USA: Critics Warn Bush Presidency Disastrous for Environment

Publisher Name: 
Environment News Service

WASHINGTON, DC -- Vice President Al Gore formally conceded the protracted presidential election tonight to Texas Governor George W. Bush, a Republican who many critics fear will promote policies disastrous for the nation's environment.

Gore, speaking from the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House, pledged his full support to his Republican rival. Gore said that that while he strongly disagreed with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that blocked his efforts to count disputed ballots in the state of Florida, he accepted it.

Critics maintain that partisan politics dictated the high court's unsigned majority ruling, which was accompanied by a scathing dissenting opinion authored by the court's more liberal members.

Less than one hour after Gore delivered his concession speech, President-elect Bush addressed the nation from the House chamber of the Texas Legislature in Austin.

Bush said that he was thankful that America was able to resolve the disputed election in a peaceful way, and he pledged to work in a bipartisan manner during his administration.

Bush briefly outlined a number of issues he plans to address as president, including public education, social security, prescription drug coverage for seniors, tax relief, and strengthening the military. He made no mention of the environment.

Gore's Environmental Record

Gore sought to define himself as the most environmentally friendly presidential candidate early on in the grueling and historic race for the White House. As a candidate, Gore pledged to resist rollbacks of federal protections for clean air and water, and he promised to protect America's remaining wild places. The vice president promised to work on the problem of global warming, a top shelf issue for many environmental groups.

Gore also vowed to clean up air pollution from the nation's dirtiest power plants, which a coalition of environmental groups this fall said causes some 30,000 premature deaths each year.

Gore had promised to protect pristine roadless areas in the national forests. He extended those protections to Alaska's Tongass National Forest, which has been targeted by the state's Republican Congressional delegation for expanded logging.

Gore also spoke on the campaign trail about his opposition to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. His position on the issue differes markedly from that of Bush and a host of key Republican lawmakers, who advocate opening parts of the refuge to oil and gas exploration in order to ensure national energy security.

Gore's environmental record won him the endorsements of a host of environmental advocacy groups, including the 600,000 member Sierra Club. Carl Pope, the organization's executive director, remarked that Gore's vision was "the type of bold leadership America needs to protect its remaining wild forests for future generations to enjoy, explore and discover."

The League of Conservation voters also endorsed Gore, though the Vice President's erstwhile rival for the Democratic Party's nomination, former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, scored significantly higher on the group's annual environmental voting scorecard.

LCV president Deb Callahan said that the 2000 election represented a "significant crossroads" for the nation's environment. A Gore victory, Callahan said, would have guaranteed "thoughtful and continued progress in addressing the nation's and the world's most pressing environmental problems." A Bush administration, Callahan added, would "threaten the progress we've made in cleaning up our nation's air and water and would enable polluters to profit at the public's expense."

Callahan said that environmental records distinguished the differences between Gore and Bush more clearly than any other single issue.

Bush's Environmental Platform

Bush seldom spoke about environmental issues while on the campaign trail, though he did reveal some of his thoughts on the subject at an event in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, a few weeks before the Republican national convention.

Bush said that as president, he would "speak for [the] great national goal" of protecting the nation's natural lands and watersheds. The Texas governor said that "it is our duty to use the lands well, and sometimes not to use them at all. It is our responsibility as citizens, but more than that it is our calling as stewards of the earth."

But there are a number of caveats to carrying out those kinds of environmental policies, Bush warned. The Texas governor said that "problems arise when leaders reject partnership, and rely solely on the power of Washington" to dictate regulations and penalties from afar.

Bush called for a more decentralized approach, where "positive incentives" are used to promote cooperation and flexibility among the federal government, the states, and private landowners.

Bush campaigned on the notion that the federal government has a crucial -- but limited -- role to play in managing the nation's national resources. "At its best, the federal government can lend support to local and state conservation efforts," Bush said in July.

The Texas Governor emphasized private conservation over public works, saying the federal government's role should consist of providing scientific and financial resources to help states, local communities and private landowners preserve land and wildlife.

