Bush’s Sorry Environmental Record

By former EPA Administrator RUSSELL TRAIN and former New Hampshire State Senator RICHARD RUSSMAN

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: This op-ed was published in the Concord (NH) Monitor on September 23, 2004.


Except in a few instances, the environmental policies of the Bush administration are a disgrace.

As lifelong Republicans who have worked for decades to protect and restore clean air and clean water, we find the turning back of the environmental clock by this administration profoundly disturbing. And New Hampshire suffers from these backward policies.

Republican President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. In his 1970 State of the Union message, he called the environmental cause “as fundamental as life itself.” With bipartisan leadership in Congress, Nixon initiated many of the environmental protections we enjoy today.

Republican President George H.W. Bush signed the Clean Air Act of 1990, one of the most protective environmental statutes.

Unfortunately, President George W. Bush’s administration is reversing course from 30 years of bipartisan leadership to protect our health and environment.

The administration’s policies to promote energy, mining and timber interests with little regard for the interests of common citizens represent a throwback to an era of exploitation. The administration’s assault on the environment has increased pollution and health threats in New Hampshire, according to a report by Environment2004.

The administration weakened the Clean Air Act to allow aging power plants to continue spewing sulfur, mercury and other contaminants into the skies. These end up in New Hampshire’s air and waters. This pollution from Midwestern power plants and other sources forms smog that threatens the 65,000 New Hampshire residents who suffer from asthma. It falls as acid rain that damages New Hampshire’s forests and waters.

Mercury pollution has forced New Hampshire to establish a fish consumption advisory that covers all its lakes and rivers. Infants, children, pregnant women and women of child-bearing age are particularly vulnerable to mercury. Mercury affects a child’s ability to learn, most notably impairing memory, attention and fine motor function.

New Hampshire’s drinking water is threatened by the Bush administration. Fifteen percent of New Hampshire’s public water supplies and thousands of its private wells are contaminated by the fuel additive MtBE. Recent studies show that MtBE may cause cancer, and it makes drinking water smell and taste foul even at low levels, yet the administration has not banned its use.

To pay for the cleanup of this contamination, New Hampshire sued 22 oil companies responsible for MtBE contamination. Nonetheless, the Bush administration’s energy bill would block these suits and force New Hampshire taxpayers to foot the bill for cleaning up the state’s contaminated drinking water. The industry contributed $338,000 to the Bush presidential campaign and Republican congressional candidates in 1999 and 2000.

Republican Senators Judd Gregg and John Sununu fervently oppose this policy.

The administration has adopted these and other policies based on the advice of its industry allies instead of the EPA’s scientists and experts. Its proposed mercury policy would delay significant mercury reduction until 2018. This was lifted from the utility industry’s recommendations while the administration ignored the EPA’s children’s health protection experts.

This is but one example of the administration disregarding scientific guidance – a radical change from previous Republican and Democratic administrations.

The scientific community is alarmed by the Bush administration’s widespread rejection of sound science. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nationwide organization of eminent scientists declared: “When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions.”More recently, 48 Nobel Prize-winning scientists wrote in an open letter to the American people that the administration “has ignored unbiased scientific advice in the policy-making that is so important to our collective welfare.”

There was no mandate in the 2000 election to weaken and undo our environmental and public health protections. In this year’s election, environmental policy needs a full public debate.

We do not believe that turning back the clock or simply maintaining the status quo is a sufficient response for the road ahead. The candidates should do at least as well in responding to the planet’s realities in 2004 as Richard Nixon did in 1970.

How do the candidates propose to slow global climate change and reduce our dependence on foreign oil? How will their environmental policies protect our children’s health and America’s natural resources that are vital to the health of our economy?

These are issues the candidates must address. The American people deserve nothing less.

ORIGINAL 2004 CREDIT LINE: Russell E. Train was the administrator of the EPA during the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Rick Russman, a Republican, is on the board of the National Environmental Trust and chairs the Granite State Conservation Voters Alliance. He was a state senator for 10 years and served as chairman of the Senate Environmental Committee.

Both are long-time members of Republicans for Environmental Protection.