President George W. Bush’s “clear skies” act died an early death Thursday. The act had been a key issue on the Bush administration’s agenda but was widely criticized for lowering pollution restrictions. Seeing the bill dismissed gives new hope that the nation’s environmental laws are not for sale after all.
The act did not clear the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, a hurdle it would have had to pass before entering the full Senate.
According to the Washington Post, Republicans accused Democrats of obstructing an “effective and common-sense legislation to deny Bush an important environmental victory.” It is hard to see how a measure that would allow more pollution could be termed an environmental victory, let alone an important one.
Yet President Bush has repeatedly called himself a “good steward of the land,” even though his administration’s environmental record starkly contradicts this self-appointed title.
Last year the Natural Resources Defense Council listed more than 400 instances in which the Bush administration had weakened environmental standards. Key members of the Environmental Protection Agency have also been replaced by former lobbyists. An article by Robert F. Kennedy that appeared on AlterNet.com enumerated notable EPA representatives who fit this description. The list included the head of public lands, a former mining industry lobbyist who believes the very concept of public lands to be unconstitutional. Kennedy succinctly summed up the trend by saying, “The polluters are running regulatory agencies that are supposed to regulate them.”
President Bush insists that stricter guidelines would impinge upon the nation’s economy and cost jobs. Under the cover of this argument, the Bush administration has gradually opened loopholes to industries, many of which had been big financial contributors to both of his presidential campaigns.
The argument, however, does not hold true. Other counties, most notably the European Union, have proven that stricter guidelines and enforcement of technological standards can effectively lower pollution levels without adversely affecting jobs or the economy. In many cases the stricter guidelines even gave incentives to push the envelope to find more efficient and environmentally friendly production methods.
The “clear skies” act was only one of many acts that would weaken environmental standards. Others include the “healthy forest act” that would open protected wildlife reserves for logging.
Thursday’s dismissal of the “clear skies” act was a start, but it will need further help from the Senate to stop other measures introduced under the guise of being environmentally sound. Only then will the selling of our environment to the highest bidder be stopped.