Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article

House Democrats demand hearings on EPA air quality assurances after Sept. 11
By Devlin Barrett, Associated Press Writer,, September 17, 2003

WASHINGTON -- House Democrats on Wednesday asked for hearings into allegations the Environmental Protection Agency misled New Yorkers about the dangers of debris in the air around the World Trade Center site after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We do not want the Congress of the United States to be party to a scandal," said the House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, of California.

Pelosi was joined by Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes ground zero, and others in her party in calling for a congressional investigation of the EPA's response to the attacks.

Last month, the EPA's internal watchdog found the agency, at the urging of White House officials, gave misleading assurances there was no health risk from the dust in the air after the twin towers' collapse.

The White House "convinced EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones" by having the National Security Council control EPA communications after the attack, according to the inspector general's report.

Seven days after the attack, the EPA announced that the air near the site was safe to breathe, but the agency did not have enough information to make such a guarantee, the report found.

Agency officials have said they put out the best information they had.

The Democrats have written House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., requesting a congressional investigation.

"Democrats have shown a consistent ability to overhype their hyperbole," said Hastert spokesman John Feehery.

A similar push for an investigation by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., failed to sway Republican leaders.

In response, Clinton has said she will put a hold on President Bush's nomination of Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt to head the EPA to force the administration to answer questions about the EPA's actions.

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