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Clinton, Gore Use Earth Day Speeches To Defend Record

By Gary Lee
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Amid criticism that he is not fulfilling his pledge to create the greenest goverment in history, President Clinton Thursday defended his environmental record in a speech on the eve of Earth Day.

Before a crowd in a Washington park, Clinton recited a number of environmental actions the administration has taken, from executive orders to encourage recycling and reduce federal energy consumption to legislative proposals to clean toxic waste dumps across the country.

In addition, "This year, we're asking Congress to pass new and stronger laws to protect our lakes, rivers, and the water we drink," Clinton said. "And we're offering new approaches to get the job done."

In a separate speech, Vice President Gore echoed the defense. The White House's plan to combat global warming is far bolder than President Bush's, Gore said in remarks at George Washington University. "What a difference an administration makes," he said.

Earth Day - officially celebrated Friday - provides an occasion for environmentalists to take stock of pressing problems and outline ways to combat them. Clinton used last year's Earth Day speech to outline an aggressive environmental agenda, including proposals to elevate the Environmental Protection Agency to department status and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to their 1990 levels, as called for in a treaty proposed at the Rio "Earth Summit."

The elevation proposal failed to pass a House vote in January, however, and the administration's climate change plan has come under criticism, too. According to an analysis by two environmental groups issued earlier this week, the Clinton plan will fall short of reaching 1990 levels without additional measures.

"The administration takes strong stands on some environmental issues," said Eric Olsen, a staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But they are not really fighting for their positions. On the environmental front, there's not much follow-through."

Those criticisms are widely, if not universally, shared among environmental groups. In a survey released Thursday by the environmental newsletter Greenwire, 66 percent of respondents gave Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol M. Browner low marks and many said that she lacks vision. In its "environmental report card" issued earlier this year, the League of Conservation Voters gave the White House a "D" on environmental budget levels and a "C minus" for delivering on its promises.

"You hear a lot of pro-environment rhetoric from the administration," said Steve Kretzman, a Greenpeace spokesman. "But you see very little substance to back it up."