Normal. It's such a nice, safe word, bringing to mind a world where every American doesn't worry about such things as airport security and routine mail delivery. In that world, people, companies and organizations go about their usual jobs. Power plants fight against anti-pollution controls, timber companies strive for more taxpayer-subsidized logging in unspoiled national forests, oil companies try to drill in wildlife refuges and some in government try to help them.
Guess what? That world never went away.
Most employees of the federal government have nothing to do with fighting terrorism or waging the war in Afghanistan. They've been getting up every day, going into work and performing their regular jobs.
Unfortunately, with media scrutiny diverted, disturbing trends have emerged.
The U.S. Forest Service worked for years under the Clinton administration on a plan to protect the last unspoiled areas of our national forests. On May 4, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman said, "Providing roadless protection for our National Forests is the right thing to do." Yet new policymakers at the Forest Service have continued to chip away at forest protection.
In a series of court struggles, the government has failed to mount an effort to defend the rule protecting roadless areas, even though the original measure generated 1.6 million public comments, almost all of them favoring the strongest protection. Then, on Oct. 22, the Forest Service closed the public comment period for a new directive that would allow Tongass and 11 other national forests to escape roadless protection. And now the agency is working toward a rule to allow far more timber-cutting without environmental assessment.
Meanwhile, over at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Management and Budget, staffers are trying to decide if the administration should pursue the decades-long effort to clean up the air in national parks or relax the proposed improvement in pollution standards. They're also thinking about giving power-plant companies the ability to add generating capacity without bringing old, dirty plants up to modern pollution standards. But the primary ongoing struggle comes from efforts to defeat a bill by Sen. Jim Jeffords to reduce global warming pollution, a measure that would also facilitate the cleanup of other power plant emissions.
The Department of the Interior has also been busy. While the administration continues to promote drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, news reports from Oct. 19 revealed that Interior Secretary Gale Norton misinformed a Senate committee about how caribou herds would be affected by such drilling. Norton also recently announced a plan to cancel the reintroduction of grizzly bears into Northwest wilderness, although public comment indicated 98 percent of respondents favored reintroduction. Now the agency continues to work on weakening the ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park, a ban supported by the public and years of scientific research. And on Oct. 25, the Bureau of Land Management reversed regulations for hard-rock mining, standards that would have brought the first real environmental safeguards to the industry in more than 100 years.
Now that Bush has appealed for normalcy, it's time to realize that while the attention of the media naturally has been absorbed by covering domestic terrorism and military action, the job of government has been going on in places other than the Pentagon or Office of Homeland Security. This doesn't happen in a vacuum; it's the routine way of government, responding to pressure from corporate interests or the citizens' concerns.
When the fog of war fades we may find out that years of environmental progress have been reversed. It's time to get back to normal.
Philip E. Clapp is president of the National Environmental Trust.