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Alaska’s Refuge Held Hostage & W’s War on the Environment

By Sam Parry
April 12, 2001

George W. Bush’s new budget reads like a battle plan against the world’s environment, with Bush adding a bizarre twist: holding Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a kind of hostage.

In his budget, Bush sent environmentalists a message that might have been composed like a ransom note with letters clipped from magazine headlines:

ransom.jpg (33786 bytes)

Bush’s deal would go like this: oil companies are allowed to drill in the now-protected Alaska wilderness and Bush earmarks $1.2 billion raised from selling the drilling rights for research into energy sources, such as solar, wind and other non-polluting alternatives to fossil fuels. In other words, a trade – oil drilling in the Refuge for renewable energy funds.

To show he means business, Bush has added a coercive element to the deal by slashing existing money for renewable energy sources by more than 50 percent, to $186 million from $376 million. [Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2001]

In another move that had the touch of revenge, Bush gutted a program promoted by former Vice President Al Gore for developing a new generation of fuel-efficient automobiles. Gore’s "Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles," which aimed to boost gasoline mileage to as much as 85 miles a gallon, saw its funding cut by 35 percent to about $92 million, with that remainder shifted to research on bigger cars.

Overall, Bush cut $2.3 billion out of environmental programs, saving some of that money by eliminating funds that had been targeted for progress in the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement that seeks to curb greenhouse gas emissions, a treaty that Bush repudiated last month.

Bush’s budget diverts $150 million saved from these programs into research on cleaner-burning coal, an energy source that inevitably adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, no matter how cleanly it burns – and thus contributes to global warming.

The Boston Globe reports that the Bush budget also has a provision that would prohibit the Interior Department from spending any money to comply with successful citizen suits under the Endangered Species Act. In effect, this provision would strip powers from citizen groups to force the government to obey existing law to protect endangered species. [Boston Globe, 4/11/01]

Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are required not only to protect endangered species, but to come up with plans to ensure species’ recovery. Citizen suits are frequently brought against these services when such plans are inadequate or are not effectively implemented. In other words, the suits are brought to force the services to obey the law.

According to Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen, Bush’s move to block citizen suits on behalf of endangered species effectively gives control over the listing and recovery of endangered species to Interior Secretary Gayle Norton. "That leaves the discretion with ... a secretary of the Interior who I point out through a long career has taken every opportunity to debunk the Endangered Species Act (and) speak against it and at one point even suggest that it was unconstitutional," Schlickeisen told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. [Seattle P-I, 4/11/01]

page 2: Bush's Public Defender -- Christie Whitman