George W. Bush has made Earth Day a day of mourning for environmentalists at home and abroad. They get on his nerves, of course. He's an oil and gas man, and they keep yapping about "renewable energy" -- wind, sun and water sources. They whine about a little arsenic in drinking water and a little carbon dioxide in the air. He has expressed his irritation, big time, in his first budget.
Our new president wants us to pull up our socks, while he takes care of the strong -- the big corporations and the billionaires. The Earth, he seems to be telling us, can take care of itself. He has quit the so-called Kyoto agreements, which he thinks pick on his pals, U.S. polluters, and exempts Third World countries from restrictions on fossil fuel emissions. Ironically, the United States has been reinforcing his argument: Two U.S.-funded entities, the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and the Export-Import Bank, bankroll, sometimes with the help of the World Bank, huge fossil fuel plants in places such as Indonesia. There is no sign that Bush will end the practice. The Institute for Policy Studies has documented the outrage.
Said Earth Day founder Denis Hayes, who is now chief executive of the Earth Day Network and is trying to make environmental rights part of human rights: "Bush is the worst president for the environment since Ronald Reagan."
The ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, John Spratt of South Carolina, has been studying the budget for the last two weeks, looking for patterns. He found none. Spratt, who is notably more forward-looking than his state, thinks the budget is "bizarre."
"None of the cuts are completely devastating; it's just death from a thousand pinpricks. It shows complete insensitivity to environmental needs."
Bush has cut funds for solar energy research by 54 percent -- and wind, geothermal and hydroelectric power, all by 48 percent.
Rep. Spratt: "If not Kyoto, what? Of course Bush could rationalize dumping the treaty on the grounds that the Senate will not ratify it, and the Senate rationalizes that Bush won't sign it, but where is the international leadership?"
The budget also details the president's antipathy to arms control. As all environmental concerns give way to consideration for the corporations that might be inconvenienced by pesky pollution patrols, arms control is seen through the prism of the Bush obsession with the nuclear missile defense system. This is the only possible explanation for the baffling $117 million cut in the Nunn-Lugar program, a highly regarded effort to bring order into the chaotic nuclear weapons situation in Russia.
Most people, and Rep. Spratt is among them, think that Republican Sen. Richard Lugar and former Democratic senator Sam Nunn really accomplished something with a bill that could actually impede nuclear weapons proliferation. On National Public Radio, Nunn, now head of the Nuclear Threat Initiative foundation, pointed out that there is enough weapons-grade material in Russia to make 60,000 to 80,000 nuclear weapons. "And it's not under safeguard, it's not under, in most cases, safe storage, and it's exposed to both theft and illicit traffic. And then we also have thousands of scientists that know how to make these weapons but don't know how to make a living.
"Just to cut the program before they come up with alternatives or before they even review them," said Nunn. "I certainly don't understand it."
It sounds a lot like Kyoto.
The summit of Bush's arms control aspirations is the destruction of the ABM treaty, which forbids the deployment of anti-missile contraptions. His intention is to couple that with a little symbolic cutting of our own nuclear force and call it peace.
Bush wants to wring every dime he can out of programs to preserve his tax cut. As for leaving no child behind, Bush make exceptions for children with inferior addresses: He cuts the money for the Public Housing Drug Elimination Program and stops funds for projects for the Boys and Girls Clubs. The clubs have made good photo-ops. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson used one for a backdrop, and the president visited one, too. But they are disposable -- and so, it seems are the children when it comes down to helping them or the tycoons.
The party of Theodore Roosevelt has ditched conservation and the party of Dwight Eisenhower has deep-sixed the ideal of nuclear peace. It's up to Congress to restore the most egregious cuts. House Republicans, who blindly endorsed the blueprint, may have to row back on the end product. The kindest thing you can say about the document is that it is mindless. If you don't think that, you would say he was mean, and that Calvin Coolidge has come back to the White House.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company