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[GreenYes] Watchin bush on Earth Day
Watching Bush on Earth Day

April 22, 2001
Watching Mr. Bush on Earth Day

This Earth Day differs from the celebratory occasions that the 
environmental community grew accustomed to during the last half of 
Bill Clinton's tenure. Early on, Mr. Clinton was the despair of 
conservationists, but he wound up with an exceptional record of 
achievement. Other modern presidents made big contributions, too. 
Jimmy Carter set aside huge areas of Alaska as wilderness. Richard 
Nixon, like Mr. Clinton, was not by instinct an environmentalist, but 
he had the political sense to give his blessing to the great wave of 
legislation on clean air, clean water and wilderness protection that 
Congress approved in the early 1970's.

George W. Bush seems headed in the opposite direction, although there 
were signs last week that the White House was beginning to take note 
of polls showing that moderate voters do not like his approach. One 
of his first acts was to suspend a half- dozen of the Clinton 
administration's environmental rules, which Mr. Bush's people persist 
in labeling "last-minute" regulations, though most had been in the 
works for years. He then embarked on several precipitous moves of his 
own — reversing a campaign pledge to cut carbon dioxide emissions, 
suspending rules requiring mining companies to observe sound 
environmental practices and weakening enforcement of the Endangered 
Species Act.

These were minor affronts to the Clinton legacy. The two defining 
environmental decisions of Mr. Bush's early months have been his 
renunciation of the Kyoto agreements on global warming and the 
beginning of what may be a broad effort to turn the oil and mining 
industries loose on public lands, many of which deserve special 

Mr. Bush's decision to abandon Kyoto has international ramifications. 
Kyoto is a flawed instrument, and the Europeans were foolishly 
resisting various trading mechanisms that would ease the costs of the 
treaty without undercutting its objectives. But instead of 
negotiating a better treaty, Mr. Bush simply pulled out, leaving 
America without a coherent policy and removing from the bargaining 
table the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases. 

Here at home, meanwhile, Mr. Bush seems bent on carving out large 
swaths of public land to satisfy his appetite for new energy 
reserves. His interior secretary, Gale Norton, is talking about 
making "boundary adjustments" to allow commercial activity in some of 
the 22 national monuments created or expanded by Mr. Clinton. More 
ominously, his administration has signaled a willingness to retreat 
from Mr. Clinton's most ambitious conservation measure — a rule 
protecting nearly 60 million acres of largely untouched national 
forest from new oil and gas leasing and most new logging.

Mr. Bush's intentions will become clearer when the secretive task 
force led by Vice President Dick Cheney discloses the 
administration's energy strategy next month. Nobody doubts the need 
for a coherent energy plan, and the country is probably willing to 
cut Mr. Bush some slack in his search for natural gas, the fuel of 
choice for newer and cleaner power plants. But the polls have also 
shown that the public is not prepared to sacrifice areas of clear 
ecological value, whether in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge or the 
national forests.

Perhaps mindful of unfavorable polls, the White House has lately been 
trying to put a better face on things. Three Clinton-era regulations 
have been allowed to stand. The most important of these was a 
controversial rule that would greatly restrict the emissions of soot 
and other pollutants from diesel-powered vehicles. Last week, 
Christie Whitman, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, 
announced with great fanfare a decision to support a Clinton 
administration rule protecting wetlands. It is possible that Mrs. 
Whitman is pushing the White House toward more enlightened policies. 
Still, there is something pathetic and potentially deceptive about 
these triumphal exercises. The occasional decision to uphold existing 
law should not divert our attention from the more fundamental 
question of whether Mr. Bush is going to allow his Interior 
Department to become a captive of the oil and mining industries. 

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