The Environment Burns While Bush Fiddles




I

n the 1960s and 1970s the electorate became
concerned about the deteriorating environment and urged Congress
to pass laws to protect the air, water, forest, animals, and our
own health. By the time Kerry ran against Bush, the environment
had become a footnote in presidential campaigns. 


The 2004 Republican Party platform revealed absolutely no concern
for the environment while stressing the protection of private property
and the current economy. Using presidential authority, Bush weakened
environmental protections by applying many tactics such as appointing
industry lobbyists to head agencies, changing or ignoring rules
and enforcement, and passing new laws to negate protections, such
as the Healthy Forest Act, the Clean Skies bill, and a massive new
energy bill. 








Industry
and the Republican Party used a number of schemes to help destroy
laws protecting the environment. A third of Bush’s appointments
to federal courts worked as lobbyists for polluting industries—such
as oil, gas, timber, and mining. By May 2004 Bush had appointed
over 100 former lobbyists and company lawyers to head agencies that
regulate industry and the environment. In case after case, former
lobbyists redefined policies to shift the regulations to favor their
former clients, most often polluting industries. 


Bush undid policies to enforce environmental laws by rolling back
over 300 regulations. Reversed policies included clean air and clean
water regulations, mining regulations, the roadless forest initiative,
the Northwest Forest Plan, Sierra Nevada logging policies, the ban
on snowmobiles in Yellowstone Park, fisheries management, hazardous
waste regulations and coastal zone planning. The Administration
encouraged loggers, developers, snowmobilers, and property rights
advocates to sue the government to overturn environmental regulations.
The Department of Justice, formerly entrusted with enforcing laws,
defended environmental laws in language clearly intended to weaken
them. 


There are dozens of additional examples. Under Bush, civil penalties
imposed by the EPA against polluters set a record 15-year low and
cases against refineries and coal-fired power plants declined 90
percent. In August 2003 Bush’s EPA allowed thousands of power
plants, oil refineries, and industrial plants to upgrade their operations
without reducing pollution. In April 2006 Bush suspended environmental
rules for gasoline manufacturing and his Administration continues
to push for drilling offshore in the protected Alaskan wilderness
and other environmentally fragile areas. 


The Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted oil and gas drilling on public
lands from following the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts
and other environmental laws. It allowed the Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) to issue a record 7,000 drilling permits on public lands.
Bush oversaw the largest timber sale in modern history—30 square
miles—in southwest Oregon, despite over 20,000 citizens’
objections. Bush’s 2007 budget proposes to sell off $1 billion
worth of public land—300,000 acres of national forest and 500,000
acres of BLM land. 


Besides the backdoor approach to non-enforcement of laws, farright
Congresspeople consider environmental protection bad for profits
and constantly seek to repeal or weaken the Wilderness Preservation
Act, the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the Endangered Species
Act, and all regulations that restrict private property and commercial
development. 


In February 2006 Karl Rove bragged that President Bush has transformed
conservatism from “reactionary” to “forward looking”
by incorporating “liberal” ideas into foreign policy.
Rove claimed Bush was “spreading human liberty and preserving
human dignity” with his current environmental policies. The
GOP highlighed Bush’s environmental efforts, such as increasing
mileage requirements for SUVs by .03 miles per gallon and cutting
taxes so people could buy new cars. 


In March 2006 the largest oil spill on Alaska’s North Slope
dumped 267,000 gallons of crude oil over 2 acres at the Prudhoe
Bay oil production facilities run by BP, Exxon Mobil, and ConocoPhillips.
The spill was among the worst in the pipeline’s history. Meanwhile,
a May 2006 study by the National Marine Fisheries Service found
that the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March 1989 continued to cause
long-term damage to wildlife. 


In April 2006 studies revealed that in 2004 the U.S. was the world’s
biggest polluter, releasing a record 7.1 billion metric tons of
carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. There are now higher carbon
dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere now than at any time in
the last 10 million years. 








NASA
reported that 2005 was the hottest year ever recorded, hotter than
any time in the past 650,000 years, according to analysis of air
bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice. The past ten years were the warmest
ever recorded, apart from 1996, which was slightly cooler than 1990.
The 2005 average global temperature was 58.3 F—the hottest
since record keeping began in the late 1800s. Heat waves across
Europe killed a record 31,000 people in 2003. 


European flooding is also setting records. In April 2006 the Danube
rose to its highest level in 111 years, pushing people from their
homes and flooding more than 12,000 acres of farmland. These floods
come on the heels of devastating floods last year when heavy rains
also caused flooding in Yemen, Colombia, Eastern Europe, northeastern
Australia, Indonesia, and northern Argentina. 


