Words and Deeds:
The Environmental Record of Governor
George W. Bush
AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: This special report first appeared in the fall 2000 issue of REP’s The Green Elephant newsletter, a few weeks before the 2000 general election. (See the note at the end for additional background information.)
“I don’t think you can litigate clean air and clean water. I don’t think you can legislate clean air and clean water.” —Governor George W. Bush, quoted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 12, 2000
Since the Bush campaign has said that Americans should judge him by his work in Texas, we decided to study his environmental track record, as well as his campaign promises. We began our inquiry with one regrettable but unavoidable fact: Texas has the nation’s most polluted air and water. Texas was heavily polluted when Governor Bush took office, and he cannot be blamed for what occurred before his first term. We do believe, though, that it is fair and relevant to ask what he has done as Governor to clean up Texas’ environment.
I. AIR QUALITY
Texas leads the nation in the emission of toxic and ozone-causing chemicals from manufacturing plants. Texas also leads in discharging developmental carcinogens known to harm the brains and central nervous systems of growing children. Sixty-four percent of Texans live in areas that do not meet EPA clean air standards. Of the 21 air quality indices tracked by the Environmental Defense Fund, all have gotten worse in Texas under Governor Bush.
In 1999, Houston passed Los Angeles as the American city with the worst air quality. Houston’s own study found that about 430 of its residents die each year from air pollution. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Although proven technologies to control emissions have been available for decades, a Houston plant emits as much as five times more smog-forming pollutants than a comparable sized Southern California one.” For each barrel of crude produced, Texas refineries emit three times more pollution than their counterparts in other states. Our research did not turn up a single clean-air initiative which originated in the Governor’s office and was championed by him through the Legislature into law.
Below are specific air quality issues that have arisen during Governor Bush’s two terms in office. utility pollution & clean energy In 1999, Governor Bush signed an electric utility restructuring bill which promotes renewable energy and requires previously-grandfathered plants to reduce their pollution. Utilities once exempted from Texas’ Clean Air Act are now required to cut nitrogen oxides emissions in half and sulfur dioxide by one-fourth, no later than 2003. By 2009, Texas must develop enough renewable energy to power more than 1 million homes—one of just three states with such legislation.
Governor Bush signed this legislation, but it was not his idea. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the bill languished in the Legislature, frustrating environmental groups who were unable to make any headway until a large contributor who owns a clean energy company won the governor’s support. Texas conservationists state that Bush accepted the mandatory provisions only after a legislative committee made them a condition of the utility restructuring bill that Bush wanted. The EPA was also threatening sanctions unless action was taken to improve Texas’ air. Other environmental groups credit Bush for backing the bill once he was persuaded to accept the mandatory provisions. voluntary emissions reductions.
On the other hand, Governor Bush intervened with members of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC), which he appoints, to prevent about 760 grandfathered manufacturing, oil and gas, and chemical polluters from being required to reduce their emissions. Although these plants produce twice as much air pollution as the grandfathered electric utilities, Bush’s program established only a voluntary pollution reduction plan. There are no substantial penalties for not “volunteering” to reduce pollution or not complying with a “volunteered” plan. TNRCC reports that emissions reductions are only 15,858 tons, about 87% less than claimed by the Bush campaign. As of May 2000, only 73 facilities had “volunteered” for pollution reductions. Two plants had “agreed orders” with enforceable reductions, 15 permits had been issued and 8 were pending. Twenty of the early volunteers have never followed through; 44 will be required by the EPA to reduce their emissions anyway because they are located in non-attainment areas. According to the Dallas Morning News, grandfathered emissions have dropped only 2.4%. Almost 700 facilities have not even “volunteered” to clean up their emissions, but Governor Bush has taken no action against these recalcitrant polluters.
Although much of Texas’ air pollution comes from automobiles, our research turned up no effort by Governor Bush to reduce pollution from this source. On the contrary… he supported cancellation of the state’s automobile emissions testing program, and Texas backed out of its contract with a private company to conduct the testing. Texas paid to settle the broken contract claim by taking $124.6 million out of clean air and hazardous waste remediation programs.
