Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Bernie Sanders: Standing up to Clinton Foot-Dragging and Industry Science Denial Since 1993

Bernie Sanders has a long, exceptional history of standing up to science denial and foot-dragging by politicians, industry and regulatory agencies.

Back in the Clinton Administration... 

Sanders Investigated EPA in 1993
As a second-term Congressman in 1993, Rep. Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Mike Synar (D-OK) co-chaired the House Subcommittee on Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources.  Acting on numerous complaints, their subcommittee convened an oversight hearing on June 11, 1993, to investigate why Clinton Administration officials refused to regulate toxic chemicals emanating from styrene-butadiene latex-backed carpet, which had been installed in EPA's headquarters building and numerous other offices and homes throughout the nation.  At EPA, the new pungent-smelling carpet had triggered an epidemic of illnesses, sending me and 42 other EPA professionals to our doctors, who documented symptoms severe enough to order EPA to accommodate work outside EPA's building.

After a long struggle, EPA's professionals' union (where I served as a vice-president, while also serving as an enforcement attorney) eventually forced EPA to remove the toxic carpet.  A similar pattern had emerged in other buildings where similar carpet was installed; employees developed flu-like symptoms that advanced into neurotoxicity, central nervous system damage and chemical sensitivity (technically "toxic encephalopathy") which often proved irreversible and disabling.

At the oversight hearing, we heard from half a dozen scientists including Rosalind Anderson Ph.D., who had isolated a neurotoxin (4-phenylcylcohexene), that was vaporizing from the carpet.  She confirmed its toxicity by observing the effects on laboratory mice exposed to samples of the carpet taken from EPA's offices.  After an hour in a chamber vented with samples of carpet from EPA, the mice became erratic and markedly lethargic, indicating severe toxicity. Some mice actually died after three hours.

But science denialists got their say too.  During the hearing, Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Il) asserted that "there is no sound scientific evidence to establish a link between carpet and adverse health effects."  And in their turn, Clinton Administration officials, along with carpet industry representatives explained and temporized -- they just couldn't act because they didn't have enough scientific "proof."

Does it all sound a little too familiar?  Eerily similar to the phony "debate" over anthropogenic global warming as painstakingly documented by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in "Merchants of Doubt"?

Fast forward 23 years...

In his run for president, Senator Sanders has pointed out what virtually every economist will tell you, that we need a rising tax on carbon pollution to transmit more accurate price signals through our market economy, thereby rewarding efficiency and innovation toward lower-carbon energy, setting the stage for a global carbon pricing system.  But in response to Sanders' plea for a carbon tax, Hillary Clinton, like her husband's Administration in 1993, is standing for the status quo.  If the spin coming from her campaign manager John Podesta's "Center for American Progress" is any indication, Mrs. Clinton can be expected to push for more costly, ineffective EPA regulations on greenhouse gases, and maybe a regulatory attempt at a linked cap/trade & offset system.  Even if such regulations survive legal challenges, Bill Clinton's history of recalcitrance and weak enforcement does not bode well for a climate policy built on EPA rules and enforced by Mrs. Clinton's appointees.

All of which makes Bernie Sanders' vow to push for inclusion of a carbon tax in the Democratic Party Platform crucial.  It's becoming painfully apparent that he's not going to garner the pledged delegates to win the nomination, so the chance for "Berners" to influence policy is The Platform.  And regardless of who wins, the president won't be able to enact a carbon tax if denialists continue to hold sway in Congress.  So it's also crucial to vote out at least some vulnerable denialists in Congress.  For example, I'm thrilled that Tammy Duckworth is challenging denialist Mark Kirk for his Illinois Senate seat, and that Deborah Ross is challenging denialist Richard Burr for his in North Carolina.