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Dirty Politics: Bush and the Environment

Brian Campbell
Date Published: 
June 1, 2001

George Bush Jr., who has just celebrated the conclusion of his first 100 days in the presidential office, has been forced to turn his administration on the defensive after a series of toxic decisions on environmental protection.

His first 100 days were truly awful: he reneged on his campaign promise to require power plants to control carbon dioxide emissions, pushed a plan to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration and drilling, proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget by 6.4%, tossed aside the 1997 Kyoto global warming agreement, and refused to toughen standards for arsenic in drinking water. He also has plans to open up 58 million acres of forest to logging and road building and has advocated oil and gas drilling in the northern Rocky Mountains.

A recent nationwide survey by the Los Angeles Times shows just how out of step Bush is with significant numbers of Americans.  The survey revealed that, by a margin of 2 to 1, Americans said they believed businesses would cut corners on environmental protection without government regulation. A 59% to 21% majority opposed Bush’s stance on Kyoto, 58% said protecting plants and animals should take priority over property rights, and 50% said improving the environment should take priority over economic growth.

Sensing a backlash, the administration spun their record around this past Earth Day claiming it was merely continuing the policies of the Clinton administration and that a more serious review of the various issues were to continue before taking the next steps in its “comprehensive environmental protection agenda.” Considering how uninspiring the Clinton administration’s record was on the environment, this isn’t saying much.

And in a transparent attempt to balance his pro-business environmental record, Bush announced that he would sign a treaty reducing releases of a dozen dangerous chemicals, most of which had admittedly not been produced or used in the US for years. The treaty itself was a leftover product of the do-nothing Clinton administration. Yet Bush brushed aside his critics saying his administration would “make decisions based upon sound science, not some environmental fad or what may sound good.”

Quid pro quo

In his election campaign, Bush promised to do for America what he had done for Texas. This is a scary thought: Texas under Bush ranked 49th in spending on environmental regulation, and ranked 1st in the amount of air and water pollution. The reason for this may have to do with then-Governor Bush allowing the oil companies to draft the state’s Clean Air Act after they pumped $1.5 million into his 1998 campaign for governor.

It does not take a genius to see that it is big oil money that is behind Bush’s enthusiasm for fossil fuels. Bush’s entire political life has been dominated by the oil industry. Some of his biggest campaign backers were Texaco and Exxon-Mobil. His ties to Enron, the country’s biggest buyer and seller of natural gas, stretch from the $575,000 they have donated throughout his political career to placing Kenneth Lay, Enron’s CEO, on the administration’s energy advisory committee.

His administration is littered with oil’s friends. Vice President Cheney, himself spectacularly oil rich, recently reaffirmed America’s continued reliance on fossil fuels well into the future and proposed to expand the use of nuclear power as a safe, clean and plentiful energy source.  He added that conservation was “not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy” and that new technologies would provide ways we could save energy without sacrifice. However, he did not mention the sacrifice the Department of Energy would endure should the Bush budget pass—funding for energy efficiency research and development would be cut by $180 million, or 29%.

The rest of the cabinet doesn’t fare much better; it is full of some of the most noxious anti-environmentalists one could imagine. It contains nuts such as Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Norton is a former protégé of Ronald Reagan’s James Watt and a long-standing proponent of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She served as Attorney General in Colorado where she busied herself with demolishing pollution laws. Later she was a lobbyist for the highly toxic National Lead Company.

Christine Todd Whitman is also part of Bush’s team, serving as head of the EPA. The former New Jersey governor’s past includes cutting the state’s budget for environmental protection by 30%. Under her administration, fines for air and water pollution dropped by nearly 75%. She is also an advocate of state and local government regulation of pollution—a strange position for the head of the EPA to hold to say the least!

Free trade wasteland

In addition to all this, Bush is an enthusiastic supporter of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) treaty, which, like NAFTA before it, will surely help corporations free themselves further from environmental regulations. Since NAFTA’s passage, and the resulting increased manufacturing along the US-Mexico border, that region has become a massive environmental wasteland. According to Global Exchange, daily 44 tons of hazardous waste are improperly discarded by plants in the region. Birth defects have risen dramatically and hepatitis has increased to two to three times the national average due to the lack of sewage treatment and safe drinking water. Massive clear cutting has laid the forests in the state of Guerrero to waste—40% of which have been lost. This is a trend seen across much of Mexico since NAFTA was implemented.

The FTAA will surely have the same effect on the rest of the Americas, carrying it’s logic of free trade over regulation through regions already lacking in environmental protection. It will ensure the freedom of massive corporations to run rampant throughout the hemisphere without regard for ecosystems and the people whose lives depend on them.  It will mean the likely expanded use of genetically modified crops throughout the hemisphere. Monsanto, one of the largest purveyors of genetically modified organisms, and the main peddler of “terminator technology,” has been welcomed into Bush’s EPA in the person of Linda Fisher, nominee for deputy administrator and head of Monsanto’s Washington lobbying office.

So, as Bush and his gang conduct war on the planet, activists will have to step up the fight. No amount of lobbying can compare to the amount of corporate money propping up this administration. The mobilization in Quebec last month shows the best way of resisting the onslaught. 70,000 activists, environmentalists, labor unions, and students are forging a movement which increasingly recognizes the ties between government policy and big business.  It is this movement which will be the counter-force to the corporate assault on the environment.