Weakening of environmental standards unnecessary

Movie star Leonardo DiCaprio was received warmly by students when he, along with Carol Browner, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration, made an appearance at the Phyllis P. Marshall Center on Wednesday to delivered a damning indictment against the Bush administration’s environmental record. Their statements are in line with many other experts’ views on the administration’s record: It is abysmal.

Browner said she had been conscious of how powerful her position at the EPA was while she served the longest term of any EPA administrator so far. “What we had was a lot of power to do a lot of things for you.” In an indictment concerning rollbacks of environmental laws, she said, “The Bush administration is simply the worst ever” and had “not yet found an environmental requirement or environmental law they are willing to enforce against polluters.”

Even while George W. Bush said during a presidential debate he considered himself a “good steward of the land,” it seems he is more interested in catering to corporations than ensuring environmental standards.

The Natural Resources Defense Council lists more than 400 instances in which the Bush administration in part weakened environmental standards ranging from water pollution, which led to recent warnings about mercury in Florida’s lakes and rivers, to so-called point sources, industrial polluters emitting pollution at one spatially restricted source.

An article by environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. written for the online journal AlterNet also details how Bush weakened the EPA itself.

In what Kennedy labels a “stealth attack,” Bush has gradually replaced virtually all individuals holding positions in the agency with lobbyists that favor the very sectors they are supposed to oversee. This includes the head of the Forest Service, a former timber industry lobbyist; the head of public lands, a former mining industry lobbyist; the head of the air division at the EPA, a former utility lobbyist “who has represented the worst air polluters in America.”

Kennedy says further, “If you go through all the agency heads, sub-heads and secretaries in the Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior, Department of Energy and EPA, you’ll find the same thing: The polluters are running regulatory agencies that are supposed to regulate them.”

Bush also likes to come up with Orwellian names for initiatives such as the Clear Skies bill, which lowered standards in air pollution or the Healthy Forest Law, which opens up forests to the timber industry that had previously been protected.

The most worrisome aspect of this strategy is that that it is entirely unnecessary. Previous presidents, such as Bill Clinton, but also presidents that the layman would never associate with strong environmental laws, such as former President Richard Nixon, have proven that environmental protection does not have to occur at the expense of the economy or military spending.