By SUSAN EDELMAN, HEATHER GILMORE and BRAD HAMILTON
September 24, 2006 — Condoleezza Rice’s office gave final approval to the infamous Environmental Protection Agency press releases days after 9/11 claiming the air around Ground Zero was “safe to breathe,” internal documents show.
Now Secretary of State, Rice was then head of the National Security Council – “the final decision maker” on EPA statements about lower Manhattan air quality, the documents say.
Scientists and lawmakers have since deemed the air rife with toxins.
This has not been a good couple of weeks for Condoleeza Rice. In addition to the story below, another appeared in the NY Post which, if accurate, makes her complicit in releasing “the air is safe to breathe” statements through EPA’s then-Director, Christie Todd Whitman. Whitman is currently co-defendant, with Michael Leavitt, administrator of EPA, in “a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of residents, students, and workers in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn”.
Some 70,000 people are sick as a result of the toxic air after 9/11. The actions of EPA head Christie Todd Whitman in declaring the air safe to breath have already been called “conscience-shocking” by a Federal Judge. Thousands of people are sick, and some have died–the first responders, the cleanup crews, those who went back to work and kids who went back to school, based on the government’s safety assurances. Again we must ask… if members of this government were willing to knowingly cast aside the wellbeing of tens of thousands of people in favor of “competing priorities” such as opening Wall Street, what else could be possible?
Early tests known to the EPA at the time had already found high asbestos levels, the notes say. But those results were omitted from the press releases because of “competing priorities” such as national security and “opening Wall Street,” according to a report by the EPA’s inspector general.
The chief of staff for then-EPA head Christie Todd Whitman, Eileen McGinnis, told the inspector general of heated discussions, including “screaming telephone calls,” about what to put in the press releases.
The notes come from a 2003 probe into public assurances made on Sept. 16, five days after the 9/11 attacks. They tell how a White House staffer “worked with Dr. Condoleezza Rice’s press secretary” on reviewing the press releases for weeks.
Whitman said through a spokeswoman Friday that she never discussed her press releases directly with Rice. She also defended her collaboration with the White House.
Now-retired Inspector General Nikki Tinsley told The Post her auditors tried to question the head of President Bush’s Environmental Quality Council, but “he would not talk to us.”
Calls and e-mails to Rice were not returned.