Without a doubt, President Bush has received more than his fair share of criticism from those in the environmental community. Organizations such as the Sierra Club have initiated a petition drive to “battle the Bush Administration’s environmental assault,” the League of Conservation Voters has for the first time ever placed both the President and Vice President at the top of its infamous “dirty dozen” list, and leading Green spokesmen such as Robert Kennedy, Jr. are saying “George W. Bush will go down in history as America’s worst environmental president.”
Such attacks against political figures are nothing new. Indeed, the recent hounding of Bush is reminiscent of that which took place against James Watt (former Secretary of Interior) and Anne Burford (former EPA Administrator) in the early 1980’s – individuals who were similarly vilified and, with the outcry against them so great, were forced from office. One wonders, with an upcoming election just weeks away, if some environmentalists are hoping lightning will strike again.
What is unfortunate about this criticism, however, is that it lacks any measure of level-headedness. While one can certainly appreciate differences of opinion regarding issues like Kyoto, ANWR, and CAFE standards, it is another thing to rev up the rhetoric to an almost hysterical level that defies sensibilities.
Take, for example, some of the comments being made by leading environmentalists:
“The current administration is simply the worst administration ever when it comes to public health and environmental protection. This administration is all about special deals for the special interests. It is about letting the polluters off the hook. It is about opening our public lands, our national treasures to the highest bidders. It is about leaving toxic waste sites uncleaned.”
– Carol Browner, Former Clinton EPA Director
“This administration, in catering to industries that put America’s health and natural heritage at risk, threatens to do more damage to our environmental protections than any other in U.S. history.”
– Jenny Neeley, Defenders of Wildlife
“If ever there was an ultimate weapon of mass destruction, it is the Bush Administration’s environmental agenda.”
– Jeremy Kehoe, GenerationVote.com
Now, to be fair, President Bush hasn’t been everything environmentalists would like him to be. His approach to environmental issues is very different than his predecessor, and he hardly feels obliged to pay homage to the environmental lobby that so staunchly supported his rival in the last election.
But it would be unfair to liken Bush to some sort of Attila the Hun eco-villain. He has not been, by any stretch of the imagination, a President set on the plunder and pillage of our natural resources, as his critics are quick to say.
True, some of his positions, such as those regarding global warming and domestic oil drilling, are based on a disagreement with environmentalists about scientific facts. But others, such as reducing air pollution, saving our forests and wetlands, and promoting new energy technologies, are ones to which there is, and has been, widespread support even from his Democratic opposition. In fact, there are many positions he has advocated which environmentalists should be pleased with – if only they would pause and take a deep breath.
It wasn’t that long ago that many environmentalists were unqualified advocates of hydrogen fuel. Their support for the technology was well founded and based on the desire to both safeguard the environment and lessen our nation’s dependence on foreign sources of energy. But that all changed when President Bush announced in his 2003 State of the Union his administration’s commitment to fund hydrogen fuel cell research at the level of $1.2 billion. Suddenly it wasn’t so “hip” to heartily support hydrogen fuel anymore, or at least not the President’s plan for implementing it.
The Bush plan, said the Sierra Club’s Daniel Becker, “serves as a shield” to “protect automakers from improving fuel economy, a step that would reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign energy faster than Bush’s plan would.” O.K., perhaps it might. But it’s still a good proposal as far as it goes. One wonders if such nitpicking would have occurred under the previous administration which was more to the Sierra Club’s liking.
Other Bush initiatives have also been given the cold shoulder.
The Clear Skies Initiative is an extremely ambitious proposal to reduce the major air pollutants of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and (for the first time) mercury by 70 percent over the next 15 years. Nevertheless, environmentalists such as Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Trust still finds room to complain: “The reality is that what they are proposing will still allow industry to pollute too much for too long.” This glum assessment of the President’s initiative was also shared by Michael Shore, an air policy specialist at the advocacy group Environmental Defense, who similarly grumbled that the “reductions ought to be deeper than being proposed.”
The Healthy Forests Initiative to thin out and remove brush and limbs which can contribute to the spread of catastrophic wildfires was another ambitious legislative effort by the President. Even though this bill received overwhelming support from many Democrats, it was considered a “sellout” to timber interests and opposed by most environmental groups. This hostility perplexed even liberal Senator Diane Feinstein who quipped “This legislation is not a logging bill, as some [environmentalists] would typify it – I think falsely. This legislation would provide the first statutory protection for old-growth stands and large trees ever in the history of this Nation.”
There are, of course, some other Bush initiatives that are also worthy of praise: The strategy to restore and create at least one million acres of wetlands, the Administration’s effort to increase the number of bobwhite quail by 750,000 birds annually, and the more than $600 million that will be spent to recover Columbia River Salmon are just some that come to mind. But it’s unlikely any environmental initiative by this President will be able to prevent noses from being turned upward. Even the Administration’s willingness to increase funding to environmental groups from $72 million to over $143 million annually hasn’t bought it any friends.
One suspects the angst against Bush has little to do with his policies and much to do with his conservative beliefs. In any event, the depths of these hard feelings seem to lack any common sense or reason, and appear to run deeper than the roots of any old-growth Sequoia.