Crimes against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracyby Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Jr. Kennedy
In this powerful and far-reaching indictment of George W. Bush's White House, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the country's most prominent environmental attorney, charges that this administration has taken corporate cronyism to such unprecedented heights that it now threatens our health, our national security, and democracy as we know it. In a headlong pursuit of private profit and personal power, Kennedy writes, George Bush and his administration have eviscerated the laws that have protected our nation's air,water, public lands, and wildlife for the past thirty years, enriching the president's political contributors whilelowering the quality of life for the rest of us.
Kennedy lifts the veil on how the administration has orchestrated these rollbacks almost entirely outside of public scrutiny -- and in tandem with the very industries that our laws are meant to regulate, the country's most notorious polluters. He writes of how it has deceived the public by manipulating and suppressing scientific data, intimidated enforcement officials and other civil servants, and masked its agenda with Orwellian doublespeak. He reports on how the White House doles out lavish subsidies and tax breaks to the energy barons while excusing industry from providing adequate security at the more than 15,000 chemical and nuclear facilities that are prime targets for terrorist attacks. Kennedy reveals an administration whose policies have "squandered our Treasury, entangled us in foreign wars, diminished our international prestige, made us a target for terrorist attacks, and increased our reliance on petty Middle Eastern dictators who despise democracy and are hated by their own people."
Crimes Against Nature is ultimately about the corrosive effect of corporate corruption on our core American values -- free-market capitalism and democracy. It is about an administration, the author argues, that has sacrificed respect for the law, public health, scientific integrity, and long-term economic vitality on the altar of corporate greed. It is a book for both Democrats and Republicans, people like the traditionally conservative farmers and fishermen Kennedy represents in lawsuits against polluters. "Without exception," he writes, "these people see the current administration as the greatest threat not just to their livelihoods but to their values, their sense of community, and their idea of what it means to be American."
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Crimes Against NatureHow George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy
By Robert Kennedy, Jr.
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Robert Kennedy, Jr.
All right reserved.
The Mess in Texas
As you fly over the Houston Ship Channel at twilight, thousands of flares seem to ignite in the approaching darkness. Smokestacks from more than a hundred massive chemical factories, oil refineries, and power plants have suddenly become steel towers of light and fire. From the air, it's not hard to understand why some call this area the "golden triangle." This concentration of industry, which includes a 3,000-acre ExxonMobil facility the planet's largest oil refinery -- generates enough wealth for its owners to make the Texas economy bigger than the gross domestic product of most nations.1
It is a different scene on the ground. There the twilight flares rumble, the ground shakes, the air hisses. Plumes of black smoke belch upward and acrid odors permeate the atmosphere. The smell of money, some call it. But from this earthly vantage point -- especially for low-income residents living downwind in eastern Harris County -- it is less a golden triangle than a scene out of Dante's Inferno.
The ubiquitous highway signs warning "Don't Mess With Texas," haven't deterred the state's polluters one bit. Here are some basic facts about the Lone Star State: According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, fully one-quarter of Texas's streams and rivers are so polluted that they do not meet standards set for recreational use.2 Half of the state's 20 million people reside in areas where the smog pollution surpasses federal limits.3 In 1999, Houston overtook Los Angeles as America's smoggiest city. Texas also ranked first in toxic releases to the environment, first in total toxic air emissions from industrial facilities, first in toxic chemical accidents, and first in cancer-causing pollution.4 Also in 1999, 15 of the nation's 30 highest smog readings were all taken in Texas.5 Every major urban area -- Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, and Longview -- either failed to meet the EPA's minimum air quality standards, or was on the verge of failing.6
"The level of damage to human health is extraordinary," says Tom Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization. He cites a recent mayoral study estimating annual pollution-related health care costs of between $2.9 and $3.1 billion in the Houston metropolitan area alone.7 Air pollution kills an estimated 435 people a year in the city.8 "We lead the nation in childhood asthma," says Lanell Anderson, a resident of Clear Lake, a town south of Houston that's surrounded by chemical plants. "We lead the nation in childhood cancer ... Our cup runneth over."9Texas has long been one of the most polluted states in the country, but rather than remedy the situation, George W. Bush set out to destroy virtually all attempts to clean up the state's tainted air, water, and land. During his six-year reign as governor, from 1994 to 2000, Texas dropped to number 49 in spending on the environment.10 Under his watch, Texas had the worst pollution record in the United States. It sent the most toxic chemicals and carcinogens into the air. It had the highest emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), accounting for a least 10 percent of the national total. It had the most chemical spills and Clean Water Act violations, and produced the largest volume of hazardous waste.11 As New York Times colum nist Bob Herbert put it shortly before Bush received the Republican nomination in 2000, "Mr. Bush's relationship to the environment is roughly that of a doctor to a patient -- where the doctor's name is Kevorkian."12
The anti-environment agenda of today's White House was honed and perfected during Bush's gubernatorial years. It was in Texas that he developed the tactics and policies that guide his autocratic leadership today: closed-door meetings with industry insiders who are among his biggest campaign contributors; reliance on pseudo-scientific "studies" by right wing think tanks; emasculation of regulations that cut into industry profits; citizens muzzled in debates that affect their communities.
Soon after becoming governor, Bush declared tort reform an "emergency issue" and appointed judges who made it all but impossible for Texans to bring class action lawsuits against polluters. In 1995 he pushed through the Private Real Property Rights Preservation Act, a radical "takings" bill that would make taxpayers pay polluters' cost of complying with pollution laws. According to this view, corporations should be able to do what they want with their private property; if the state cuts into their profits by forcing them to adopt pollution-control measures, the state (i.e., the public) should pay. This perverse doctrine reverses a millennium of western property law that holds that owners can use their property as the please, but never in a way that diminishes their neighbors' property or the public trust properties like air and water. Leading the charge for this radical new approach was right-wing private-property advocate Marshall Kuykendall, who complained at a public forum that the last time the federal government took our property without compensation is "when Lincoln freed the slaves."13
In another foreshadowing of his presidency, Bush installed a pro-industry troika to run the state's environmental agency, the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission. Bush selected Barry McBee, a lawyer with a host of oil-industry clients, to chair the TNRCC. At his previous position at the Texas Department of Agriculture, farm labor and environmental groups accused McBee of helping to dismantle a program that kept farmworkers out of fields that were still "hot" after pesticide applications. The second appointee was Ralph Marquez, a former Monsanto executive and lobbyist for the Texas Chemical Council. Marquez quashed a plan to issue health warnings to Houston residents on high-smog days and later testified before a congressional committee that ozone "is a relatively benign pollutant."14 Bush's third appointment was a cattleman named John Baker, former official of the Texas Farm Bureau, a sworn enemy of pesticide regulations.15
The new TNRCC came to be known by the moniker "Train Wreck." Until this new regime was in place, all Texas citizens had the right to challenge pollution permits required by companies for their waste disposal. This right is one of the few recourses that regular folks have to protect their health, homes, and communities from the ravages of pollution. The new TNRCC soon eliminated this policy, as well as the longstanding practice of making surprise inspections of industrial plants. It discovered loopholes in all kinds of federal and state environmental regulations ...
Excerpted from Crimes Against Nature by Robert Kennedy, Jr. Copyright © 2005 by Robert Kennedy, Jr.. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., is senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, chief prosecuting attorney for Riverkeeper, and president of Waterkeeper Alliance. He is also a clinical professor and supervising attorney at the Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University School of Law. A former assistant district attorney for New York City, he is the coauthor of The Riverkeepers: Two Activists Fight to Reclaim Our Environment as a Basic Human Right.
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