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COLUMN

Bush Environmental Policy Mirrored in Iraq

Mark Halsey

In a recent New York Times Magazine article [“Changing All the Rules,” April 4], the Bush administration’s numerous attempts to let energy company special interests dictate environmental policy were exposed. Bush’s Clear Skies Act sought to weaken environmental restrictions so that big industrial polluters could avoid having to install new pollution-reducing technology in power plants and other industrial pollution sources, as required by the Clean Air Act of 1970. Even more disturbing was the administration’s attempt to sidestep the legislative process with the enforcement of new relaxed standards that gave energy special interests significant slack, ruining decades of progress the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made towards forcing power plants and other big industrial polluters to work towards safer emissions. There was no mistaking that the Bush environmental agenda was to tighten a relationship with energy industry heavyweights who were a strong financial asset in his 2000 presidential campaign.

Industry special interests were to be the only beneficiaries of the Bush rollbacks on environmental protections. Some conservatives argued that the revised Bush energy plan would help prevent energy supply problems such as those seen in California in 2000 and 2001, and moreover that the savings that the industry would recover from not having to install “needless” pollution control equipment would be passed on to the consumer. However, both of these notions do not hold up to facts.

The energy problems of California were caused by reckless price fixing by companies such as Enron, not by thirty-year old environmental protection laws. Further, even if the industry were to distribute all the money saved from not having to follow environmental regulations among consumers, the repeal of environmental reforms as sought by the Bush administration would still be unwarranted. According to a Gallup poll cited in “Changing All the Rules,” a resounding 81 percent of Americans backed more stringent environmental standards for industry. Even if rolling back environmental protections would save consumers money, such action would not be in line with the will of the people. In fact, it appears to be completely against it.

The potential health risks of the Bush administration’s environmental policies would be both real and staggering. According to a fact sheet by savethecleanairact.org that has been endorsed by the American Lung Association, the Clean Air Task Force, and the Sierra Club, among others: “Measured against alternative legislative proposals -- including a stronger plan developed within the administration itself -- the administration’s so called ‘Clear Skies’ bill would allow more than 100,000 additional early deaths and two million additional asthma attacks between now and 2020.”

Bush has attempted to allow energy special interests to sidestep important environmental protections while consciously ignoring the potential health risks of their actions. This begs the question: if Bush is willing to let tens of thousands of Americans perish for the benefit of energy special interests, would it really be that outrageous to suggest that Bush would be willing to let tens of thousands of non-Americans perish for the benefit of similar special interests?

Sadly, a year ago, I would have told anyone who suggested that the U.S. was going to war for underhanded reasons was crazy. I would have been disgusted by the mere suggestion that our president would bring the country to war for anything but the safety of our country and the protection of the world. But I now know I was mistaken.

A declassified National Intelligence Estimate from October of 2002 concluded that Saddam Hussein “appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or [chemical or biological weapons] against the United States, fearing that exposure of Iraqi involvement would provide Washington a stronger cause for making war.” While Hussein was a sick and diabolical leader, he was not a threat to the United States. He feared the United States, and for good reason. Contrary to the hype that was being thrown at the American people in the months building up to the war, Hussein was held in check by the notion that an attack on the U.S. would lead to his certain downfall.

If the war was not to make America safer, then did we enter a war that we knew would put many American lives at risk, and end the lives of many others?

The concept that, under the guise of fighting terror, we would put so many human lives at risk for the economic benefit of well connected energy and defense firms is so utterly twisted and sick that no one seems to want to say it.

Luckily, we don’t have to. All we have to do is go to the polls and vote our minds. With a $200 million dollar war chest, Bush is going to owe even more favors than last time. Let’s not give him another chance to repay them with our health, our safety, or our lives.

Mark Halsey is a member of the class of 2004.