Under the Sun
White House filters out e-mail it doesn't like
Remember that silly question about whether a tree that falls in the woods makes a sound if there's no one around to hear it?
It came to mind when reading recent reports about e-mail sent to the White House by the Environmental Protection Agency. The e-mail contained a document proposing a rule to limit greenhouse gases because they mess up the environment, melt polar ice caps, spawn vigorous growth of weeds and unwanted plants, threaten public health and other bad stuff.
But the Bush administration, which swats away environmental laws like pesky flies at a Texas barbecue, didn't want to acknowledge the EPA's conclusions. It didn't matter that the Supreme Court ruled the agency had violated the Clean Air Act in pigheadedly refusing to make a determination on the harm of greenhouse gases.
No, the White House wasn't having any of it. It first demanded the e-mailed document not be sent. When it found out it had already been transmitted -- oops -- some unidentified official at the White House Office of Management and Budget insisted it be taken back. The EPA official who hit the "send" button wouldn't.
The White House reaction? It refused to open the e-mail and directed no one should. It was the presidential equivalent of what kids do when they don't want to hear something and plug their fingers into their ears while bawling "nah, nah, nah, nah, naaaahhh."
You can't make this stuff up. What's even more amazing is that the administration isn't even embarrassed about the episode. As a Bush spokesman said, "That's just the way we do things," shrugging it off as just another minor glitch, just another day at the screwy Oval Office.
Maybe in comparison to other glitches -- torture at Guantanamo Bay, illegal wiretaps, illegal hiring practices at the Justice Department, lying to federal grand juries followed by commutations of jail sentences, bungled wars, bungled emergency management (i.e. Katrina), Hatch Act violations, wasteful Pentagon spending with no accountability, turning a trillion-dollar surplus into a trillion-dollar deficit -- the e-mail incident pales. Maybe the White House looks at it as an event that will soon be lost in the vast shuffle of misdeeds and blunders.
Or maybe the ho-hum attitude reflects the disdain with which the administration views the public and the public's concern for the future. The president routinely dismisses polls that show the lack the support he has among Americans and admits he doesn't care what people think. He should, just as he should care about complying with laws, just as he should care that his inaction on climate change will have consequences for the country he's supposed to be leading.
Responding to scientific research on the harm of global warming isn't a matter of executive privilege, but one of executive responsibility. A tree falling in the woods does make a sound, even if you put your fingers in your ears.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org