Good words, but now it’s time for action


AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: This op-ed was published in Florida Today in August 2001.


Recently, President George W. Bush gazed at California’s majestic sequoia trees and called for a $5 billion investment in the care of our national parks.

Last week, he stood in the Everglades and marveled that the beauty of the great sea of grass is “beyond our power to improve.” Go back to the early 20th century and you would have heard Theodore Roosevelt say much the same thing about the Grand Canyon.

Has President Bush turned over a new leaf on the environment? Is he bringing TR’s conservation legacy out of the Republican attic and putting it back on the GOP mantel, where it belongs?

Well, the pictures were pretty and the words sounded good, but let’s hold the brass bands for the time being. As Benjamin Franklin once remarked, well done is better than well said.

To be sure, $5 billion for fixing up the national parks is not chump change. The president’s nominee for National Park Service director earned the conservation community’s respect when she ran Florida’s state park system. The president also supports spending $900 million, the maximum authorized amount, on land purchases next year through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Taken together, however, these welcome moves add only a wispy tint of green to the administration’s muddy environmental record to date. Add it up:

  • An energy plan that shortchanges efficiency and coddles yesterday’s old, dirty technologies
  • Big budget cuts for the clean, renewable energy technologies of the future
  • Visions of oil wells in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other public lands in the West
  • Wimpy lawyering that virtually invited a federal judge to block the roadless land conservation rule for our national forests
  • Industry insiders taking the jobs that will decide how our public lands will be managed
  • The administration has even managed to annoy the president’s brother, Governor Jeb Bush, by proposing drilling rigs off the coast of tourist-dependent Florida.

A new NBC News-Washington Post poll shows that the Democrats have a 20-point lead over the president on who is trusted most to protect the environment. It’s not just dumb for the Republican Party to cede this important issue to the Democrats. It amounts to political malpractice.

So it’s good to hear that President Bush is starting to sound more like Theodore Roosevelt. Now, we need him to start acting more like Theodore Roosevelt. Well done is better than well said.