By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
The president used California's woes as an excuse to renege on his campaign promise to curtail the nation's carbon-dioxide emissions, cutting the sinews of the Clean Air Act that Richard Nixon had signed into law in 1970. The act required polluting coal-fueled power plants to upgrade their pollution controls whenever they made major repairs or expansions of their facilities. Many companies had skirted doing that for decades. During the Clinton administration, the EPA and Justice Department pursued the gross polluters, intending the potentially hefty fines as leverage to get the companies to finally comply. Several of the firms had been on the verge of agreeing to that. Then Bush came into office, and the companies were given to understand it was a whole new ball game.
Despite new studies showing the plants' emissions caused even greater health and environmental damage than previously thought—more acid rain, more mercury for everyone, more global warming—Bush ordered the EPA to drop its cases against dozens of polluting plants.
Bush proposed supplanting the Clean Air Act standards with his Clear Skies plan, which allowed, for example, 50 percent more sulfur-dioxide emissions. Even Congressional Republicans balked at the plan, perhaps because the National Academy of Sciences estimated the relaxed standards would result in 30,000 more premature U.S. deaths per year. So in March 2004, Bush sidestepped legislative action, instead reinterpreting the EPA rules so that the plants effectively never had to upgrade their pollution controls. For the first time in the agency's history, the research and input of its staff and federal advisory panel was entirely disregarded, with the rules instead adopting the wording of utility lobbyists.
Bush's EPA point man for weakening the rules, John Pemperton, was hired away by one of the chief polluters, Southern Co., which was also a big Bush contributor.
Bush celebrated the rule change with a photo-op in front of a power plant, where he declared, "We simplified the rules. We made them easy to understand. We trust the people in this plant to make the right decisions."
And it was easy to understand: that plant was now free to release 36,000 more tons of pollutants per year into the air. Mission accomplished.
Rooney gave me a break from our research this afternoon, taking me with him and his friends O'Malley and Flynn to see a Carrot Top holo-concert. I can almost understand the Nurg penchant for adopting Irish names, but their fascination with Carrot Top is beyond me. The holo-concert today is titled Carrot Top: A Study in Nuance. Even when he was alive and the Nurg wardens walked among us holo-cloaked, they flocked to his shows, which explains why Carrot Top had audiences while no one you ever knew was there.
As far as I can tell, the Nurg have no culture of their own. Instead, they mine their host planets'. According to Rooney, one reason why they time our species' demise and the utter collapse of the planet's ecosystem to about 300 years BD is they've usually become burned out on the culture by then and want to move on.
Most Nurg love trash culture: Etruscan potty jokes, Chuck Norris movies, midriff rock. It reminded me of the way human youths reveled in vacuous crap as if to show that death was so remote they could afford to piss years of their lives away. The Nurg did live nearly forever and had entire centuries in which to piss.
That was O'Malley and Flynn pretty much, and they also were just not nice. I think they resented that as a warden, Rooney had lived here and seen Carrot Top live—and also that he was allowed to keep his own personal nose: me.
In a mood this night, O'Malley told me, "You know what your fellows down on the farm call noses like you? House-snifflers."
From where they sit, I'd call me names, too. The ones who still have their wits about them can't enjoy living in pens, with nothing but TV and the sweltering heat to occupy their days. Even here in Orange County—Bush country if ever there were one—the environmental havoc had run high, since his administration apparently followed a Screw California First policy.
The manufactured energy crisis, the nation's highest gas prices compliments of Bush's oil buddies, the billions in economic losses from the drought while Bush's feds played hardball over water rights and aid: there was a pattern.
In 2003, as Southern California smog hit its highest level in six years, the Bush administration argued in the Supreme Court against California's right to set its own smog rules, with the supposed "state's rights" Republicans arguing that only the lax federal rules should apply.
A study released in 2004 revealed that under Bush, the disaster relief the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) doled out wasn't based on need but on an area's "swing state" status in the upcoming elections.
In 2003, California's Governor Gray Davis asked FEMA for $430 million in emergency federal aid to help clear forests of trees killed by the drought and bark beetles because experts predicted catastrophic fires. The Bush administration sat on the request for six months, then turned it down as unnecessary the very day the fires broke out. Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono declared, "FEMA's decision was wrong. . . . We knew this disaster was going to happen with certainty."