The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided billions of dollars to help stimulate the nation and give a boost to the growing green economy. However, there is a darker side to these stimulus funds — exemptions from environmental oversight. The Center for Public Integrity just released the results of its investigation into the issue, Big Polluters Freed from Environmental Oversight by Stimulus.

The findings, which were published on the organization’s website on Nov. 29, reveal that more than 179,000 stimulus projects received “categorical exclusions.” In other words, an exemption from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was granted alongside many of these stimulus awards. Some of the companies receiving awards are known polluters and even “clean energy” projects received these exemptions.

For example, a Duke Energy wind farm project in Texas received an environmental waiver in addition to millions in funding. Duke Energy is still defending itself against two historic air pollution cases. So why would the government grant millions in federal dollars to known polluters, even in the name of advancing our green economy? It comes down to politics.

“Industry groups and their legislative allies on Capitol Hill have long complained that NEPA compliance can delay projects by months and even years, tying up companies with public notices and scientific studies costing millions of dollars. Those concerns influenced the administration’s decision to grant NEPA exemptions to streamline the environmental review process for “shovel-ready” stimulus projects that could create jobs quickly in a recession and yield “green energy” benefits down the road, according to interviews with key players.” Source: The Center for Public Integrity

Unfortunately, known polluters spearheaded some of these “shovel-ready” projects. According to The Center for Public Integrity, NEPA officials within the U.S. Department of Energy relied solely on voluntary information in the application instead of looking at a company’s environmental record. The environmental record of some of these companies, like BP, are far from acceptable. Providing exemptions from environmental oversight to these companies is just downright scary.

These are just a few of the highlights from the comprehensive investigative study. The entire report, including links to several companies’ environmental questionnaires, are available on The Center for Public Integrity’s website.

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