Alread two years have passed since terrorist attacks in New York and Washington shook America and shocked the world. Today, the repercussions of those tragedies continue to impact American lives in ways never imagined. For environmentalists, one of the most disturbing consequences has been the Bush administration’s systematic efforts to undermine long-established environmental policies under cover of the “War on Terror.”
Granted, we all knew Bush was not going to be a “green” president, but there was hope for a miracle. A couple of years after his arrest for drunken driving in 1976, Bush gave up drinking and became a devout Christian. Wasn’t it possible that once in the driver’s seat of government — realizing how much good he could do for future generations — he would have a similar divine conversion to environmentalism?
Unfortunately, it was not to be. Looking deep into his heart and plumbing the depths of his own goodness, Bush decided that those who deserved his generosity most were the ones who gave so selflessly to his presidential campaign, primarily individuals and corporations in the oil and energy sectors.
Bush would have honored his political IOUs anyway, but the “War on Terror” made his job much easier. In wartime, tradition dictates that media and political opponents defer to the Commander-in-Chief in order to ensure national unity for security reasons. By characterizing the U.S. response to terrorism as war — then instigating a war for strategic influence in Iraq — Bush has effectively emasculated those who would have challenged his policies in peacetime. In deference to “wartime” national security, the media and opposition politicians have failed to document and challenge the Bush administration’s wholesale undermining of America’s national environmental security.
Considering that Bush has been free to do as he pleases with the environment since September 2001, it is not surprising that in 2002 the League of Conservation Voters gave Bush a near-failing mark on his presidential report card: D-. In 2003 he did even worse. The LCV gave him an F.
This month, in the September/October issue of Mother Jones magazine, Osha Gray Davidson looks even deeper than the camouflage of war to explain the real reasons why Bush is getting such low marks on the environment. Davidson’s piece, titled “Dirty Secrets,” begins with a humorous look back at Ronald Reagan, the president whose gaffs made work easy for environmentalists.
“In the early 1980s you didn’t need to be a member of EarthFirst! to know that Ronald Reagan was bad for the environment. You didn’t even have to be especially politically aware. Here was a man who had, after all, publicly stated that most air pollution was caused by plants. And then there was Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, who saw no need to protect the environment because Jesus was returning any day, and who, in a pique of reactionary feng shui, suggested that the buffalo on Interior’s seal be flipped to face right instead of left,” Davidson writes.
But Davidson’s tone changes quickly as she explains why Bush’s policies are anything but funny. “By contrast, while George W. Bush gets low marks on the environment from a majority of Americans, few fully appreciate the scope and fury of this administration’s anti-environmental agenda,” she writes.
Below is an agenda shortlist from Davidson’s article. The Bush administration has:
* Gutted key sections of the Clean Water and Clean Air acts, decades-old laws that have “done more to protect the health of Americans than any other environmental legislation.”
* “Crippled the Superfund program, which is charged with cleaning up millions of pounds of toxic industrial wastes . . . in more than 1,000 neighborhoods in 48 states.”
* “Cut the [Environmental Protection Agency’s] enforcement division by nearly one-fifth, to its lowest level on record.”
* Opened millions of acres of wilderness to logging, mining and oil- and gas-drilling, “including some of the nation’s most environmentally sensitive public lands.”
Why is this happening without people’s awareness and without more outrage from the media, political opponents and environmental groups?
“The easy explanations — that environmental issues are complex, that war and terrorism push most other concerns off the front pages — are only part of the story,” writes Davidson. “The real reason may be far simpler: Few people know the magnitude of the administration’s attacks on the environment because the administration has been working very hard to keep it that way.”
According to Davidson, the key to Bush’s effectiveness in dismantling environmental policy has partially been his administration’s success in placing “business-friendly appointees” in top positions. More importantly, Bush has filled his administration with politically appointed bureaucrats who “are politically savvy and come from the very industries they’re charged with regulating. The result is an administration uniquely effective at implementing its ambitious pro-industry agenda — with a minimum of public notice,” Davidson says.
By placing industry insiders deep in government, the Bush team is able to dismantle policy without attracting attention. Davidson calls this one of the administration’s “most effective stealth tactics” — its ability to avoid public legislative haggling and instead work “within the difficult-to-understand, yawn-producing realm of agency regulations.”
Those familiar with the fight over whether to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have seen Bush’s anti-environment agenda fail in Congress. Out of the public eye, however, his administration is tireless in its efforts to get natural resources into the hands of energy-industry friends who, Davidson reports, donated $2.8 million to the Bush campaign.
The Bush team has also been “darkly brilliant at using the courts to do its dirty work — through methods such as ‘sweetheart suits,’ the practice of encouraging states and private groups to file lawsuits against the federal government, and then agreeing to negotiated settlements that bypass environmental laws without any interference from Congress or the public,” explains Davidson.
Davidson concludes that more than scenery is at stake. “By using stealth tactics to pursue a corporate agenda, the Bush administration is undermining the very landscape of democracy, which depends on an informed citizenry, transparency in government, and lively public debate. A culture of deception and deceit erodes all of these — and that is probably the most serious ‘environmental’ damage of all,” she warns.