If you are like us (and we bet you are) you were sipping your coffee and peacefully perusing your New York Times Tuesday morning when POW! you were smacked upside the head by a clever full-page ad from the Environmental Working Group previewing its release of a study on the effects of the herbicide atrazine. The ad, mimicking the long-running Absolut Vodka campaign, pictures a baby bottle with an atrazine-warning label. The caption reads, “Absolute Outrage.” Not bad.

Is EWG Outraged? Absolutely

We’ll get to the report shortly. But first, what Muckraker readers really care about: How much does a splashy, big mama ad like that cost anyway?

We asked the good people at Fenton Communications who are handling PR for EWG (stop us before we acronym again!) on the atrazine study. No dice. They weren’t talking.

So we poked around a bit and found that a full-page, time-sensitive NYT ad (unlike the ones that wait in the can for an open page) can run close to $100,000. That’s a nice piece of change, but likely worth it for that kind of mega-exposure. If anyone out there would care to correct us on the cost of such an ad (or its actual efficacy), please feel free.

Back to the substance of the study, which was released today. EWG’s report suggests that atrazine, which is used predominantly on cornfields in the Midwest, should be banned by the EPA as a heath hazard to children who drink formula reconstituted with tap water.

To come to this conclusion, EWG studied results from some 127,000 tap water samples taken between 1993 and 1998 by agencies from seven states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Ohio. The group found that atrazine, which runs off into rivers and lakes and soaks into ground water, contaminated the tap water delivered to some 10.4 million people in 796 towns, sometimes in concentrations up to 14 times the legal limit.

The report rakes the EPA over the coals for having no chance of meeting the August 3 deadline for listing new chemicals like atrazine among the dangerous substances that pose health risks to children. It also criticizes the EPA for underestimating by a factor of 15 the risk atrazine poses to infants in the first four months of life.

Not content to leave it there, the report also contends that “the continued presence of atrazine in tap water is assured by the squadron of former top EPA pesticide regulators who now represent the pesticide industry in opposing … new children’s heath protections.” Ouch.

End of the Road?

Late next year, the 18-month moratorium on road building in 33 million acres of national forest will expire. The Clinton administration will have the opportunity to make the ban permanent and expand it to include the remaining 60 million roadless acres in the federal forest system. Those acres include huge swaths of land in the Northwest and the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, which were exempted from the moratorium because their current management plans were said to already forbid new road building.

Up until now, the conventional wisdom surrounding this touchy issue has been that the administration would not call for an environmental impact study (EIS) on the roadless forest policy, but would settle instead for a more cursory environmental assessment.

The current buzz, however, is that a full-scale EIS may be in the offing, which enviros are convinced will demonstrate that the only way to protect the remaining pristine acres will be to expand the roadless policy to include the disputed areas in the Northwest and the Tongass. Expanding the ban to exclude logging and mineral mining wouldn’t hurt, enviros say, but prospects for that happening remain unclear.

Ken Rait, head of the Heritage Forest Campaign, says he believes the message is finally getting through to White House officials that they have both the authority and the political capital needed to expand the road-building ban.

“We’ve worked it up the food chain and the administration is really starting to take notice,” Rait said, adding that he expects to meet with White House Chief of Staff John Podesta within the week. “The administration wants to do something that will outlive the Clinton presidency as well as pass legal muster.”

Rait also touted a new survey conducted by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman indicating wide public support for a moratorium on road building in pristine forestland. Among the 800 likely voters Mellman surveyed from June 9-14, 35 percent said the amount of wilderness land currently protected by the U.S. government was “about right” while 48 percent said “not enough” was being protected.

Rait and other enviros believe the ball is in the administration’s court (as do 168 members of Congress who signed a letter to the president on the issue). The Republican Congress has been generally hostile to blocking road building, mining, and logging, although there is a rider attached to the House version of the Interior Department appropriations bill that would block all federal funds from being used to build timber access roads in federal forests.

The clock is ticking, however, if an EIS is to be done in advance of the moratorium expiration. Stay tuned …

Getting Crowded in California?

Some developments in the special election to fill the late Rep. George Brown‘s (D-Calif.) seat: Democrats huddled this week to discuss the possibility that both Brown’s widow Marta Brown and State Sen. Joe Baca might get in the race, jeopardizing hopes for a clear win for any Democrat in the September 21 open primary. Terry Wold, conservation coordinator for the San Bernardino chapter of the Sierra Club, said enviros were just beginning to comb through Baca’s record to determine whether he would be a viable alternative to Brown, who is considered a solid green in the mold of her late husband. On the GOP side, State Sen. Jim Brulte has continued to indicate that he has no plans to give up his considerable clout in Sacramento to become a back-bencher in Washington. Don’t count Brulte out yet though, as national party types have a way of sweetening the pot for heavy hitters like Brulte. The more he demurs, the sweeter the pot can get. (For more on the race, see Muckraker, 23 Jul 1999).