Sometimes I think my job is just too easy. Every once in a while, some person in government commits such an egregiously ridiculous act of stupidity that I can't help but think that they're trying to give me things to node about.

This past week, Christine Todd Whitman, our new Environmental Protection Agency head, gave me one of those topics when she came out pro-arsenic.

Yes, that's arsenic. The arsenic of "Arsenic and Old Lace," the arsenic of sudden cardiovascular collapse at high doses and lung, bladder and skin cancer at low doses. Yet Whitman thinks we should have more in our drinking water.

What is at issue is a rule enacted under Clinton that lowered allowable amounts of arsenic in water, from 10 times the widely accepted World Health Organization standard to only two times their acceptable level.

Whitman offered as justification for her action that she thinks that the Clinton decision was "rushed," and that she wanted the conclusions about arsenic supported by "the best available science."

This would be funny if it didn't mean that she wants Americans to drink poison. Even if you don't accept results from the National Academy of Sciences indicating that arsenic causes cancer, one would think anyone would be skeptical of a claim that a poison doesn't hurt because it's diluted.

The reason this is even an issue at all is because, as always, of one of the major contributors to Whitman's boss. Lowering arsenic levels in water would require mines to spend money to reduce the amount of arsenic in the poisonous water they spew from their plants into our drinking supply.

I don't know about you, but I would be willing to spend a fair amount of money to guarantee that I wasn't drinking poison. But apparently that is too much to ask of the mining companies. And as those same companies gave $5.6 million to the Republican Party last year alone, it is also too much to ask of the current administration.

Sadly, this has become an all-too-common refrain for Bush and Whitman regarding all environmental issues, even at the price of blatantly contradicting Bush's campaign stances on issues.

Question: Is George “Dubya” Bush a liar, or is it just that he takes orders from the wealthy interests who give him money to do their bidding? Which kind of President did you vote for?

Take carbon-dioxide emissions. During the campaign, Bush swore up and down that he would regulate emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants. To refresh your memory, carbon dioxide gases are acknowledged by the scientific community at large to be the cause of the greenhouse effect, or global warming.

At this point, global warming is considered enough of a threat to have instigated action worldwide in scope, notably with the Kyoto Accord on Climate Change, a multi-national agreement to reduce the production of carbon gases. The United States was part of that agreement, which helped assuage the fears and anger from foreign nations about our inordinately high production of carbon gases: 25 to 30 percent of all emissions in the world.

And for a short while, it seemed like this would be one campaign promise Bush was going to keep: Whitman, for all her other shortcomings, said that she was committed to reducing emissions, and Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill told Bush that the Kyoto Accord didn't go far enough.

But then the business lobbyists decided that reducing emissions just wasn't cost-effective. The money flowed in, and Bush changed direction like a marionette whose strings had been jerked. According to Time magazine, Whitman was furious with Bush over the reversal, but still toed the party line and announced her own change of heart.

Thus the true nature of the White House is revealed: for all this talk of buying pardons from Clinton, the presidency only truly went up for sale with the inauguration of the current chief executive. Time and time again, Bush has shown how his policies are available to the highest bidder, depending on how much was contributed during his campaign: hard-line statements to support industries, ambassadorships to big donors and former business partners and now even broken promises to the American people.

While the press is led around by its collective nose with ridiculously inflated (and loudly trumpeted) stories about the Clinton's cutting phone lines in the White House, or stealing furniture or breaking glasses on Air Force One, George “Dubya” Bush lets his rich masters poison your water and your air so that they can become even richer.

When the polar ice melts, and the oceans rise, drowning most of the present shoreline of the world, who do you think is going to own the new beachfront property in the Sierras? That's right the rich guys. You can buy your air and water from them at a reasonable price.

Unless there's a shortage.

The issue isn't campaign donations, it's an economic policy promulgated by the Clinton EPA. And Whitman is adhering to it, while Clinton's order didn't.

A study was done by the Clinton administration's EPA that attempted to quantify the value of a human life for regulatory purposes -- in essence, how much per life should a regulation force American businesses to spend? The conclusion was somewhere around $8.1 million, so a line was set that a regulation should be promulgated if the total cost divided by the estimated number of lives saved wound up at or below this figure.

Under the current arsenic threshhold, approximately 80 people could be expected to die in a year due to arsenic poisoning from the water system. That's 80 people out of 280 million or so, approximately .00002857% of the population. Clinton's midnight orders would have ratcheted this number down to 30. The new rules were estimated to cost $200 billion (replacing filters in every single water treatment plant in America), or approximately $4 billion per person saved. According to the $8 million rule, no way in hell this should be enacted. (A similar concept was mentioned in the movie Fight Club; see Pyrogenic's WU at The Formula.)

But Clinton violated his own rule. Clinton knew the amount of damage that kind of a policy would do to the economy, so he waited until he was a lame duck to promulgate it. Now Bush, in preventing such damage, has set off the political land mine laid for him by his predecessor.

Always remember: Bill Clinton is the greatest pure politician of modern times. No matter what you may think of his policy, he intuitively knows how to manipulate the American political system better than anyone in years.

Source: The Neal Boortz show.

