Politics & Policy

Clearing The Air

Jonathan Adler’s critique of my Rolling Stone article (“Kennedy’s Crimes Against Fact,” Dec. 3) is an exercise in academic hair-splitting designed to disguise the catastrophic real-world impacts of President Bush’s environmental rollbacks. As my Rolling Stone piece demonstrates, the Bush-administration policies have already inflicted extensive damage to America’s environment. Anyone inclined to accept Adler’s greenwashing can turn to www.nrdc.org, which has documented hundreds of assaults by the White House on our nation’s health and environmental safeguards. At the behest of corporate polluters, the aim of the administration’s actions is to rid industry of the need to comply with many of our federal environmental statutes.

While Adler quibbles with my language, the Bush assault continues. Just since my article was published, the administration proposed scaling back plans for protecting citizens from the mercury spewed into our air by power plants. Already more than half of America’s freshwater fish are so poisoned with mercury that they cannot safely be eaten. One in twelve American women have unsafe levels of mercury in their blood, putting 300,000 newborn babies at risk for neurological impairment each year. President Bush’s proposal would scuttle existing regulations that require power plants to eliminate 90 percent of their poisonous mercury pollution within three years. It will allow far weaker protections and delay action for at least ten years, putting more than three million American children at risk. The utility and coal industries that promoted the rollback have donated millions of dollars to President Bush, and continue to do so.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Natural Resources Defense Council

New York, N.Y.

Jonathan H. Adler responds: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.–himself an academic of sorts–accuses me of “academic hair-splitting,” but fails to identify a single error or misstatement in my critique of his mistake-filled Rolling Stone article. Instead, he refers readers to the website of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of Kennedy’s employers. Much of the material on this site about the Bush administration commits the same exaggerations as Kennedy’s article–but the article is worse. Indeed, as I pointed out in my piece, some of Kennedy’s claims are directly refuted by the material on NRDC’s site.

Unwilling–or perhaps I should say unable–to defend the false charges in his original piece, Kennedy makes additional misleading claims about the Bush administration’s plans to regulate mercury emissions. After sitting on proposed mercury regulations for years, the Clinton administration issued regulatory findings in December 2000 that called for the development of binding emission regulations by 2004. Perhaps this is more “academic hair-splitting,” but contrary to Kennedy’s suggestion, no regulations on the books require any emission reductions from power plants. This week, the Bush administration released two proposals to regulate mercury: the command-and-control technology mandates envisioned by the Clinton administration and a market-based “cap-and-trade” plan to reduce mercury emissions from power plants by 70 percent at a substantially lower cost. When the regulations are finalized next year, they will represent the first-ever binding limits on such emissions. Also since Kennedy’s article was published, the EPA announced plans to impose a “cap-and-trade” system of emission controls on sources of interstate air pollution, including the power plants Kennedy (wrongly) claimed were now “excused” from Clean Air Act compliance.

Gross distortions and deceptive hyperbole may be a good way for NRDC to raise money, pump up direct-mail contributions, and mobilize activists for next year’s election, but it is an exceedingly poor way to inform the public about environmental policy.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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