Bush’s campaign web site states that Texas has submitted to the EPA one of the most aggressive plans for reducing pollution. Omitted is the fact that this plan was tendered only after Texas had so severely and repeatedly violated Clean Air standards that the EPA was about to cut off all federal highway funds. The Bush campaign also claims that Texas reduced industrial pollution by 11% and leads the nation in reducing toxins–as measured in pounds of toxins reduced. Most of the claimed reductions occurred from 1995 to 1996. Since then, Texas has reduced its industrial toxic releases by only 2%. The EPA’s May 2000 report shows that industrial toxic emissions in fact increased by 2 million pounds. Due to the sheer volume of pollution it produces, according to the latest EPA report, Texas continues to lead the nation in total industrial releases of toxins.
THE FEDERAL CLEAN AIR ACT
We asked the Bush campaign to refute published reports that Governor Bush’s administration had lobbied to weaken the Federal Clean Air Act. His campaign has not done so.
Candidate Bush’s proposals: Candidate Bush supports Tier II standards for gasoline. These standards, first proposed by the Clinton Administration, will require cleaner-burning fuel. In terms of an overall approach, Candidate Bush has said he will set high national standards and give states more authority to enforce them. He has not elaborated on what air pollution standards he would set or how federal and state authorities would share enforcement duties. He disfavors pursuing improvements in air quality through legislation or litigation.
II. TOXIC WASTE AND WATER POLLUTION
Governor Bush’s state also has severe toxic waste and water pollution problems. It is #1 in the total number of hazardous waste incinerators and the production of cancer-causing benzene and vinyl chloride. Texas also leads the country in violations of clean water discharge standards, and it injects more toxic waste into underground wells than any other state. Industrial toxins discharged into Texas surface waters have lately increased by 14%, moving Texas up to being the third worst state in this category. Even TNRCC reports that there has been a “substantial decline in reservoir water quality statewide.”
Over one-third of Texas rivers and 44% of its bays are so polluted they do not meet standards for healthy recreational or other uses. Many Texas waters are covered by advisories or bans on fish consumption. For instance, fish taken from the Rio Grande at the same spot where the City of Laredo gets its drinking water showed dangerous levels of copper, zinc, mercury and arsenic–levels 11 times higher than the EPA’s edible tissue criterion. Lake Sam Rayburn, once one of the world’s premier bass fisheries, has been degraded. The National Wildlife Federation gave Texas an “F” for failing to clean up more than 100 polluted waterways.
As with air pollution, our research has found no instance where Governor Bush led any major effort to improve Texas’ water quality.
Under the Bush Administration, Texas has virtually stopped monitoring stream water quality and largely abandoned its pesticide-monitoring program. TNRCC has loosened regulations on large hog- and chicken- growing facilities and encouraged expansion of these industries, even though they substantially pollute surface and ground water. And while TNRCC continues to inspect such facilities, it provides advance notice of “surprise inspections.” In response to evidence that Texas waterways and lakes have become even more polluted, TNRCC has sometimes simply accepted the pollution and downgraded the water quality to be expected.
Candidate Bush’s proposals: Candidate Bush has expressed doubts about improving water quality through legislation or litigation.
III. URBAN SPRAWL
Governor Bush has had no policies to deal with urban sprawl. His advisor told us: “Texas is so big that sprawl is not a problem.”
Candidate Bush’s proposals: Candidate Bush believes that policies to fight urban sprawl should be left to states and local communities.
IV. PUBLIC LANDS
Texas does not have extensive public lands–either federal or state. It ranks 49th in the nation in per capita spending on state parks. Governor Bush established the Lone Star Legacy Campaign to provide a permanent endowment for every state park, fish hatchery and wildlife management area. The goal was $25 million; $10 million has been pledged to date. The Texas park system has a $186 million maintenance backlog. During the Bush Administration, no land has been purchased by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Candidate Bush’s proposals: Candidate Bush has sent conflicting signals on his attitudes toward public lands. On one hand, he has called for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. He supports alleviating the substantial repair and improvement backlog facing our national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands. On the other hand, one of Bush’s advisors has published a proposal to sell off all federal lands. We brought that proposal to the Bush campaign’s attention last winter and were told that the governor was studying it. (See “An Outlandish Proposal” in last winter’s Green Elephant, or click the link at the bottom of this article.) We have repeatedly asked Bush to repudiate this proposal, but he has not done so. The 2000 GOP platform contains a similar proposal. (Find our analysis of the platform through the link at the bottom of this page.)
