- August 7 - A key political operative
in the Bush presidential campaign -- and a continuing "advance man"
for presidential forays into West Virginia -- is promoting
outrageous pro-coal industry views aimed at weakening national air
pollution standards for fine particulate soot.
The operative, John H. McCutcheon, is a "senior policy advisor"
in the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy. The
nonprofit Clean Air Trust today named him its "Villain of the
Month" for August 2002.
McCutcheon, previously was the West Virginia coordinator for the
Bush presidential campaign and a Bush elector in the Electoral
College. Last month, McCutcheon sent official DOE comments to the
Environmental Protection Agency. The comments included the
astonishing assertion that a key component of fine particle soot is
"chemically benign." (Key medical experts we have checked with are
sputtering at this contention, saying the claim is so "spurious"
and "ignorant" that it barely warrants a response.)
In the process, McCutcheon appears to be using his position not
only to protect the coal industry, but also to influence Bush
Administration environmental policy to maintain the President's
popularity in the coal-rich state of West Virginia. (1)
EPA is in the middle of reviewing the tougher and controversial
national air quality standards for fine particle soot set by the
Clinton Administration in 1997. EPA set much tougher standards in
1997 after concluding that tens of thousands of people are dying
prematurely each year from breathing fine particle soot. The coal
and electric power industries were among the fiercest opponents of
those standards, which will lead to a crackdown on coal-based
As a prelude to reviewing the actual standards, EPA is currently
reviewing the numerous scientific studies involving fine particle
soot. EPA scientists have linked tiny sulfate particles -- which
come from burning coal and other fossil fuels -- to hospital
admissions for asthma attacks and other breathing problems.
McCutcheon assailed EPA's conclusions in formal comments to the
agency on behalf of the Energy Department's Office of Fossil
Energy. In a cover memo, McCutcheon called on EPA to conduct
numerous additional studies. The detailed comments he forwarded
asserted -- astonishingly -- that sulfate pollution is a
"chemically benign substance." As evidence of this, the submission
notes that types of sulfates are contained in certain asthma and
McCutcheon's assertion that sulfate is benign may echo comments
coming from coal-burning electric power companies (2), but it is
certainly way out of the mainstream of scientific and medical
opinion. Other medical experts point out that McCutcheon's
assertion is really an apples-and-oranges comparison -- and that
other potentially lethal substances such as arsenic and cyanide are
sometimes used in medicines, but that doesn't mean they are safe to
ingest alone. Hello -- has anyone ever heard of Botox?
Of course, McCutcheon's position may be less surprising when you
realize he is a prominent figure in West Virginia coal and
Republican circles. In 2000 he was named Presidential Candidate
Bush's campaign coordinator and spokesman for West Virginia.
After using coal-based politics to help swing the pivotal state
of West Virginia into the Bush camp, McCutcheon was put in his
current job at DOE.
While in that job, McCutcheon continues to double as the
President's "advance man" on political trips to West Virginia,
including the one he made on the 4th of July. In a January 2002
Bush trip to West Virginia, McCutcheon was part of a small group
who met with the President, White House political strategist Karl
Rove, and White House political director Ken Mehlman (author of the
recently leaked White House strategy document that noted the 2004
re-election strategy includes "maintaining" constituents interested
in "coal and steel.") It would appear that part of McCutcheon's
job is to keep the West Virginia coal interests happy in order to
keep West Virginia in the "red" column in 2004.
It is clear that the coal industry views McCutcheon as one of
its own: the industry-dominated National Coal Council celebrated
his appointment to the Energy Department job by noting that "the
full team is now in place for fossil issues... Having the full
fossil team in place in time for the debate on these (air
pollution) issues is critical."
(1) We have seen other instances in which Bush environmental
policy appears to have been crafted for re-election purposes. For
example, the administration overturned recommendations by career
EPA officers and refused to allow California to sell reformulated
gasoline without ethanol. Even though it would mean more smog and
higher gas prices in California -- and even though the decision was
opposed by the oil industry -- the decision was very popular in
Iowa, which Bush hopes to win next time. Similarly, the
administration banned oil drilling off the coast of Florida (but
not California). And, of course, the entire Bush policy towards
emissions from coal-burning electric utility plants -- which would
lead to more coal mining in Appalachia and more coal burning
overall -- is aimed at keeping such states as West Virginia, Ohio,
Tennessee and Kentucky in the "red" column in 2004 even though it
will lead to more pollution and global warming.
(2) The argument is strikingly similar to that used by an industry consultant
who testified on behalf of a power company in Connecticut last fall.