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Inhofe-Clinton Enviro Miseducation Bill

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Inhofe-Clinton Enviro Miseducation Bill

On Point No. 82


Senators James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., recently introduced a bill (S.876) to reauthorize the Environmental Education Act.  A version of this proposal is included in the education bill (S.1), recently passed by the Senate.  Although touted by supporters as simply training in the appreciation of nature and science, federal environmental education has used taxpayer funds to promote the agenda of those administering the programs.  If members of Congress want to ensure that the government does not fund advocacy and miseducation, their best option is to eliminate funding these programs, which have been operating without legal authorization since 1996.  A review of how the law has worked in the past may help demonstrate this reality.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

 

In 1990, the Environmental Education Act created the EPA Office of Environmental Education, which provides educational materials, seminars, and other programs.  The office also administers environmental education grants and environmental awards programs.  A special task force as well as the Council on Environmental Quality provide additional grants and awards.

 

Educational Partnerships.  Perhaps the law’s most egregious aspect is the funding of outside groups whose main goal is advocacy.  For example, the law created the Environmental Education Training and Partnership (EETAP).[1]  Under this provision, EPA funds a group of organizations that are supposed to provide support and training to environmental professionals.  EETAP members produce educational guides for professors, hold conferences, and provide training.  EPA awarded $9 million to the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE) to serve as the EETAP leader from 1995 to 2000.  The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is now the designated leader and is slated to receive more than $5 million over the next several years, according to EPA.[2]  There are clear indicators that these groups have violated the federal government prohibition on using federal funds for lobbying activities.  Consider a couple examples:

 

¨       The National American Association for Environmental Education, EETAP’s lead partner for 1995-2000, produced an “action handbook,” which it distributes at federally funded environmental education seminars.  It’s basically a how-to guide for lobbying and includes a section titled “Ten Pointers for Successful Lobbying.”[3]

 

¨       In 1994, EPA funded a video that the agency admitted had violated regulations against using such funds for lobbying.  When Rep. Bob Schaeffer, R-Colo., inquired about the video’s content last October, the agency said that it had asked its partner to return the federal funding and to stop distributing the video because of obvious violations.  It is not clear whether the agency pulled the video before or after the Schaeffer letter.[4]

 

A review of the EETAP Web page and that of its members reveals a wide range of biased and scientifically questionable information developed by EETAP for educators.[5]  In addition, the pages promote the work of various other advocacy groups, using federal resources to direct the public to a network of like-minded activists.

 

EPA Educational Materials.  Educational materials available on EPA’s Web sites also are telling.  On the headquarter’s page, the materials under the “Kids” link range from superficial information to misinformation to shameless self-promotion.  One section includes a story titled “When Greenville Turned Brown,” which tells the tale of a town that was saved by the federal Superfund law and EPA from the “old Drumleaky factory.”  So the story goes:

 

¨       “From factory smoke stacks came clouds gray and black, and drums filled with old globby glue were piled high out back.  Not far away was a creek lined with trees, the fish that had lived there were now forced to flee. … The EPA experts were soon on the scene, with shovels and drills they were ready to clean.  … The EPA experts soon came up with a plan.  To clean up the water, the air, and the land. … The factory reopened, with new rules in place, for preventing pollution and cleaning up waste.”[6]

 

The agency provides questionable curricula for teachers on its Region 1 Web page:

 

¨       In a guide on air quality, it informs the teacher that: “Because the Earth’s atmosphere is a finite size, it will not sustain the continued growth of current patterns of consumption.”  Among our options is to “continue our current practices,” but that “might result in a crisis sometime in the future.”  The preferred solutions include: “change our consumption patterns and, as necessary, our lifestyles to use fewer resources and pollute less.”[7]

 

Grants.  In addition, the law provides funds throughout the nation to numerous groups for various environmental activities.  Some grants may provide good educational opportunities, but it is very difficult, if not impossible, to monitor and ensure that all or at least a majority provide sound educational experiences.  Brief descriptions from EPA Web pages and press releases indicate that the agency is using grants to advance political and social agendas.  As a regional administrator noted in a press release, “groups that are receiving these grants … are working to build attitudes, lifestyles, and critical thinking skills.”[8]  The lifestyles promoted are anti-consumption and anti-chemical use, and the attitudes focus on regulatory solutions and political organizing.  For example:

 

¨       One grant funds seminars on “regulations for recreational vehicle usage.”[9]

¨       Another teaches children about “non-polluting alternatives to pesticides and herbicides.”[10]

¨       A grant for $69,000 went to an EPA-created activist organizer in Rhode Island.[11]

¨       Another program promotes “renewable fuels,” assuming they are always better.[12]

 

Agenda of Grant Recipients.  Numerous groups that receive federal environmental education grants include well-known activist groups such as the Sierra Club,[13] the American Lung Association,[14] and the Audubon Society.[15]  Funding such groups essentially means funding their agendas.  Consider a couple:

 

¨       The Audubon Expedition Institute:  A grant to this group, which is an affiliate of the National Audubon Society, allegedly “fosters a new generation of environmentally literate teachers.”[16]  The institute’s Web page declares: “For thirty years we have been transforming students into inspired, compassionate and creative environmental leaders and activists.”[17]  After returning from one of the institute’s field trips, one student noted: “My research motivated me to do research and educate myself about this runaway industrial system [referring to the maquiladora factories in Mexico].”  Rather than considering scientific or economic solutions to problems in Mexico, this student learned that the problem is industrial society:  “Perhaps consumerism might be reconsidered in light of the enormous human and environmental costs of producing goods,” she concludes.[18]

