Published on Thursday, July 4, 2002 in the New York Times
Fouling Our Own Nest
by Bob Herbert
For me, Pig-Pen's attitude embodies President Bush's approach to the environment. We've been trashing, soiling, even destroying the wonders of nature for countless ages. Why stop now? Who is Mr. Bush to step in and curb this venerable orgy of pollution, this grand tradition of fouling our own nest?
Oh, the skies may once have been clear and the waters sparkling and clean. But you can't have that and progress, too. Can you?
This week we learned that the Bush administration plans to cut funding for the cleanup of 33 toxic waste sites in 18 states. As The Times's Katharine Seelye reported, this means "that work is likely to grind to a halt on some of the most seriously polluted sites in the country."
The cuts were ordered because the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program is running out of money. Rather than showing the leadership necessary to replenish the fund, the president plans to reduce its payouts by cleaning up fewer sites. Pig-Pen would have been proud.
This is not a minor matter. The sites targeted by the Superfund program are horribly polluted, in many cases with cancer-causing substances. Millions of Americans live within a few miles of these sites.
The Superfund decision is the kind of environmental move we've come to expect from the Bush administration. Mother Nature has been known to tremble at the sound of the president's approaching footsteps. He's an environmental disaster zone.
In February a top enforcement official at the Environmental Protection Agency, Eric Schaeffer, quit because of Bush administration policies that he said undermined the agency's efforts to crack down on industrial polluters. Mr. Schaeffer said he felt he was "fighting a White House that seems determined to weaken the rules we are trying to enforce."
That, of course, is exactly what this White House is doing. Within weeks of Mr. Schaeffer's resignation came official word that the administration was relaxing the air quality regulations that applied to older coal-fired power plants, a step backward that delighted the administration's industrial pals.
During this same period, the president broke his campaign promise to regulate the industrial emissions of carbon dioxide, a move that, among other things, would have helped in the fight to slow the increase in global warming. Mr. Bush has also turned his back on the Kyoto Protocol, which would require industrial nations to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
The president was even disdainful of his own administration's report on global warming, which acknowledged that the U.S. would experience far-reaching and, in some cases, devastating environmental consequences as a result of the climate change.
The president's views on global warming seem aligned with those of the muddle-headed conservative groups in Texas that have been forcing rewrites in textbooks to fit their political and spiritual agendas. In one environmental science textbook, the following was added:
"In the past, the earth has been much warmer than it is now, and fossils of sea creatures show us that the sea level was much higher than it is today. So does it really matter if the world gets warmer?"
Senator Joseph Lieberman, not exactly a left-winger on the environment or anything else, gave a speech in California in February in which he assailed the president's lack of leadership on global warming and other environmental issues. He characterized the president's energy policy as "mired in crude oil" and said Mr. Bush had been "AWOL in the war against environmental pollution."
Several states, fed up with Mr. Bush's capitulation to industry on these matters, have moved on their own to protect the environment and develop more progressive energy policies.
Simply stated, the president has behaved irresponsibly toward the environment and shows no sign of changing his ways. You could laugh at Pig-Pen. He was just a comic strip character. But Mr. Bush is no joke. His trashing of the environment is a deadly serious matter.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company