February 24, 1997
Congress is considering new, stricter clean air rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As usual, lawmakers are being lobbied both by environmental groups who favor the new rules, and by representatives of industry who don't.
The news media, also as usual, are siding with EPA and the environmentalists. Not that they are blatantly saying the tree huggers are right -- they would never be so obvious. No, usually what they do is point out that the "scientists" (notice the "scorn" quotation marks) testifying against the new rules are being paid big bucks by big business. The implication is that corporations who make money by raping the environment are just worried they're going to lose out, so they're hiring scientists to spout their line.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm as much in favor of keeping the environment clean as the next person. And I don't deny that scientists who work directly or indirectly for U.S. corporations testify before Congress.
But I don't like it when one standard is used to judge those lobbying against the new rules as bad, and another standard to judge those in favor of the new rules as good. That's called a double standard -- and it's not fair. So let's apply the same standard to the "good guys" and the "bad guys" and see whether the good guys still smell so good.
It just so happens they don't. The scions of big business aren't the only ones with a financial stake in the outcome of this debate. As it turns out, the environmental groups who favor the new, stricter clean air rules are getting paid too. By none other than the EPA.
That's right. Almost all the groups and researchers pushing the costly new air pollution rules are getting money from EPA grants. This includes both the American Lung Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council, both of which have received millions in grants in recent years.
According to Thomas DiLorenzo, an economist at Loyola College in Baltimore, Md., this federal money provides cover for the EPA to push expensive new mandates that will cost industry billions of dollars a year. And you know who winds up paying those bills in the form of higher prices? Yep, we do. The consumers. "The EPA is funding advocates on one side of the issue," says DiLorenzo. "They're skewing the debate in favor of the EPA's position, and using tax dollars to do it."
A few examples, in case you don't believe me. A recent article in the New York Times quoted a letter signed by George Thurston, professor of environmental medicine at the New York University School of Medicine. "Tens of thousands of hospital visits and premature deaths could be prevented each year by more stringent air quality standards," Thurston wrote.
While the Times story made clear the link between scientists testifying against the new standards and their industry financiers, no mention was made of the three-year, $383,000 EPA grant Thurston received last year to study the health effects of "acidic particulate matter."
And get this -- the American Lung Association (ALA), which has received more than $5 million from the EPA since 1990, sues the EPA almost every year, contending the agency isn't enforcing the clean air laws. The EPA is happy to lose these lawsuits, because losing means they get to expand their enforcement powers. The EPA is so happy to be sued it often asks lung association officials to testify before EPA hearings -- and reimburses them for the cost! The ALA received $8,500 in reimbursements alone from the EPA in 1995, DiLorenzo found.
No wonder the House of Representatives just voted to require all witnesses testifying before Congress -- advocacy groups and corporations alike -- to reveal the amount and source of any federal money they receive. Now, thanks to this "Truth In Testimony" provision, maybe we'll begin to hear, as Paul Harvey always says, "the rest of the story."