In 2005 a dramatic rise in the ocean temperature led to the deaths
of birds and fish from Central California to British Columbia. In
the Pacific Northwest, fisheries declined for the first time in
50 years and from San Diego to Mendocino fisherpeople reported the
lowest fish catch in 23 years. In 2002 Bush caused the largest salmon
die-off ever recorded in California when he diverted irrigation
water to potato farmers. Similar die-offs of birds and fish occurred
in the North Sea, caused by warming water and the disappearance
of plankton, forewarning an ecological collapse in the oceans as
the world heats up. 


In Newfoundland researchers found populations of five species—roundnose
grendadier, onion-eye grenadier, blue hake, spiny eel, and spinytail
skate—have declined 89 to 98 percent in the past 17 years. 


Coral death also set a record in May 2006 when the first coral reefs
were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Elkhorn
and staghorn coral, the main reef-building species in the Caribbean
and the Gulf of Mexico, declined 80 to 98 percent in the region,
due to higher water temperatures. Coral death was virtually unknown
25 years ago, but today dead coral is showing up around the world. 


Last year, parts of the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers filled with
sandbars as the drainages experienced the worst drought since 1988.
Along with drought come forest fires, which are also setting records.
In March 2006, 1.8 million acres burned in Colorado, Oklahoma, and
Texas, the most since record keeping began. 


Climate researchers at Purdue and MIT have found evidence that global
warming causes increased hurricane activity, doubling intensity
and frequency of storms with each one-quarter-degree increase in
average global temperature. In keeping with these findings, last
year’s hurricane season broke many records. Other records set
include more tropical storms (28), the most hurricanes (15), the
largest number of hurricanes hitting the U.S. (4), the most powerful
storm ever recorded, and the most Category 5 hurricanes (4). Of
the 20 most expensive hurricanes in history, 5 occurred in 2005
and 11 have occurred since 2000. 


Over the past 50 years, temperatures rose more in the high-latitudes
of Alaska, Siberia, and the Antarctic Peninsula, which is why Arctic
sea ice shrank to its smallest extent ever in 2005. Mount Kilimanjaro
will lose its famous snow mantel and the glaciers in Glacier National
Park will melt over the next 35 years. Satellite photos show the
ice shelf in Antarctica, once thought to be stable for the next
100 years, breaking in only 35 days. 


In June 2001 the National Academy of Sciences reported, “Greenhouse
gases are accumulating in the earth’s atmosphere as a result
of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface
ocean temperatures to rise.” Bush responded to the report,
“We do not know how much our climate could, or will change
in the future. We do not know how fast change will occur, or even
how some of our actions could impact it,” and devoted $25 million
to research the subject. Since then, the White House has proposed
to reduce enforcement of pollution rules for U.S. industry and energy
companies in favor of a voluntary curb on carbon dioxide emissions. 








In
April 2006 reports surfaced that the Bush administration was making
it difficult for climate research scientists to speak truthfully
about global warming. Examples included a 2002 report of the Interior
Department censuring a news release because it would cause “great
problems in the department.” In November 2005 Bush censors
“purged key words from the (press) releases, including ‘global
warming,’ ‘warming climate,’ and ‘climate change’.”
Officials also attempted to alter what scientists told the media
and bar researchers from talking to the media about policy matters. 


Despite attacks on the environment by the current rulers and their
neo-conservative industry supporters, Americans want to preserve
the environment. In March 2006 a

Time

magazine/ABC News/Stanford
University poll revealed that 88 percent believe global warming
threatens future generations and 38 percent view global warming
as a serious problem. Two-thirds say Bush’s policies did little
or nothing to help the environment last year and 68 percent believe
that the government should do more to address global warming; 60
percent want the government to lower power plant emissions and 87
percent support tax breaks to develop alternative energy sources. 


Evidence from numerous sources reveals that Bush and the Republicans
have actively encourage industry, land developers, and polluters
to wantonly extract the nation’s natural resources and degrade
the air, soil, and water while refusing to rein in oil usage and
air pollution or enforce energy conservation. 


Global warming is irreversible, but the longer we wait to reverse
policies and begin protecting the environment, the larger the climatic
shifts and human dislocations will be and the more arbitrary and
restrictive the changes necessary to curb the damage.





Don
Monkerud is an Aptos, California-based writer who follows cultural,
social and political issues.