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Bush’s 100 Damaging Days

Katie Jeffreys

Of all policy areas, perhaps the one over which George W. Bush has received the most press is the environment. He has made decisions criticized by many politicians and citizens as being harmful to the environment. In addition, these decisions were in many cases based on pressures from industries which contributed heavy financial support to the Bush campaign. Bush, on the other hand, cites unsound science, ignorance, and that many of the policies he has rescinded were promulgated at the eleventh-hour by Bill Clinton.

In just three months, Bush has passed or proposed anti-environment policy or delayed pro-environment policy in many areas. Some of the most prominent are the arsenic standard in drinking water, regulation of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, the energy crisis in California and the proposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). In addition, debate has arisen over the preservation of roadless lands in national forests, the elimination of new mining regulations, the use of snowmobiles in National Parks, and citizens’ rights to sue the government if it does not list species under the Endangered Species Act. In addition, his proposed budget cuts funding to departments with an environmental focus, including the Departments of Interior, Energy and Agriculture, along with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

It is said that stores sometimes raise their prices so that they can later put their products on “sale” but still make the same profit they would have at regular prices. I wonder if Bush figures he can make policy which is bad for the environment now so that later he can make more progressive policy with an end result of little or no tightening of environmental regulations. However, this would let Bush complete his term with a pro-environment reputation. If this is the case he will be able to take advantage of the fickle public, who will likely not recall this initial wave of anti-environmental policy come election time.

Bush has been focusing heavily on what he perceives as an energy crisis in the United States, especially in California. As a result he has proposed opening drilling in the ANWR. While Alaskans see this as a positive contribution to their economy, environmentalists hope to preserve what is considered the last remaining wilderness in the United States. Senators, including John Kerry (D-Mass.), are fighting the proposed drilling as a solution to the California energy crisis, citing that less than one percent of the state’s electricity comes from oil, and that oil from the ANWR would not be available for at least 10 years. By that time alternative energy sources could be providing the same amount of energy as available from the ANWR without adversely impacting the environment.

Bush is often mocked for his ignorance of issues, and quite often this criticism is valid. Bush made a strong campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere to reduce the greenhouse effect. However, after taking office he realized that CO2 was in fact not already covered by the Clean Air Act, a fact that both he and his advisers apparently failed to notice when writing his campaign platform. His decision came just days after EPA head Christie Todd Whitman announced to the world that the United States was committed to the Kyoto Protocol. This international treaty would set global standards for CO2 emissions and, as scientists increasingly agree, effectively reduce global climate change. Bush’s decision came in response to the perceived energy crisis, as coal-fired power plants are major contributors to CO2 emissions.

On January 17, the Clinton administration lowered the standard for arsenic, a known carcinogen, in drinking water from the 1942 standard of 50 parts per billion to 10 ppb. This is a standard they felt was scientifically proven to be safe for people, especially children, the elderly, and pregnant women. However, shortly after taking office, Whitman announced that she would propose to withdraw the rule. At a minimum the standard would be delayed several months, and at worst the affordability of drinking water would take precedence over its safety and the law will be rescinded altogether. Critics of the more stringent standard say that it is unfair to states with high naturally occurring arsenic concentrations, but there is a parallel proposal to increase funding to those states to allow them to install treatment facilities.

The single individual most injured by President Bush’s decisions is probably Whitman. She has been forced, on more than one occasion, to make public statements asserting the president’s commitment to an environmental issue, only to be made to look a fool a few days later when Bush changes his policy to contradict her statements. She is a puppet of the administration, with no funding or power to set positive environmental regulations. It is clear that the goals of the Bush administration are not in line with her own. For example, as the governor of New Jersey she lowered the arsenic standard for drinking water to 10 ppb. It is unfortunate that the EPA cannot act as an autonomous body, setting regulations appropriate for the preservation of of the health and safety of humans and the environment, rather than the prerogatives of industry and politicians.