 

¨       Tides Center:  This organization is a recipient of an EPA grant designed to help “students work to promote social change.”[19]  The Tides Center actually serves as an umbrella for various advocacy groups, funneling money to these groups, which the Center refers to as “projects”. To become a Tides project, your group must work for “progressive social change.”[20] One Tides project funded by EPA, called E2,[21] focuses on environmental education.  An E2 sample lesson plan seems intent on making children feel guilty if they don’t start using less energy.  It teaches children how they can “make better choices,” while emphasizing that industrialized nations use “30 times” more energy than people living in places like India — as if poverty were a virtue instead of a tragedy.[22]  The lesson plan doesn’t point out the wretched conditions of those who lack access to modern energy sources.  It fails to note, for example, that those who use less energy often resort to burning animal dung in their homes for heat and cooking, which creates deadly levels of indoor air pollution.  Not coincidentally, respiratory illness is a leading killer in the developing world.  Glossing over those harsh realities, the plan suggests ways for us to reduce energy use (assuming energy use is the problem, less use is the answer).  Solutions include limiting population growth, conservation, and changing lifestyles.[23]

 

Problems with Proposed Reauthorization.  Because of obvious controversies with the existing law, bill supporters contend that S. 876 would ensure more balanced and accurate environmental education programs.  Yet proposed revisions do little to change the law.  For example, an EPA advisory council would administer the John H. Chafee Memorial Fellowship program, which replaces some existing fellowships.  In addition, the Inhofe-Clinton bill would authorize $13 million annually until 2007 to continue the EPA Office of Environmental Education at current staff levels, grant programs, and awards.

 

The proposed “reform” also includes provisions that offer little more than lip service to sound science.  One section calls on programs to be “objective and scientifically sound,” but such provisions can offer only a symbolic commitment to sound science.  Another provision would mandate that the EPA Science Advisory Board review all environmental education grants.  However, with millions of dollars and hundreds of grants to review, this board would not be able to screen out the numerous misguided programs, nor could it realistically provide any ongoing oversight on grant-supported activities.  In fact, one has to question whether anyone could adequately monitor all these programs to ensure a balanced, scientifically sound approach.

 

Conclusion.  If members of Congress sincerely want to address problems with the Environmental Education Act, the best option may be to eliminate funding for the program completely.  At a bare minimum, Congress could change the program from “environmental education” to “science education.”  Funds could then be transferred to a potentially more neutral agency — one that is committed strictly to science education, such as the National Science Foundation.

 



[2] Environmental Protection Agency, Educator Training:  The Environmental Education and Training Partnership (Washington, D.C.:  USEPA, February 2001), http://www.epa.gov/ocepa111/NNEMS/pdf/EducatorTrainingforweb.pdf.


[3] Promoting Environmental Education:  An Action Handbook for Strengthening EE in Your State and Community (Rock Spring, Ga.:  NAAEE 1994).  This book is also listed as a resource on at least one EPA Web page.  See http://www.epa.gov/reg5oopa/enved/geneelibrary.html.


[4] John Kasper, Acting Deputy Associate Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Communications, Education and Media Relations, letter to the Honorable Bob Schaeffer, 12 August 2000 (stamped date).


[5] See http://www.eetap.org and a link recommended by EPA as part of this program, http://www.eelink.net.  These sites offer materials for sale.  Furthermore, these sites also lead to sites of various activist groups and other “resources.”


[7] U.S. EPA Region 1, “Life Styles and the Environment,” Project AIR, 42.  Link to the full guide: http://www.epa.gov/region1/students/pdfs/projaire.pdf.  Link to the page cited: http://www.epa.gov/region1/students/pdfs/activ1.pdf.


[8] “New York Groups Get $80,000 In EPA Education Grants,” EPA Region 2 Press Release, http://www.epa.gov/region02/epd/00142.htm.


[9] “EPA Awards $2.1 Million For Environmental Education Projects,”  http://www.epa.gov/region01/pr/files/pr1029c.html.


[10] Ibid.


[11] “EPA Pledges More Than $150,000 To Support Providence Environmental Projects,” Region 1 Press Release, http://www.epa.gov/region01/pr/files/pr061397a.html.


[12] “EPA Awards $21,195 to Support Environmental Education in Ohio,” PR Newswire, 20 June 2000.


[13] A quick search on EPA’s Web page finds that chapters of one of the most activist groups in the nation, the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org), have received federal funds on many occasions.  The club has received grants for programs in Indiana (http://www.epa.gov/reg5oopa/enved/pastindiana.html), Texas (http://www.epa.gov/ocepa111/NNEMS/grants/texas.htm), and Pennsylvania (http://www.epa.gov/ocepa111/NNEMS/grants/penn.htm). 


[14] For example, see www.epa.gov/grants/va.htm, Virginia, 1998 Grants.


[15] For example, the Massachusetts Audubon Society received $60,000 in 1998, www.epa.gov/grants/ma.htm.


[16] www.epa.gov/enviroed/grants/me.htm, Environmental Education Grants, Maine, 2000 Grants.


[18] Mary Niles, “A Day in Matamoras, Mexico,” www.acadia.net/guest/audubon/story.html.


[19] www.epa.gov.enviroed/grants/dc.htm, 2000 Grants, “The Tides Center/CAYA,” Washington, D.C.


[22] E2, “Evaluate World Energy Use,” www.enviroaction.org/curricula/explore1t.html.