunker mentality" within the Bush EPA.

Several congressional committees are pressuring the Bush EPA to disclose documents relating to its position on global warming and its denial of a petition by California to control carbon emissions from motor vehicles. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson recently denied a request to appear before two Senate committees to discuss whether the agency's decision not to act to regulate global warming emissions comply with its staff's technical and legal recommendations.

Beach Pollution Warnings Drop Slightly But Still Second Highest Ever Reported

The number of days U.S. beaches were declared unsafe for swimming due to pollution declined slightly in 2007, according to an annual report by the Natural Resources Defense Council. NRDC recorded 22,571 closures or advisory days at the 3,516 most popular U.S. beaches last year, down 12 percent from the record 25,643 in 2006, but still the second highest in 18 years and the third consecutive year with more than 20,000 closures. Less rainfall in Hawaii and California are likely behind the drop, NRDC said, noting that heavy rains can lead sewage systems or storm drains to overflow, sending pollutants into swimming areas.

"Our nation's beaches continue to suffer from serious water pollution that puts swimmers at risk," NRDC reports, noting that 2007 was the third consecutive year with more than 20,000 cases of beaches being closed because they were considered unsafe due to pollution.

Seventy-one percent of 2007 beach closures resulted from detection of elevated bacteria levels by monitoring equipment; another 25 percent were issued as a precaution due to heavy rain forecasts; and three percent were prompted by incidents like sewage treatment plant failures or broken pipes.

Canadian Arctic Ice Shelf Collapse Continues

Nearly eight square miles of ice broke off an ice shelf on Ward Hunt Island in the northernmost reaches of the Canadian Arctic last week. It was the largest fracture since a 25 square mile chunk of the nearby Ayles ice shelf broke away in 2005. Scientists predict more could follow later this year, possibly another "piece as large as the Ayles ice shelf," said Trudy Wohlleben of the Canadian Ice Service. Wohlleben said the ice shelves, which contained unique ecosystems not yet studied, will never return to their former robustness because they took so long to form.

"Whatever has kept this ice shelf in balance for 3,000 years is no longer keeping it in balance," Derek Mueller, an Arctic ice shelf specialist at Trent University in Ontario, told Reuters. "Once they've broken off they're gone," she said.

Global warming has driven temperatures up in large parts of the Arctic, which is warming far faster than the global average.


EPA Acknowledges Voluntary Global Warming Measures Don't Work

Bush administration claims that voluntary global warming pollution reduction programs can solve global warming are patently false, according to the EPA Inspector General's Office. Citing industry's unwillingness to cut emissions voluntarily and faulty data used to claim industrial pollution reductions, the Inspector General's office acknowledged the "limited potential" of asking polluters to voluntarily slash emissions from coal mines, aluminum smelters, landfills and industrial farms.

The Bush administration's reliance on voluntary programs to reduce global warming emissions would, at best, slow the growth of greenhouse gases, but not actually reduce them. Climate scientists warn that the planet-warming emissions must be slashed by at least 80 percent by 2050 to fend off unstoppable climate disruptions.

Despite a Supreme Court decision last year confirming that the EPA has the authority to use existing laws to reduce global warming pollution from vehicles and power plants, the Bush White House has refused to act and confirmed that the Agency has no intention of enforcing emissions reductions before Bush leaves office.

Some of the polluting industries the EPA report criticized for not taking voluntary steps openly admit that they have no intention of reducing emissions until Congress passes legislation requiring them to act.

Americans Call for Clean Technology Investments, Reject Industry and White House Drilling Claims

Despite a well-funded industry campaign and Bush administration assurances that increased drilling would solve the high gas prices that are crippling our economy, a national poll confirms that a majority of Americans (54%) understand that allowing more drilling in sensitive wildlife areas and offshore will not solve high gas prices. Instead, the public overwhelmingly believes (76% to 19%) the U.S. should invest in clean energy technologies including renewable fuels and more efficient vehicles rather than expand oil exploration and drilling. National poll results conducted by D.C. research firm Belden Russonello & Stewart found that 63% of Americans agree that the President's proposal to open up more public lands to oil and gas drilling is more likely to enrich oil companies than to lower gas prices for U.S. consumers, and a similar majority (66%) called for the small percentage of public lands still protected from oil drilling to remain off-limits. Only 19 percent of those polled favored expanded oil drilling as a solution to high gas prices.