Before we accuse the head of the Environmental Protection Agency of conspiring with the President of the United States to poison Americans, let's hop into the Wayback machine and travel back to the dying days of the Clinton presidency.
"WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency ordered Wednesday that allowable levels of arsenic in drinking water be reduced by 80 percent. The action updating an arsenic standard that has been in effect for nearly 60 years is expected to require about 3,000 communities -- generally small water systems -- to make changes in treatment of drinking water, the agency said. "This new drinking water standard will provide additional public health protection for 13 million Americans," President Clinton said in a statement." (AP)

I could focus on why President Clinton allowed this "dangerous" arsenic level to stand for 8 years before deciding to take action (no matter what happens, the Bush arsenic levels are going to be lower than the Clinton levels), but instead just take a look at the words the Clinton administration's EPA released to the press. The new restrictions are going to affect the small water systems of small communities. So make sure your mind is in "rural economy" mode here; this won't be changing the standards in New York City or other cities, where the water is already so heavily treated that it becomes the sparkling, crystal-clear, pristine, life-giving tap water that all you metropolitan types are used to. Hey, stop laughing!

In developed countries, arsenic is not a substance that is intentionally belched into the air by smokestacks or dumped into lakes by giant pipelines, at least in any astonishing amount. The majority of arsenic in the groundwater of rural communities is naturally occurring. [You may either look that up yourself or take my word for it; I'm not going cite every declarative sentence I use. The media sure doesn't.] The most significant economic benefit of allowing higher arsenic levels is not for polluters (read: miners) putting arsenic in the water, but rather water companies who must otherwise remove arsenic from the water. Water treatment is extremely expensive, especially when you're trying to get the amount of a certain chemical down to below ten parts per billion.

Should we make water as safe as possible? It sounds like a simple question with a simple answer; of course we should. It wouldn't be moral to sell water that is known to kill one of every 50 million people drinking it, would it? Though there is still no conclusive evidence, it wouldn't be outlandish to assume that any amount of arsenic in water will make some people sick (incidentally, this is the position of Physicians for Social Responsibility). So why then is the government not demanding that all arsenic be removed from water? Economists already know the reason: the costs outweigh the benefits. It's the same reason the nationwide speed limit isn't 5 miles an hour. It would save lives, but at what price? Would the poorest families be able to afford this zero-arsenic water? Would everyone just give up and dig wells (poisoning their families!) instead of paying $1000 a month for water? So some arsenic needs to be in the water. I say that not because I want to poison children, but because the costs of being overly restrictive outweigh the benefits. So the dilemma is left to science and government to decide what amount of arsenic is acceptable. Put another way (and whisper this because it's not politically correct), how many lost lives are acceptable? This is the $8.1 million VT hawkeye talks about above.

According to US Water News, the cost of the unimplemted Clinton standard would be $14 billion in capital investments and $1.5 billion in annual operating costs. This is where the "rural economy" aspect becomes important. For example, the small Falls Water Company, in suburban Idaho Falls, currently has no arsenic treatment plant, because its arsenic numbers comply with the current regulations. Under the Clinton rule, they would be forced to build one, meaning their customers would see bill "increases of between $279 and $643 a year". Ouch. The National Rural Water Association understandably freaked out:

"The Jan. 22 rule would have had adverse impacts on many rural and small water systems. The rule primarily affects small communities, it is misleading to imply big business is the beneficiary of EPA's withdrawal. The fact is that EPA's arsenic rule would require nearly 3,400 communities to comply. These communities are governed and operated by people whose families drink the water every day, who are locally elected by their community. Most all of these communities are small, less than 3,300 in population, with very limited economies of scale and ability to afford compliance or lobby against the rule.

Many small communities would be forced into very expensive treatment -- when their water presents no public health threat. No one in the public health or scientific community is advocating that very low concentrations of arsenic in drinking water (i.e. 11 parts per billion) are unsafe compare to the Jan. 22 rule's level of 10ppb. Yet, all the towns just above the uniform standard would be forced into costly treatment. Should this town be mandated to double water rates to reduce arsenic concentrations by less than 1 part per billion? In poor rural communities the high-end cost of this rule ranges from EPA's estimated increase in monthly water bill of $30/month -- to state engineers' estimated increase as high as $200/month."

A small point about that study by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences... would you be surprised if I told you that it doesn't exist? The recommendation to reduce the arsenic standard instead came from the National Research Council's Subcommittee on Arsenic in Drinking Water. While the NAS is indeed made up of renowned and accomplished scientists, the NRC, while affiliated with the political arm of the NAS, is made up of folks a lot lower on the scientific knowledge totem pole. No one on the arsenic subcommittee was a member of the NAS, and the committee's chairman had never even published a study on arsenic! I know most of you aren't familiar with the world of science, but a NRC recommendation is worth considerably less than a NAS one. Interestingly enough, the EPA's own 1997 study showed no link between drinking water arsenic and cancer.

Perhaps the tremendous cost to rural communities, combined with the ambiguity of the science, is the real reason the Bush administration is reviewing the last-minute Clinton regulation which VT hawkeye eloquently called a political landmine. And if Bush secretly wants to poison children for the benefit his contributors, he's doing a shitty job. The standards will still be stricter than under Clinton.

And someone tell Sen. Daschle to check out his own voting record next time before he accuses the president of killing kids. He had to go into hiding for the better part of a week when that little story ( broke.

Incidentally, I once did lighting for a production of Arsenic and Old Lace (a great play), and I still don't get the title of this node. Wouldn't "Old Bush" be George Bush, Sr.?

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