Environment improved, EPA says in draft report

By Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post
Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post


WASHINGTON The United States' air and drinking water have become cleaner and its dump sites less toxic over the past decade or more, the Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday in a report that critics said was compromised by political interference.

"Where we have data, we tend to see either environmental improvement, or that we are holding our own in the face of a growing economy and population," said Paul Gilman, the EPA's chief scientist.

The draft report's assessment of up to 30 years of government efforts to clean up the environment was overshadowed by a controversy over its global-warming section.

Outgoing EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has said she deleted the discussion of global warming after White House aides sought to tone it down and she decided the result would be "pablum."

The document merely stated: "This report does not attempt to address the complexities of this issue." It referred readers to the Web site of the U.S. Global Climate Research Program, www.usgcrp.gov/.

The report noted that emissions of the six principal air pollutants sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, lead and particulate matter had declined about 25 percent in 30 years. The percentage of days where air quality violated a health standard declined from 10 percent in 1998 to 3 percent in 2001, even though 133 million Americans live in areas where air quality is unhealthy at times.

The report said 94 percent of Americans in 2002 had community drinking-water systems that met health standards, up from 79 percent a decade ago. The report said, however, that beach closings were on the rise because of ocean pollution and that 28 percent of national lake acreage including all of the Great Lakes were under fish advisories because of contamination.

The report said the 17 most-toxic chemicals in hazardous waste declined 44 percent between 1991 and 1998. Sprawl is accelerating, however, with the rate of land development increasing 150 percent between 1982 and 1997.

Even though the report mentioned national shortcomings as well as progress, advocacy groups criticized it for failing to include information that would be unkind to industry.

"It completely ignores the sources of the air and toxic pollution," said Anna Aurilio, legislative director of the Public Interest Research Group. "That's because these sources are the same as the sources of the Bush administration's political power."

Whitman stressed the scientific aspects of the report, describing it as a "work in progress," in which the agency will seek feedback in coming months from "organized groups, experts and average citizens."

The global-warming controversy isn't likely to disappear when Whitman steps down as EPA chief later this month. The agency plans to solicit public comments before making the report final, and environmentalists say they will try to force the Bush administration to acknowledge that global warming is an environmental problem.

There is general agreement in the scientific community that the Earth's average temperature is rising. Most scientists link global warming to such human activities as burning oil, gas and coal, which produces carbon dioxide and other gases that build up in the atmosphere and trap heat at the surface.


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