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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 18, 2004
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WHITE HOUSE OVERREACHING ON ENVIRONMENTAL "MANDATE"
Seizing a mandate where none exists, the Bush administration is quickly reasserting sweeping plans to rewrite fundamental health, environment and conservation standards to favor large oil, energy and other polluting industries -- an agenda that has been stalled due to bipartisan objections in Congress, and strong public resistance whenever the policies have faced even modest scrutiny.
"The election is behind us," President Bush's EPA administrator, Mike Leavitt, has told reporters. "We now have a clear agenda, one that's been validated and empowered by the people of this country."
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The 2004 Presidential election may have been a referendum on many things, but not the environment. Where voters did have a chance to vote up or down on environmental issues they did so by solid majorities, even in "red states" like Montana and Colorado, which passed a landmark renewable energy standard and sent two pro-environment ranchers named Salazar to Congress.
And when asked to rate their trust in the two major candidates in general in a late-October Newsweek poll by Princeton Survey Research, Bush trailed Kerry by 24 percentage points, the biggest gap of any issue in the poll, including Iraq, gay marriage, abortion, and stem cell research.
Stem cell research
No surprise then that whenever the administration has had to put its environmental policies before Congress or the American people, they have been stopped dead by the brick wall of public opinion.
Yet just days after the election, administration officials said the president will move quickly to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, increase energy production and logging in wilderness and rangelands across the West, and overhaul landmark environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act.
In the Crosshairs
First up will likely be the Arctic Refuge, the cornerstone of President Bush's "drill and burn" energy plan. Oil development in the refuge would destroy its wilderness character while supplying less than 2 percent of the oil Americans consume each year. Congressional leaders are expected to push for a vote on opening the refuge when the House and Senate return in January.
The White House also has made clear it will press hard on the stalled energy bill, which does nothing to reduce our dangerous dependence on oil from the Middle East, which holds 65 percent of world oil reserves (compared with just 3 percent in the United States and only three-tenths of one percent in the refuge).
Instead of fixing the problem, the White House energy plan -- crafted behind closed doors with dozens of corporate lobbyists by Vice President Cheney's secret Energy Task Force -- enshrines oil and gas drilling as the dominant use of western wildlands and gives billions of tax dollars to help oil, coal and nuclear corporations keep up with business as usual.
Also expect a renewed push to move the administration's controversial air pollution legislation, which weakens or delays important safeguards now required by the Clean Air Act. For example, current law would cut toxic mercury pollution from power plants by nearly 90 percent by 2008. The Bush plan would give power plants an additional two decades and result in just a 70 percent reduction.
Look Behind the Curtain
The administration also is claiming progress on conservation and the environment, but the facts do not add up. Knight Ridder Newspapers reporter Seth Borenstein recently investigated the real-world outcome of White House policies on America's air, water and landscape. The findings are startling.
During the first four years of the Bush administration, Superfund toxic waste cleanups were down 52 percent. Fish-consumption advisories for lakes and rivers are way up. Civil citations to polluters fell 57 percent, while criminal prosecutions are off 17 percent. Of 14 real-world pollution indicators investigated, nine are getting worse, two are getting better and three have fluctuated.
While Leavitt claims air quality statistics are "a national success story," Borenstein reports the number of official unhealthy air days in American cities increased from 1,535 in 2000 to 2,035 in 2002. The story cited an EPA Inspector General report concluding that national air-emission reductions don't accurately reflect the stagnating pollution levels in metropolitan areas.
Land-use indicators showed record-low additions to national parks, wilderness, wildlife refuges and the endangered species list. The Bush administration also approved 74 percent more oil and gas drilling permits on public lands in its first three years than were granted in the previous three years.
The important thing to recognize is that the fundamental politics of the environment did not change on November 2. To the contrary, the forces that have worked to protect our communities remain firmly in place.
There is strong bipartisan support for a safer, cleaner path to a strong economy and a health environment, particularly in the U.S. Senate and among the nation's governors. And the fight won't just be about holding the line: In fact, we will see increasing efforts to move forward on pressing problems like mercury contamination, water pollution, and perhaps most importantly, global warming.
For better or worse, it is going to be a busy four years.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1 million members and e-activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
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