Remarks by Robert F. Kennedy, NRDC Senior Attorney, Regarding the Bush Administration's Environmental Record

WASHINGTON (April 15, 2004) - NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) today released its annual assessment of the Bush administration's environmental record. The report, "Rewriting the Rules: The Bush Administration's Assault on the Environment," is available here. Below are the remarks by NRDC senior attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. delivered at a press conference unveiling the report:

"I want to start by taking a moment to recognize the brave and embattled employees inside our government agencies who must endure -- and, in some cases no doubt, help carry out -- the Bush administration's brazen assault on our environment.

"Many of these public servants have refused to do big business's bidding at the hands of this administration. As hard as it must be to be forced to leave one's career, some can be considered lucky to have been able to resign and walk away from government service with their reputation and dignity intact. The clearest examples are the four senior officials who have left EPA's enforcement office, publicly decrying this administration's lack of commitment to the enforcement of our environmental laws.

"Unfortunately, many others have suffered the all-too-common fate of whistleblowers -- they were demeaned for speaking the truth, denied justice, and dumped or driven from their jobs.

"Kevin Gambrell lost his job at the Interior Department for reporting that oil and gas companies were cheating Navajo Indians out of millions of dollars while exploiting their tribal lands. Biologist Michael Kelley was run out of the National Marine Fisheries Service after he warned his supervisors -- to no avail -- that the Bush administration's plan to divert water from the Klamath River could harm endangered salmon. Sure enough, that action led the biggest fish kill in the West. And David Lewis, a scientist with EPA for 31 years, faced reprisals for divulging that his agency relied on faulty data when it said the use of dioxin-tainted sewage sludge as fertilizer for crops poses no safety risk.

"Sadly, the list goes on and on.

"Indeed, many scientists and specialists inside our resource agencies have it rough these days. But the rest of us are also paying a steep price for this administration's hostile environmental agenda.

"As a citizen -- and as a taxpayer -- I'm outraged that my government is putting polluters' interests before the public interest; choosing corporate profits over people.

"Despite its claims, this administration is retreating from our nation's commitment to environmental protection. To the contrary, this administration is committed to undoing decades of progress in cleaning up our air, water, and lands and safeguarding our health.

"As documented in our new report, the Bush record speaks for itself.

"Former energy executives working closely -- secretly -- with their former business associates to relax environmental safeguards in order to enrich private companies at the expense of our public lands.

"Utility lobbyists actually drafting Bush EPA policies that weaken Clean Air Act public health protections.

"America's premier environmental agency now relying on "voluntary compliance" from polluters in lieu of actually enforcing the laws that protect our air and our water.

"White House disregard for and manipulation of science -- so brazen that it has fomented an unprecedented backlash among the scientific community. By "sound science" this administration seems to mean the science that sounds good to industry.

"Today, it is clear that the Bush administration poses a clear and present danger to the laws safeguarding our air, water, wildlife, forests, parks, and public health.

"After three years of this agenda in action, here's a sample of the problems we're now facing.

"For the first time in recent memory, water quality in this country is getting worse -- not better. Nearly half of our waterways fail to meet the basic objectives of the Clean Water Act -- that they be clean enough to swim or fish in. Yet EPA is failing to crack down on water polluters. (Overall, EPA enforcement has dropped by nearly half under President Bush's tenure.) Meanwhile, the president budget has repeatedly called for deep cuts in the agency's enforcement funding and staffing.

"With over 40,000 sewage spills every year, we need to do more to reduce this contamination, which shuts down our fisheries, closes our beaches and sickens countless people. Yet the Bush administration has refused to adopt Clinton-era rules to do just that. What's worse, this administration proposes weakening protections so that wastewater plants can discharge inadequately treated sewage into our waterways during rainstorms -- but everyone knows that dilution is not the solution to pollution.

"The Bush administration has weakened the core Clean Air Act program requiring the nation's oldest and dirtiest polluters to clean up when they modernize or expand their operations. It makes absolutely no sense to let coal-fired power plants increase their smokestack emissions without having to install modern pollution-control equipment.

"Under the guise of forest fire prevention, the Forest Service has reverted to the bad old days when timber beasts ruled the agency. New industry-friendly rules promote increased logging and less environmental protection in our national forests, despite the fact that the agency's own surveys confirm that Americans value our forests most for their protection of clean water and wildlife habitat.

"In violation of the spirit of an international agreement, the Bush administration has reversed course and is aggressively seeking widespread exemptions to a ban on an ozone-destroying chemical -- methyl-bromide use. The administration is doing this at the behest of agribusiness lobbyists who refuse to switch to safer alternative pesticides like many other businesses around the world.

For every policy put forth or rule change sought by this administration, all we need ask is: "Who benefits, and who suffers?" Sadly, that question is far too easy to answer.

"It's important to keep in mind what's at stake. The administration's aggressive effort to "rewrite the rules" for industry is not a question of political disagreement or policy debate. What this White House has so far accomplished with its pro-polluter, anti-environmental agenda -- and what is yet to come -- affects each of us in a significant way.

"Who doesn't prefer to breathe healthy air and to drink clean water? Who doesn't hope that some of our last remaining wild places will stay wild for the enjoyment of future generations?

"It comes down to this: Our government is supposed to respect us, to value us, to look out for us, and to protect our best interests. Our environment is not a commodity that can -- or should -- be auctioned off to the highest corporate bidder.

"Something my uncle said after the Cuban missile crisis comes to mind: "For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we all are mortal."