Senators and Past Administrator Speak Out on EPA Response to 9/11

Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) sent a critical letter to President Bush Aug. 26, asking why the administration conveyed incomplete information about air quality hazards in New York City immediately after 9/11. The letter comes shortly after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Inspector General issued a report revealing the White House edited EPA public statements on air pollution to be more reassuring. As reported in an Aug. 25 OMB Watch article, the IG report outlines EPA’s actions in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The investigation found that the White House heavily edited EPA public communications, removing recommendations on home and office cleaning, references to dangers to high risk populations, and cautionary statements. In their letter to Bush, Clinton and Lieberman expressed concern over the administration’s actions, criticizing the White House handling of the situation. The senators called for several actions including the execution of a post-cleaning testing program at residences, implementation of a post-cleaning verification process at residences, and collaboration with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) to assess whether the testing and cleaning program should expand to Lower Manhattan workspaces. The senators also requested information related to the press releases – the identification of White House officials involved in editing the EPA statements, the rationale for the editorial changes, and all communication between the White House and EPA concerning New York City air quality. They seek a response by Sept. 5. Both Senators serve on the Senate Clean Air, Wetlands and Climate Change Subcommittee, which held a hearing on February 11, 2002 to investigate issues of NYC air quality post 9/11. In a letter to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) on Sept. 4, Sens. Jim Jeffords (I-VT), Bob Graham (D-FL), Clinton and Lieberman requested a full committee hearing by Sept. 18 on the safety of indoor and ambient air quality in Lower Manhattan post 9/11. In an interview with Newsweek, former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman said she did not disagree with the White House edits saying, “We didn’t want to scare people” and the more reassuring statements caused no harm. She denied that EPA was told to lie. Critics point to Whitman’s ties to Citigroup and Travelers Insurance, which saved millions in cleanup costs after Manhattan was pronounced safe, as a possible conflict of interest.
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