Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Is Christie Todd Whitman A Liar Or Am I Just Crazy?

I blogged about this last September when former EPA head Christie Todd Whitman blamed the city of New York for the thousands debilitated by chronic respiratory diseases and rare cancers in the wake of 9/11. Certainly the EPA’s assurances on Sept. 13 that the New York air was safe to breathe had nothing to do with it. Surely pressure from the White House to reopen the New York Stock Exchange “or the terrorists win” had nothing to do with it.


One of the best things about the Democratic majority is watching these folks try to squirm their way out of the tight spots they put themselves in. They have only themselves to blame, and yet the “party of accountability” seems to have precious little when it comes to their own fuck-ups, doesn’t it? Yesterday, amid boos and hisses from the audience, Whitman tried to defend herself from allegations that she bowed to pressure from the White House regarding New York’s post-9/11 air quality:
WASHINGTON -- Former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman angrily denied Monday that she misled New Yorkers about the safety of the air in lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11, 2001 collapse of the World Trade Towers.

Appearing for the first time before a Congressional committee investigating the federal government's response to the attack's health consequences, Whitman disputed that she soft-pedaled those concerns because of political pressure.

While acknowledging she had received a call from a White House economic adviser about the importance of reopening the New York Stock Exchange, she said her response was that it would stay closed until it "was cleaned and safe.

"Was it wrong to try to get the city back on its feet as quickly and as safely as possible?" she asked. "Absolutely not. We weren't going to let the terrorists win."

(It’s worth noting that Whitman is named in a class-action lawsuit filed by residents and office workers over air quality which might play into her vociferous denials).

First of all, can someone explain to me why it’s been SIX years and we’re only now getting an investigation into the government’s response? Manhattan Democrat Rep. Jerry Nadler called for a Justice Department investigation back in August 2003. What took so long? Oh, right, Republicans are allergic to looking at their own dirty laundry pile. I forgot.

But this “we weren’t going to let the terrorists win” BS really ticks me off. You simply cannot trot out that empty canard every time someone asks you to be accountable for your fuck-up. Protecting American citizens from disease caused by a terror attack is not “letting the terrorists win” it’s called responsible government, something this “government is the problem, not the solution” crowd wouldn’t know if it bit them on the ass.

Let’s take a look at the EPA’s September 13, 2001 Press Release, shall we:

At the request of the New York City Department of Health, EPA and the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have been on the scene at the World Trade Center monitoring exposure to potentially contaminated dust and debris. Monitoring and sampling conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday have been very reassuring about potential exposure of rescue crews and the public to environmental contaminants.

EPA's primary concern is to ensure that rescue workers and the public are not exposed to elevated levels of asbestos, acidic gases or other contaminants from the debris. Sampling of ambient air quality found either no asbestos or very low levels of asbestos. Sampling of bulk materials and dust found generally low levels of asbestos.

The levels of lead, asbestos and volatile organic compounds in air samples taken on Tuesday in Brooklyn, downwind from the World Trade Center site, were not detectable or not of concern.

Additional sampling of both ambient air quality and dust particles was conducted Wednesday night in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, and results were uniformly acceptable.

"EPA is greatly relieved to have learned that there appears to be no significant levels of asbestos dust in the air in New York City," said Administrator Whitman. "We are working closely with rescue crews to ensure that all appropriate precautions are taken. We will continue to monitor closely."

The release said they tested “on the scene at the World Trade Center,” as well as Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Notice use of words like “acceptable,” “no concern,” and “greatly relieved.” This was two days after 9/11. Talk about rainbow fairytales and lollipop dreams! This wasn’t a press release, it was a pep talk.

But in August 2003, the Office of the Inspector General of the EPA released a report (.pdf available here) saying the EPA did not have scientific evidence to support those air quality claims, not the cheery “no concern” reassurances in the Sept. 13 press release nor those made in a Sept. 18 news conference.

It’s also completely at odds with this Oct. 5, 2001 internal memo from then-NYC Health Dept. Associate Commissioner Kelly McKinney, who wrote:

“The EPA has been very slow to make [air test] data results available and to date has not sufficiently informed ... the public of air quality issues arising from this disaster.”

The following week, as a news conference outside Mount Sinai Medical Center after a keynote speech she gave at an asthma summit, then-EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman said, “The good news continues to be that the air samples have all been at levels that cause us no concern.”

Yesterday Whitman claimed that these “reports” did not refer to the actual WTC site (though the 9/13 release refutes that), but to Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. This must be good news to the thousands sickened in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, many of who have filed suit. Ms. Whitman just made their case.

The EPA Inspector General’s report also noted that "the White House Council on Environmental Quality influenced . . . the information that EPA communicated to the public through its early press releases when it convinced EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones." An example was given at yesterday’s hearing:

Nadler and others also pointed to the vetting of EPA press releases through the White House. They cited one Sept. 13 draft that said preliminary EPA sampling indicated "no or very low levels of asbestos. However, even at low levels, EPA considers asbestos hazardous in this situation."

They noted the tone of the final release was reassuring rather than cautionary, saying, "EPA is greatly relieved to have learned that there appears to be no significant levels of asbestos dust in the air in New York City."

This is the stuff that makes me mad enough to hit the streets with a protest sign. You should be mad, too. Every piece of this story should be front page news: we didn’t have a hearing until six years later, after the Democrats took control? Whitman’s blatant lies and CYA-ing now that she’s named in a major lawsuit? Using banalities like “we can’t let terrorists win” to excuse negligence and stifle calls for accountability?

The corporate media has seen fit to cover this story, although CNN did break away from its report to cover the “breaking news” that Paris Hilton was out of jail.

Wake up, people. You’re being shafted by your own government. Quit making excuses for them.