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Bush Anti-Environmental Extremism Spurs Panic

by Jim Lobe

"We didn't think it would be quite this bad"
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- With less than 10 weeks in office, President George W. Bush is spurring panic among environmental activists who had hoped his administration would take a more moderate stance.

Not only has he reversed himself on a campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, which are believed to contribute to global warming, he also has moved to rescind the ban on new logging and road-building in about one-third of national forests, as well as to lift regulations to reduce arsenic in the country's drinking water and force mining companies to clean up environmental damage their operations cause on public lands.

"Bush is attacking the environment by land, water, and air," said Carl Pope, director of the country's largest environmental group, the Sierra Club, which announced its plans to launch a two-month advertising and organizing campaign to alert the public to the threats posed by the new administration's policies.

Pope's assessment of Bush's intentions is widely shared and causing intense concern among Democrats and even moderate Republicans with strong environmental records.

Last week Senate Minority Leader, Tom Daschle, described Bush's agenda as "reckless, wrong, and has to stop." He said Democrats were considering unusual legislative action to make it more difficult for Bush to rescind regulations decreed under the previous Clinton administration. "The American people have not heard the last of this," he said.

Still, the environmental community has been stunned by the onslaught of bad news coming out of the administration. "We knew it was not going to be a great administration for us, but we didn't think it would be quite this bad either," said one lobbyist who suggested that Bush's early steps suggested a policy worse than that of former president Ronald Reagan.

Indeed, environmentalists were initially somewhat hopeful about Bush, particularly given his campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide emissions -- potentially a major step toward possible compliance with the 1998 Kyoto Protocol -- and his appointment of former New Jersey governor Christie Todd Whitman as EPA Administrator and Paul O'Neill as Treasury Secretary. O'Neill has compared the threat posed by global warming to nuclear warfare.

But those hopes dissolved last week when Bush, citing what he called an "energy crisis," not only reversed his position on regulating carbon dioxide domestically, but, in a letter to four anti-Kyoto senators, made clear that he opposed the Protocol and even questioned the scientific basis for linking carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to global warming.

His announcement also badly embarrassed Whitman who had been touting the carbon dioxide regulation as administration policy for weeks.

"We thought we'd be able to work with Christine Todd Whitman," said Elliott Negin, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) here, "but it's obvious now that she doesn't have much standing in this administration."

It now appears that Bush's reversal on carbon dioxide -- which evoked strong protests from Washington's European allies, as well as environmentalists here -- was simply the opening, if most spectacular, salvo in an anti-environmentalist barrage set off last week by the new administration.

A combination of money and ideology
In the past few days, the EPA said it will delay and probably repeal new rules requiring the level of arsenic in drinking water to be reduced from 50 parts per billion, the standard set in 1942, to 10 parts per billion.

High levels of arsenic in water, which can cause cancer of the lungs, bladder and skin, can occur both naturally and as a result of industrial or mining pollution. Ten parts per billion is the level recommended by the World Health Organization and the European Union.

Significantly, Whitman admitted that the old standard may not be strong enough to protect public safety, insisting, however, that the new rule may be too costly for local municipalities and industry to implement.

The mining industry also benefited from a second action this week by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It suspended new regulations on hard-rock mining on public lands including one requiring mining companies to post adequate funds to clean up their mining sites before they begin operations, and another giving the BLM authority to deny permits outright for mines which would cause "substantial irreparable harm" to environmental or cultural resources.

According to the EPA, current and abandoned mining sites pollute an estimated 40 percent of the headwaters of Western streams, contaminating drinking water supplies with arsenic, lead, and other toxic substances. Some 557,000 abandoned mine sites have never been cleaned up, of which 66 are so polluted that they are on a government priority list of especially hazardous sites.

"This is like going back to the James Watt (Reagan's Interior Secretary) era of public-lands management, where mining companies get carte blanche to mine on our public lands," said Stephen D'Esposito, president of the Mineral Policy Center. Bush's action "will lead to polluted water and billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded cleanups."

Finally, the rule banning road construction, logging, and oil drilling in about 22 million hectares of federally-owned national forests, which Clinton decreed in his last weeks of office, appears almost certain to be abandoned by Bush.

The extreme rightward tilt in Bush's environmental policies appears to result from a combination of money and ideology. Oil, gas, and mining interests gave millions of dollars in campaign cash to Bush and other Republicans. Indeed, for every dollar the same interests contributed to Democratic campaigns, they gave more than three dollars to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

"It's payback time," said NRDC's Negin. "Last week, the coal and oil industry got their goodies; this week, the mining industry got theirs. It just shows that we have the best administration money can buy."

More "goodies" may be on the way, particularly as the administration tries to follow through on its pledge to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil exploration, which could become the most important environmental battle of his first term in office.

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Albion Monitor March 26, 2001 (

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