In interviews and speeches in Lake Tahoe and Albuquerque, Bush called federal lands a “phenomena,” said he “doubts” he would sell them off, and joked that Texas was admired because it has so few federal lands. In Denver, he said he might undo some of President Clinton’s National Monument designations. If so, it would be the first time any President has done such a thing.
In other interviews, Bush has said that he opposes the National Forest roadless area conservation plan, but he added that did not see how he could “unscramble the egg.” Candidate Bush supports increased logging in National Forests. He also endorses oil exploration and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which REP America fervently opposes.
Under Governor Bush, Texas instituted a voluntary brownfields cleanup program. (A brownfield is an industrial property lying dormant or underutilized due to liability associated with real or perceived contamination.) Unlike the voluntary emission reductions program, which has no incentives or enforcement mechanism, Bush’s brownfields program offers a release from liability. A contaminated property not enlisted in the voluntary program remains subject to possible enforcement action. Neighbors or other citizens cannot challenge a certification that a property has been “cleaned up.”
The TNRCC reports that over 440 brownfields have been reclaimed and returned to productive use. Another 60 have been issued conditional certificates. Hundreds more applications are pending.
Candidate Bush’s proposals: Candidate Bush has advocated for an extension of this program to the national level in connection with revamping the Superfund laws.
VI. ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT
Governor Bush actively opposed the listing of several species and has been an outspoken critic of the ESA. After a full-page ad in the New York Times chastised him for not protecting sea turtles, he ordered game wardens to enforce a requirement that shrimpers use devices to protect the animals. He continues to oppose the creation of a coastal reserve for the endangered sea turtles.
Candidate Bush’s proposals: Candidate Bush has encouraged tax and other incentives to help support endangered species on private lands, but he has also suggested curtailment of critical habitat designations.
During his first term, Governor Bush worked for and signed the first “takings” laws in the country. In more recent years, he has advocated expanded takings laws to address zoning and wetlands protections. REP opposes “takings” laws. (Find our position paper through the link at the bottom of this page.
CANDIDATE BUSH ALSO SUPPORTS…
- the temporary moratorium on coastal oil drilling off Florida and California (but he has not spoken about a permanent ban)
- requiring all federal agencies to come into compliance with all environmental laws
- tax incentives and Land & Water Conservation Fund assistance for private land conservation efforts
- eliminating the estate tax, which he believes forces the subdivision of farms and ranches
- ethanol tax subsidies
CANDIDATE BUSH ALSO OPPOSES…
- breaching dams in the Pacific Northwest for salmon recovery programs
- the Kyoto Protocol (but he supports continued research into the causes and impact of global warming and the development of new technologies to reduce greenhouse gases)
AS OF EARLY SEPTEMBER 2000, CANDIDATE BUSH HAD NOT SPOKEN ON…
- energy or auto-fuel efficiency
- solar and wind energy
- marine and ocean pollution
- fisheries protection (except to oppose breaching dams to facilitate salmon recovery)
- nuclear power and waste
Copyright © 2000 Republicans for Environmental Protection
A note from the year 2020 about this Special Report from the year 2000:
When Republicans for Environmental Protection began in 1995, our new GOP-led Congress seemed hell-bent on overturning every major environmental law on the books. REP was created to provide a way for Republicans who support strong environmental protection initiatives and legislation to let our party hear our voices and fight back from within the party.
It wasn’t long before some in the media began calling REP “the environmental conscience of the GOP,” a moniker that we quickly took to heart.
Being a conscience organization means telling the truth, even when the truth is uncomfortable. We will never succeed in restoring the GOP’s conservation tradition if we do less.
As our record shows, REP is quick to praise GOP leaders who work and vote for the environment. And we proudly endorse and support the campaigns of environmentally responsible GOP candidates around the country. We want our next Republican president and all GOP elected officials to be great environmental leaders.
REP’s Special Report republished above (“The Words and Deeds of Governor George W. Bush”) had as its goal to provide readers with a thorough and objective picture of Governor Bush’s positions on environmental issues. Neither the most devoted Bush follower nor his most dedicated detractor was happy with our report.
In hindsight, those willing to consider the facts as they were at the time, without preconception or bias, can determine whether we fulfilled our role as the “environmental conscience of the GOP.”