Skip to main content

CNN Classroom Edition: Broken Government - Scorched Earth

  • Story Highlights
  • Examine controversial environmental legislation
  • Learn about the U.S. government's alleged censorship of NASA's climate scientists
  • Identify local environmental issues and their possible solutions
  • Next Article in Living »
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

(CNN Student News) -- Record the CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: Broken Government: Scorched Earth when it airs commercial-free on Monday, July 14, 2008, from 4:00 -- 5:00 a.m. ET on CNN. (A short feature begins at 4:00 a.m. and precedes the program.)

Program Overview

Uncovering bipartisan failures, CNN chief technology and environment correspondent Miles O'Brien reports on legislation that has allegedly yielded counterproductive environmental results and government scientists who claim that their work has been censored when their science did not support current White House policies.

Grade Levels: 9-12

Subject Areas: Science, Health, Social Studies, Government, Current Issues


The CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: Broken Government: Scorched Earth and its corresponding discussion questions and activity challenge students to:

  1. Examine legislation that has allegedly yielded counterproductive environmental results;
  2. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of developing corn ethanol as an alternative fuel source;
  3. Examine the health effects of copper smelting;
  4. Learn about the U.S. government's alleged censorship of NASA's climate scientists;
  5. Identify local environmental issues and their possible solutions;
  6. Assess the roles and responsibilities that U.S. citizens, businesses and the government have in protecting the environment.

Curriculum Connections

National Science Standards

Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of

  1. Personal and community health
  2. Population growth
  3. Natural resources
  4. Environmental quality
  5. Natural and human-induced hazards
  6. Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges

The National Science Education Standards ( are published by the National Academies Press (


Standard 2. Knows environmental and external factors that affect individual and community health

Level IV [Grade: 9-12]

Benchmark 2. Knows how individuals can improve or maintain community health (e.g., becoming active in environmental and economic issues that affect health, assisting in the development of public health policies and laws, exercising voting privileges)

Benchmark 5. Knows how public health policies and government regulations impact health-related issues (e.g., household waste disposal controls, clean air, disposal of nuclear waste)

McREL: Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education (Copyright 2000 McREL) is published online by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) (, 2550 S. Parker Road, Suite 500, Aurora, CO 80014; Telephone: 303/337-0990.

Social Studies

Standard III. People, Places and Environments: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of people, places, and environments.

Standard V. Individuals, Groups and Institutions: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions.

Standard VI. Power, Authority, and Governance: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance.

Standard X. Civic Ideals and Practices: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.

The Curriculum Standards for Social Studies ( are published by the National Council for Social Studies (

Discussion Questions

1. Based on the information in the program, what are some of the benefits and drawbacks of using corn ethanol as an alternative fuel source?

2. About how much money does the U.S. government spend each year to subsidize the production of corn ethanol? Do you think that the government should continue to provide these subsidies? Why or why not?

3. According to the program: What types of environmental contaminants can be found in smoke that is produced by copper smelting plants? What are some of the health problems associated with this contamination?

4. Why is the ASARCO smelter currently the focus of controversy?

5. Who is Danny Arellano? From what type of chronic health problem is he suffering? How do his views on reopening the smelting plant compare to those of ASARCO and the government of Texas?

6. In your opinion, should the ASARCO smelting plant be reopened? Why or why not?

7. What is the U.S. government's Superfund program intended to do? How many of ASARCO's 90 toxic waste sites across the U.S. are Superfund sites?

8. According to the report, what type of legal loophole exists that enables companies to legally walk away from environmental cleanups? How has ASARCO responded to the allegation that it is trying to take advantage of this loophole?

9. According to the program, what change did Congress make to the Superfund law in 1995? Why do you think that it made this change? According to the report, how has the change impacted the effectiveness of the Superfund program?

10. Where in the U.S. is the Canata Basin located? What problems do prairie dogs pose for local ranchers there? What measures has the U.S. government taken to protect the endangered black-footed ferret in this region? Why are the government's ferret-recovery efforts in jeopardy? Do you think that it's important to protect the ferrets and the prairie dogs? State your rationale.

11. In your view, how might the Canata Basin controversy be resolved? Is there a way to protect both the animals and the interests of the local ranchers? What role, if any, should scientists and the U.S. government play in resolving this issue?

12. What problems did contractor Gretchen Cook-Anderson say that she faced in her PR position at NASA? How did NASA's Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs Glenn Mahone respond to Cook-Anderson's allegations that he edited her press releases and that he tried to censor NASA climate scientist James Hansen?

13. What position did Christie Todd Whitman hold at the Environmental Protection Agency? What allegations did she make against Vice President Dick Cheney? Why do you think that the vice president's office chose not to respond to these claims?

14. Do you think that the U.S. government should be allowed to censor the comments or findings of its agencies' scientists? Why or why not?

15. In your opinion, what role, if any, should environmental policies play in choosing a U.S. presidential candidate this year? State your rationale. What specific questions might you ask the candidates to learn about their positions on the environment?

Suggested Activity

As a class, have students brainstorm a list of environmental issues that are impacting their community, such as water and air pollution, drought, toxic waste contamination and habitat destruction. Next, group students and have each group select an environmental issue from the list. Direct each group to online and library resources to learn about the scope of its environmental problem, the issue's underlying causes and the measures that are being taken to address the situation. After the group completes its research, members should identify the best approach for solving the environmental problem. As the group formulates its plan, instruct students to consider the roles that each of the following parties should play in executing the solution:

  1. federal, state and local governments,
  2. corporations,
  3. small businesses,
  4. community groups,
  5. environmental groups,
  6. non-profit organizations,
  7. schools,
  8. local citizens.

Direct groups to prepare multimedia presentations of their findings and their proposed solutions. Following each presentation, facilitate a class discussion about the potential benefits and drawbacks of the proposal.


government policies, environment, corn ethanol, subsidies, taxpayers, Texas, copper smelting, ASARCO, superfund, EPA, bankruptcy, toxic waste, Endangered Species Act, Canata Basin, ranchers, prairie dogs, black-footed ferret, NASA, climate change, censor, James Hansen, Dick Cheney

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print