Critics Ridiculed Bush's Environmental Record

But Bush's efforts to cast himself as a friend of the environment during the campaign drew sharp criticism from the Democratic Party, as well as environmental groups such as the Sierra Club.

Gore 2000 national spokesman Douglas Hattaway said Bush's environmental record "shows a lack of effort to conserve the environment in Texas." Hattaway cited a report by the League of Conservation Voters ranking Texas 49th in state spending on parks. Under Bush, the state has acquired no new land for conservation, according to the League. A 1998 state audit found that Texas had a funding deficit of $36 million for maintenance of existing parks.

Hattaway once quipped that "A year ago, [Bush] didn't seem to know what the Land and Water Conservation Fund was. Now he's doing photo ops about it."

The Sierra Club also got into the act, as it launched an ad campaign in Nevada to educate voters about what it termed Bush's "Just Say Please" policy of asking polluters to voluntarily reduce their toxic emissions to Texas air and water.

Texas leads the nation in industrial air emissions, as shown by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's most recent Toxic Release Inventory. Factoring in for the first time emissions from power plants and mines, the state's toxic pollution discharged into surface waters jumped almost 20 percent, to about 25 million pounds a year. Last year, Houston topped Los Angeles, California, as the nation's smoggiest city, critics note.

Protesters Hounded Gore

Gore faced some of those criticisms in August at the Democratic Party's national convention in Los Angeles, where thousands of protesters disillusioned by the Vice President's stance on a host of environmental and human rights issues took to the streets.

Ten protesters were arrested on civil disobedience related charges during a demonstration designed to draw attention to Gore's ties to the Los Angeles based Occidental Petroleum Company.

Gore's family owns $500,000 worth of Occidental Petroleum stock. His father Tennessee Senator Albert Gore, Sr., served on the company's board for 28 years.

Gore had for years ignored the pleas of environmentalists who are opposed to Occidental's plan to drill for oil in Colombia, on lands that are sacred to the U'Wa Indians. The U'Wa, a peaceful tribe of 5,000 in the Colombian Cloudforest, are adamantly opposed to Occidental's project.

Another troubling aspect pertaining to Gore's ties to Occidental emerged earlier this year, when Congress - at the urging of the Clinton administration - approved a $1.3 billion military aid package to the Colombian government. Gore and other top administration officials have insisted that the money will provide substantial assistance in fighting the "war on drugs. Critics rejected that explanation, saying that the money will be used to protect the interests of oil companies such as Occidental.

Gore Dogged by WTI Issue

Gore was also haunted by environmentalists and citizen activists opposed to the Von Roll Waste Technologies Industries (WTI) hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio. The WTI plant, which is permitted to burn more than 60,000 tons of hazardous wastes each year, is located just 400 yards from an elementary school.

The incinerator has been linked to Gore since 1992, when he pledged to prevent the facility from operating if voters elected him and Bill Clinton to office. At a campaign stop in July of that year, Gore said that it was "just unbelievable" that the incinerator was located in a flood plain next to the school, and he committed the Clinton administration to shutting the plant down until the "serious questions" regarding its environmental and public health impacts could be addressed.

But William Reilly, who headed up the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under former President George H.W. Bush, said Gore passed on an opportunity to scuttle the permit in the time between the election and the inauguration.

According to sworn testimony Reilly gave to a federal investigator, Gore even encouraged the EPA to approve the incinerator's trial burn permit before he and President-elect Bill Clinton assumed power.

Reilly testified that he learned of Gore's position on the incinerator during a pre-inaugural meeting with Kathleen McGinty, who was the Vice President-elect's chief environmental advisor at the time. Many people assumed that Gore would have tapped McGinty to head up the EPA had he been elected president.

Bush's Next Move

Bush said Wednesday night that he will meet with Gore in Washington next week to "do our best to heal our country after this hard fought contest." Bush's transition team is being headed up by Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, a former oilman who served as Secretary of State in the administration of Bush's father.

The Bush team must move quickly to fill thousands of federal government jobs, especially Cabinet posts and the top positions at key regulatory agencies. Environmentalists will be watching closely to see who Bush taps to head up a number of institutions, such as the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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