The Obama administration has distributed out billions of dollars in stimulus money to some of the nation’s biggest polluters and granted exemptions from basic environmental errors. The administration’s main goal in Energy Secretary Steven Chu words was to “get the money out and spent as quickly as possible”. They are trying to boost the economy and create more jobs for the unemployed.
The administration has awarded more than 179,000 “categorical exclusions” to stimulus projects funded by federal agencies, freeing those projects from review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Coal-burning utilities like Westar Energy and Duke Energy, chemical manufacturer DuPont, and ethanol maker Didion Milling are among the firms with histories of serious environmental violations that have won blanket NEPA exemptions.
Even a project at BP’s maligned refinery in Texas City, Tex. — owner of the oil industry’s worst safety record and site of a deadly 2005 explosion, as well as a benzene leak earlier this year — secured a waiver for the preliminary phase of a carbon capture and sequestration experiment involving two companies with past compliance problems. The so-called “stimulus” funding came from the $787-billion legislation officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in February 2009.
Documents obtained by the Center show the administration has devised a speedy review process that relies on voluntary disclosures by companies to determine whether stimulus projects pose environmental harm. Corporate polluters often omitted mention of health, safety, and environmental violations from their applications. In fact, administration officials told the Center they chose to ignore companies’ environmental compliance records in making grant decisions and issuing NEPA exemptions, saying they considered such information irrelevant.
“Big Polluters Freed from Environmental Oversight by Stimulus,” Kristen Lombardi and John Solomon, The Center for Public Integrity, November 28, 2010.
Student Researcher: Courtney Rider, Sonoma State University
Faculty Evaluator: Keith Gouveia, Sonoma State University