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August 20th, 2003 Nick Budnick | News Stories
 

Missing the Grade

Bush's environmental report card indicates Shrub is any color but green.

     
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Our Commander-in-Chief invades Oregon this week to collect gobs of campaign cash and tout his timber plan--part of a pre-election effort to stave off criticism of his stands on the environment and to sway middle-of-the-road voters.

What better time to check in on Shrub's environmental record? For perspective, we hit the Web and checked in with some enviros who are not honchoed up with the Dems. Our results show that he hasn't been as bad as he could be (or, in some cases, as bad as his predecessor), but it's not for a lack of trying.

CLEAN AIR: D+

Bush gets credit for approving a regulation in 2001 curbing truck-diesel pollution and for proposing a strict rule curbing off-road diesel pollution.

However, he also relaxed emission standards on old coal-fired plants, stalled a rule that would reduce airborne particles that have been linked to cardiopulmonary disease, and proposed a variety of loopholes in the Clean Air Act. A top EPA enforcement official resigned in February 2002, saying he was tired of "fighting a White House that seems determined to weaken the rules we are trying to enforce."

Bush's Clear Skies Initiative would replace strict standards for all polluters with an emissions-trading program that would, in theory, reduce overall pollution but not as much as existing laws would if they were enforced.

LAND PRESERVATION: D-

When it comes to national forests, wilderness and parks, three years of Bush has not yet matched the damage wrought by eight years of Clinton, says Oregon forest watchdog Michael Donnelly of the Friends of the Breitenbush Cascades. "It's not even close," he says.

Whereas Clinton built at least 10,000 miles of logging roads to open up roadless wilderness, a judge blocked the Bush administration's attempt to trash Clinton's last-minute rule protecting roadless areas. Bush has called for privatizing national parks and opening up public lands to more gas drilling. He's proposed doubling logging on federal forests in the Northwest, and his "Healthy Forests Initiative" would remove numerous environmental safeguards in the name of fire suppression.

Bush claims his initiative will reduce red tape and litigation, but the nonpartisan Congressional General Accounting Office found the problem less dire than Bush claims.

CRITTERS: F+

Clinton was not kind to the federal Endangered Species Act, but the Bush administration wants to destroy it entirely, says Oregon City environmental writer Jeffrey St. Clair, author of the forthcoming book Been Brown So Long, It Looked Like Green to Me: The Politics of Nature. He argues that Clinton officials "eviscerated the Endangered Species Act from the inside out, and the Bush administration wants to flay it from the outside in."

In addition to increasing logging on public lands, Bush has weakened rules protecting wetlands habitat and trillions of fish that are sucked up and killed each year by hydropower plants. And he's proposed removing protections for dwindling salmon populations in the Northwest.

A recent Wall Street Journal exposé on his handling of the Klamath water crisis showed how his political adviser, Karl Rove, politicized the bureaucracy to an unprecedented degree in the endangered species vs. farmers fight.

ENERGY & GLOBAL WARMING: F

Bush began his presidency taking heat for pulling out of the 1997 Kyoto agreement on global warming, the trend
of atmospheric heating caused by power plants and automobiles.

In reality, Congress never would have ratified the agreement anyway.

On March 14, 2001, however, Bush broke his campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide emitted by power plants. He has proposed cutting the number of incentives given to corporations to reduce global-warming gases by roughly one-fifth and reducing federal clean-energy research by $52 million.

The Bushies also recently weakened a rule on air-conditioner efficiency requirements and missed a deadline to issue a tougher fuel-efficiency standard for new SUVs and light trucks, meaning the standard will remain essentially the same as it's been for the past two decades.

CLEAN WATER: D

In 2001, Bush retained a tough new arsenic standard for drinking water that had been approved in the waning days of the Clinton administration, one that should save many lives.

But Clinton's attack on factory-farm runoff evaporated under Bush.

He also watered down regulations on hard rock mining and failed to curb the perchlorate rocket-fuel contamination plaguing 22 states, though his scientists say it is a significant threat. He has blocked a crackdown on pesticide contamination and dragged his feet on drinking-water rules for carcinogens.

According to OMB Watch, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C., watchdog group, the EPA scientists union, and a recent article in Washington Monthly magazine, Bush has systematically put politics before science, including for the first time placing scientists on the White House payroll to help weaken EPA rules, overseen by a former chemical-industry lobbyist.

As for enforcing EPA rules, a recently leaked internal document found that, over the last four years, more than three-quarters of the most serious water polluters are never fined

 
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