NEW YORK - Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore scoffed at President Bush's plan to send astronauts to the moon and Mars and said Bush was a "moral coward" for ignoring global environmental threats.
Speaking at an event sponsored by political advocacy groups MoveOn.org and Environment2004, Gore said Bush's record on the environment routinely puts the wishes of the coal, oil, utility and mining industries ahead of public interests.
Former Vice President Al Gore delivers a speech on Global Warming and the Environment at the Beacon Theater in New York, January 15, 2004. Gore scoffed at President George W. Bush's plan to send astronauts to the moon and Mars and said Bush was a "moral coward" for ignoring global environmental threats. Speaking at the event sponsored by political advocacy groups MoveOn.org and Environment2004, Gore said Bush's record on the environment routinely puts the wishes of the coal, oil, utility and mining industries ahead of public interests. Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
"Instead of spending enormous sums of money on an unimaginative and retread effort to make a tiny portion of the moon habitable for a handful of people, we should focus instead on a massive effort to ensure that the Earth is habitable for future generations," Gore said to a cheering Manhattan crowd.
The speech is one of a series Gore, who served two terms as vice president under President Bill Clinton, has made criticizing Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, the economy, and other issues. Gore lost to Bush in the 2000 election after winning the popular vote and has ruled out a rematch in 2004.
On Wednesday, Bush announced plans to send humans back to the moon as early as 2015 and eventually to Mars -- an initiative critics derided as motivated by election-year politics that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars. His dad, former President George Bush, proposed in 1989 to send humans back to the moon and on to Mars, but that idea went nowhere.
Gore accused Bush of reneging on environmental promises made while campaigning for the White House, saying Bush's "seemingly heartfelt declaration" that he was concerned about global warming and the environment was just lip service.
"While President Bush likes to project an image of strength and courage, the truth is that in the presence of his large financial contributors he is a moral coward -- so weak that he seldom, if ever, says 'No' to anything that they want to do," Gore said.
In particular, Gore took aim at Bush's "Clear Skies" bill, which limits emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury but fails to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide, which is believed to contribute to global warming.
He also criticized Bush's so-called "Healthy Forest" initiative, which the White House said would reduce the risk of forest wildfires but which environmental groups said promoted logging at the expense of environmental protection.
According to Gore, such policies underscore Bush's goal of satisfying the interests of large industrial corporations in return for hefty campaign contributions.
"It seems at times as if the Bush-Cheney Administration is wholly owned by the coal, oil, utility and mining companies," he said.
While environmental issues dominated the speech, Gore still criticized Bush's handling of foreign policy, saying he has "caused America to be seen by the other nations of the world as showing disdain for the international community."
© 2004 Reuters Ltd