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[GreenYes] Environmental Rollbacks
Environmental Rollbacks

April 8, 2001 

Environmental Rollbacks

Republican moderates are exasperated by President Bush's posture on 
environmental issues. They are not alone. In less than three months 
Mr. Bush has begun to remind people of the country's last genuinely 
anti-environmental president, Ronald Reagan. But where Mr. Reagan's 
attitude was one of careless indifference  "You've seen one redwood, 
you've seem 'em all," was a typical Reaganism  Mr. Bush's retreat on 
issues as large as global warming and as localized as poisoned 
drinking water seems aggressively hostile. 

It could also be politically ruinous. The president says he must 
soften environmental rules to prevent a recession. He thus revives 
the historically insupportable notion that economic progress and 
environmental protection are incompatible. Further, Mr. Bush appears 
to have forgotten that Republicans inevitably self-destruct when they 
challenge environmental values that command public support. Newt 
Gingrich's hard-line agenda on everything from clean water to 
endangered species in the mid-1990's succeeded only in energizing the 
Democrats and persuading Bill Clinton to embark on the aggressive 
program of wilderness protection that Mr. Bush now seeks to repudiate.
If there has been any unifying theme to Mr. Bush's policies, it has 
been his eagerness to please the oil, gas and mining industries  
indeed, extractive industries of all kinds. The oil and coal mining 
companies helped shape his decision to withdraw from the Kyoto 
Protocol on climate change as well as his earlier reversal of a 
campaign pledge to impose mandatory limits on carbon dioxide. These 
were hasty and ill-conceived decisions that have essentially left the 
United States without a policy on a matter of global importance. 

The mining industry also had a hand in two other rollbacks. One was a 
decision to withdraw a Clinton rule that reduced by 80 percent the 
permissible standard for arsenic in drinking water. The other was a 
decision by Interior Secretary Gale Norton to suspend important new 
regulations that would require mining companies to pay for cleanups 
and, for the first time, give the Interior Department authority to 
prohibit mines that could cause "irreparable harm" to the environment.
Mr. Bush seems to be backing off his plan to open the Arctic National 
Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, in part because Congress will not 
support him. But other sensitive and ecologically significant areas, 
particularly in the Rocky Mountains, remain vulnerable. Ms. Norton 
has targeted some 17 million acres of land, in 11 Western states, now 
designated as wilderness study areas. Mr. Bush is prepared to open up 
the 19 national monuments created by Mr. Clinton. And the 
administration has signaled a retreat on Mr. Clinton's most ambition 
conservation measure  a Forest Service rule protecting nearly 60 
million acres of largely untouched national forest from new road 
building, new oil and gas leasing and most new logging.

Killing that plan would represent a big victory not only for the 
timber companies but also for the the oil and gas industries. 
Although the roadless areas contain less than 1 percent of the 
nation's oil and gas resources, the energy companies have long had 
the forests in their sights. During his distinguished tenure as Mr. 
Clinton's Forest Service chief, Mike Dombeck managed to keep the 
drillers at bay. But Mr. Dombeck has now retired to private life, 
along with nearly every other friend of the environment from the 
Clinton administration. With few exceptions, they have been replaced 
by industry lobbyists and hard-edged advocates of development. It 
will be Congress's job to hold the line against them.

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