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Illegal Misleads

  En español
Por Javier Sierra

Pinocchio himself would have blushed at a Bush Administration ad campaign that was supposed to "celebrate" Hispanic Heritage Month.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) campaign, aimed at Hispanics, exploited one of our community's saddest misfortunes in order to promote a bill supported by President Bush. In radio and print ads, the EPA claimed that their Clear Skies Initiative would reduce the incidence of asthma, a disease that is already considered an epidemic among millions of Hispanics, especially, Hispanic children.

The ads claimed that if the bill -which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate- passes, it "would create purer air, better health and a more brilliant future in the United States."

The campaign not only misrepresented the supposed positive effects of the initiative but, according to three Democratic leaders in Congress, it could also constitute a crime because of allegedly illegal use of public funds.

Let's start with the bill ironically named "Clear Skies." Power plants, the country's worst source of pollution, generate millions of tons of toxic gases that have devastating consequences for the public. Each year, these pollutants cause, among other damages, 30,000 premature deaths, 600,000 asthma attacks and five million lost workdays.

And guess who pays the highest price? Hispanics. Eighty percent of Hispanics live in counties where air pollution exceeds federal health limits. Less than 60% of whites live in those areas. And where whites and Hispanics live nearby, Hispanics tend to reside in the more polluted places.

"Clear Skies," instead of curing this wound, would throw salt at it, especially the Hispanic wound, no matter what the Bush Administration claims. According to air pollution experts, compared to our existing clean air laws, "Clear Skies" would allow more than 100,000 additional premature deaths and more than two million asthma attacks between now and 2020.

All these poisons have a first and a last name. Let me introduce you to a few:

Nitrogen Oxide: a major contributor to asthma attacks. "Clear Skies" would allow 36 percent more of these emissions.

Sulfur Dioxide: a pollutant that generates soot and acid rain. "Clear Skies" would allow 50 percent more of this poison.

Mercury: a dangerous toxic with specially devastating effects on child development. "Clear Skies" would allow at least 10 tons more mercury pollution a year.

The initiative would reach all these "accomplishments" by weakening the Clean Air Act, the current law that for years has proven to be an efficient tool to reduce air pollution. The Clean Air Act has made our air cleaner for 30 years, Clear Skies will only set us back.

"The administration proposes to weaken one of the most effective environmental laws Congress ever passed," says the American Lung Association. "The administration approach to the problem will not clear the skies. It will not move us forward and it fails to protect the public health."

Additionally, this unprecedented EPA campaign has raised intense legal suspicion. In a letter to the EPA, Democratic representatives Henry Waxman, John Dingell and David Obey said "the campaign constitutes an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars, quite possibly a violation of federal law."

The government is allowed to promote its programs through speeches. Even political parties can finance ad campaigns to promote initiatives supported by the president. But government agencies would break the criminal code if they use public funds to pay for campaigns aimed at influencing Congress.

The EPA has defended its ad campaign saying that the ads do not ask the public to contact their elected representatives. "It's a public information campaign, it's not lobbying," the agency said.

But Waxman and his colleagues smelled a rat in the EPA's justifications and demanded that the campaign be shut down.

"They want to favorably influence how millions of Americans view this legislative proposal," Waxman said about the campaign, which ran throughout Hispanic Heritage Month. "This is clear propaganda."

Imagine: A government campaign ironically named "Clear Skies," launched during Hispanic Heritage Month, aimed at the community most heavily punished by pollution- and allegedly financed illegally. Even Pinocchio would blush.

Javier Sierra es columnista del Sierra Club. El Sierra Club es la mayor y más antigua organización de base medioambiental en Estados Unidos.

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