Bush's Environmental Record

by Gregg Mosson

Z magazine, September 2003


The Bush administration began its term in office by appointing industry officials and legal allies to the U.S. government's top environmental protection offices. Since then it has pursued a strategy of opening public property to development. Current Interior Secretary Gale Norton once worked for the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a think tank promoting commercial development of public lands.

Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary Mark Rey-who overseas the U.S. Forest Service's 100 million-plus acres of public forest-worked for timber industry trade groups for 18 years, from 1976-1994. Interior Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles most recently was the president of his own lobbying firm where clients included "utility, coal and oil interests...Sun Co, Pennsylvania Power and Light, Occidental Petroleum, National Mining Sun Co, Pennsylvania Power and Light, Occidental Petroleum, National Mining Association, Edison Electric, and the Aluminum Association," reports research group CLEAR. Both President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney have worked for resource companies and, once in office, this Administration set its tone by disavowing the Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming and by announcing an intention to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and across public lands.

The Bush administration's energy plan, which to date remains stalled in Congress, calls for altering laws to boost oil and gas development, mining, and spur the creation of more nuclear power plants. Yet how this plan was drafted under Vice President Dick Cheney's leadership remains obfuscated because the White House has fought to hide internal records and memos from public view. In Spring 2002, the Bush administration was court-ordered to release some internal records. The National Resource Defense Council reviewed these documents and reported that the energy plan was developed with direct input from the National Coal Council, Chevron, General Motors, and the National Mining Council, among other companies and industry groups. Congressperson Henry Waxman (D-CA) has charged that Cheney's proposed energy plan includes 17 provisions matching requests by the now-bankrupt Texas company, Enron; Enron was President Bush's largest political donor up to January 2002, reports the Associated Press.

During the last three years, the Bush administration fought to reduce a scheduled tightening of arsenic standards in drinking water, but was unable to halt it. In October 2001, the Interior Department relaxed mining rules on public lands to weaken water safety standards in mining operations and to make it harder for government officials to deny a proposed mine even if the mine would cause "substantial irreparable harm." In January 2002, Bush loosened guidelines for how private-sector developers preserve wetlands when developing commercial and residential projects. In March 2003, Bush moved to double logging levels on 10 million acres of public forest in the Sierra Nevada region of California in disregard of a stricter 2001 management plan that took a decade of consultation and study to forge. The list of deregulation goes on.

This past summer, the Environmental Protection Agency's annual State of the Environment report excluded comments on global warming because the White House ordered these comments deleted. The President's Clear Skies air quality initiative, currently being considered by Congress, excludes regulation of a central gas linked to global warming-carbon dioxide-from industrial exhaust. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wants Congress to exempt the U.S. military from all U.S. environmental laws, including laws dealing with hazardous waste, air quality, endangered species, and ocean species, even though the military can already seek case-by-case waivers under existing law by just offering a justification.

Furthermore, during the last three years industry groups have been challenging U.S. environmental laws in court and winning from this Administration very generous court settlements that weaken environmental protections-before any judge rules-a pattern that has prompted environmental advocates, and even CBS News Online (April 19, 2003, "Lawsuits, Not Lawmakers, Make Policy") to wonder if Bush and company are using the settlement process to enshrine new law while avoiding the checks-and-balances of Congress and federal rule-making.

Recently, the League of Conservation Voters awarded Bush an "F" for Environmental protection, and the group's president, Deb Callahan, summed ~t up by saying, "Under the Bush administration, corporate polluters have been allowed to write the laws." With the public focused on war, Bush administration officials are pushing an unannounced developmental agenda to reshape the American landscape.


Gregg Mosson has published articles in the Oregonian, PDXS, Cascadia Forest Roots, and the Hill Rag.

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