GAC Witnesses Describe Effects Of Lax Enforcement Rangers In Respirators; Fishermen With Open Sores

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., in the second of a series of hearings on the Bush Administration?s environmental record, said the testimony he heard Wednesday from witnesses working on the environmental front lines was both ?moving and important to the national debate on environmental protection.?

        ?Everybody should be aware of these stories,? Lieberman said.  ?They transcend Washington politics and offer a poignant lesson about what is happening to the air, land, and water above, around, and beneath us.?

         Among the witnesses were Rick Dove, a former commercial fisherman who was forced to retire because of pollution in the Neuse River in North Carolina.  In testimony opposing the Bush administration?s apparent intent to weaken proposals to control river pollution, he told of suffering from open, bleeding sores similar to those observed in countless fish that died in the river over the years. The fish kills are believed to be caused by waste from concentrated animal feeding operations. Dove has since become the river-keeper of that body of water.

        Hope Seick, who works to protect Yellowstone National Park, objected to the administration?s efforts to undercut a ban on snowmobiles in the park.  ?Wolves, bison, bears, elk, bald eagles and other important species thrive alongside remarkable geothermal wonders, majestic mountains, pristine lakes and pure rivers,? she testified.  ?Sadly… for half a decade now, fresh air has been pumped into ranger booths at the West Entrance to prevent headaches, nausea, burning eyes and other health problems caused by snowmobile exhaust… This winter, for the first time in National Park history, rangers wore respirators to allow them to endure a work day in Yellowstone without ill effects.?                                                    

?To me,? Lieberman said, ?safeguarding our air, water and land is a critical American value.  Consistently enforcing the law is another important American value.

?My own assessment is that, just a year into the Bush Administration, we are seeing some very troubling policies in environmental enforcement, interpretation and implementation – policies  that have real consequences for the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we stand upon…  It appears that when the administration does not agree with a particular protection, it finds ways to delay or take the teeth out of it.  That might be accomplished through changing guidance documents, postponing decisions indefinitely, seeking settlement agreements that weaken existing rules, or using a variety of other administrative tactics.?

Continuing, Lieberman said, ?the Administration seems to consult more carefully with industry than with anyone else.  It is, of course, appropriate to consult with industries that are regulated by environmental laws.  But the voice of industry does not tell the whole story. The views, voices, and values of others must be given equal weight if our environmental laws are to be fairly enforced.?