Cheney, Part 4

CHENEY, PART 4….The fourth and final installment in the Washington Post’s series about Dick Cheney is up, and it’s a bit of a chin scratcher. It’s about the environment, and the biggest chunk of the piece is devoted to Cheney’s efforts to overturn a decision by federal scientists in 2001 that shut off irrigation water to farmers in Oregon in order to save some protected fish. As it turns out, Cheney had a few options for making this happen, but the one he chose was to ask the National Academy of Sciences to review the science. That was risky since the NAS panel was independent, but according to the Post, “Cheney was firm, expressing no such concerns about the result. ‘He felt we had to match the science.'”

That’s remarkably….honest and above board. So unlike the Cheney we know and loathe. On the other hand, the decision also turned out to be disastrous: a critique of the NAS opinion was quietly deep-sixed in typical Cheney-esque fashion, the fisheries eventually collapsed, the feds ended up out of pocket for $60 million in disaster aid, and last year a federal judge overruled the whole thing. That’s more like it!

We also learn for the first time why Christie Whitman quit as EPA administrator. She wanted to construct some reasonable rules specifying exactly when old power plants would be required to install anti-pollution equipment, but Cheney, unsurprisingly, just wanted her to create “routine maintenance” loopholes so big that no plant would ever be required to install upgrades:

Whitman agreed that the exception for routine maintenance and repair needed to be clarified, but not in a way that undercut the ongoing Clinton-era lawsuits — many of which had merit, she said.

….The EPA sent rule revisions to White House officials. The read-back was that they weren’t happy and “wanted something that would be more pro-industry,” she said.

The end result, which she said was written at the direction of the White House and announced in August 2003, vastly broadened the definition of routine maintenance. It allowed some of the nation’s dirtiest plants to make major modifications without installing costly new pollution controls.

By that time, Whitman had already announced her resignation, saying she wanted to spend more time with her family. But the real reason, she said, was the new rule.

“I just couldn’t sign it,” she said. “The president has a right to have an administrator who could defend it, and I just couldn’t.”

Needless to say, the power and refinery industry was a heavy contributor to the Bush-Cheney campaign. Just a coincidence, though, I’m sure.