Sockeye Salmon Returning to Columbia River in Record Numbers

Sockeye salmon are making the largest run in at least half a century up the Columbia River system, four times larger than the run experts predicted for this year. The exact reason for the surprise return of the sockeye this year is unknown, although millions of dollars invested in recovery programs for the species may be helping. Since salmon runs can vary wildly from year to year, the success of this one run by no means indicates that the species is recovered from decline. Ten years ago two sockeye came back, leading biologists to wonder if the river's salmon were gone for good. But biologists witnessing this year's run are hopeful that the species might rebound after decades of decline caused by the river's dams.

The high returns may be largely due to court-ordered spill at federal dams in 2006 and 2007 that helped migrating juvenile sockeye to breach the dams and return to the ocean faster. Increased hatchery releases and favorable ocean conditions may also contribute to the sockeye surge. The record numbers of returning sockeye exceed every run up the Columbia or Snake rivers since the last major dam was constructed in 1975, but migrating salmon still face an uncertain future due to the dams.

Exxon Mobil Profits Soar to Highest Levels Ever, But Production Falters

Exxon Mobil reported the highest profit of any corporation in U.S. history, beating its own records, although most news accounts chose to highlight the "disappointment" among the company's investors upset with the result since it was lower than Wall Street's lofty expectations. The world's largest publicly traded oil company reported $11.68 billion in second quarter profits, nearly $90,000 a minute over the quarter. Crude oil prices averaging more than $124 a barrel for the quarter, 91 percent higher than the same quarter last year, drove profits to record levels. Exxon reported revenues of $254.9 billion for the first six months of 2008.

Exxon's total profits amounted to $22.57 billion excluding an after-tax charge of $290 million related to the $500 million settlement for the Exxon Valdez disaster, a vastly reduced punishment compared to the initial $5 billion jury award.

"Inside the boardrooms at the major oil companies, it's Christmas in July," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. "What's shocking is that Big Oil is plowing these profits into stock buybacks instead of increasing production or investing in alternative energy."

Kenneth Cohen, an Exxon vice president, said oil companies need the profits to search for more oil and gas, repeating industry talking points and calling on Congress to open up protected federal lands and offshore areas where drilling is prohibited.

But Exxon purchased $8.8 billion of its own shares over the quarter, twice as much as the company spent on exploring for new oil fields. Exxon and other oil companies have failed to explore for oil on 80 percent of the millions of acres of public lands already leased to them by U.S. taxpayers.

Petition to Send Karl Rove to Jail Surpasses 100,000 Signatures

Over 100,000 people have signed a grassroots petition to send former White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove to jail for ignoring a subpoena to testify before Congress.

The House Judiciary Committee voted this week to hold Rove in contempt for his refusal to testify earlier this month about the firing of federal prosecutors and allegations of selective prosecution of Democrats by the Justice Department, notably former Alabama governor Don Siegelman.

Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) said Rove's failure to show up to testify was an "insult to the American people and to the system of checks and balances that are the basis of our constitution and our democracy."

The full House of Representatives is expected to vote on whether to cite Rove for contempt later this month. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicates that a federal judge's ruling that former White House counsel Harriet Miers must appear before the same congressional committee under a similar subpoena could pave the way for Congress to hold Rove and other White House officials in contempt.

Voting Rights Advocates Accuse States of Illegally Purging Voter Lists

Election officials in Kansas, Michigan and Louisiana may be ignoring a federal law protecting registered voters from being purged from voter rolls, according to a review by civil rights attorneys working with national voting rights groups.

Election officials in at least those three states appear to be purging registered voters after finding duplicate names and birthdays of people on their voter lists and in out-of-state databases, such as driver's license records. By assuming that the voter has relocated and removing them from registered voters lists, the groups allege the state officials are violating the federal National Voter Registration Act, which lays out a multiyear process requiring officials to attempt to contact voters to confirm a change of address before deleting them from voter rolls.

The election attorneys say the NVRA process seeks to err on the side of protecting voting rights and cannot be circumvented by what appears to be a duplicate voter registration.

The groups question the accuracy of the database matching technique used to purge voters, citing the example of California which first implemented a data-matching program in 2006. Some counties in the state had error rates as high as 40 percent using the matching method, they say.

Unearthed will return in a few weeks to continue highlighting stories critical to our democracy and the planet which are underreported or ignored by the corporate-owned mainstream media.