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Bush has never had good relations with the environmental community. In Texas, environmentalists condemned then-Gov. Bush as a friend of big polluters. Tom Smith, director of the public interest group Texas Public Citizen, described Bush's tenure as governor as consistently against environmental protections. "Every chance that Bush has had, hes stood up for the polluters," Smith said.
During the presidential campaign, Gore repeatedly pointed out Bushs poor environmental record in Texas. But Gores charges partly backfired as some commentators cited the criticism as proof that Gore was a "mean" campaigner. Gore, whom many in the environmental community regarded as the strongest major party candidate for president in Americas history, also faced charges from Green Party candidate Ralph Nader that Gore was weak on the environment and friendly to corporations.
The Bush/Gore rivalry on the environment dates back to the 1992 presidential campaign when Bushs father, George H. W. Bush, ridiculed then-Sen. Gore as "Ozone Man." Eight years later, George W. Bush learned from his father's defeat and did not wage a full frontal assault on Gores environmental credentials.
One exception to this was Bush's sarcastic taunt of Gore's suggestion that the U.S. commit to developing new automobile technologies and bring an end to the internal combustion engine. While this ribbing earned whoops and hollers on the campaign trail, it ignored the auto industry's own goals.
Last year, Ford Motor Company's Chairman William Clay Ford, Jr., also predicted that fuel cells "will finally end the 100 year reign of the internal combustion engine." Ford went on to predict, "Fuel cells could be the predominant automotive power source in 25 years." [AP, 10/23/00]
For the most part, though, Bush acknowledged environmental challenges and even admitted that global warming was real and posed a serious risk. During the campaign, Bush even made perfunctory pro-environmental statements, such as "When youre a landowner, every day is Earth Day."
For the most part, the press allowed Bush to make up his own environmental record. In May 1999, Bush stated, "You've got to ask the question, is the air cleaner since I became Governor? And the answer is yes."
Molly Ivins and Louis Dubose noted in their book, Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush, "Thats not a stretcher. Thats a whopper." By no known measure did Gov. Bush clean up the air in Texas. During his tenure, Texas became the most polluted state in the country, according to Toxic Release Inventory data collected by the EPA, and Houston became the most polluted city in the country, surpassing Los Angeles in the total number of days when air pollution exceeded attainment under the Clean Air Act.
Still, a sustained, serious media investigation of Bushs poor environmental record in Texas was not to be. The press never demanded that Bush explain the disparity between his words on the environment and his record. Such questions were treated by the national press as rude or impolite. As a result, millions of American voters may have entered voting booths on election day comfortable with Bush's environmental record.
Now with President Bush renewing his environmental assaults, some in the press are treating these decisions as if they were to be expected. "So we probably shouldn't have been surprised three weeks ago when President Bush reneged on his campaign pledge to seek reductions in carbon dioxide emissions," wrote Bob Herbert, columnist for The New York Times. "Nor was there reason to be surprised when he turned his back on the Kyoto accord, the international treaty on global warming. Or when he withdrew new regulations requiring a substantial reduction in the permissible levels of arsenic in drinking water." [NYT, April 5, 2001]
Perhaps Herbert wasnt surprised, but thanks to the weak campaign coverage of Bushs poor environmental record as governor, many Americans were probably very surprised. While polls indicate that approximately 60 percent of the American people think Bush is a friend of Big Business, Bushs popularity rating has only slipped slightly, from about 60 percent to the mid-50s. This suggests that the public still hasn't made the link between Bush's policies and the real world environmental harm they are likely to cause.
Given the fact that even rock-ribbed conservatives might find the idea of more arsenic in drinking water a problem, Christie Whitman and other Bush defenders will have their hands full cleaning up the administration's image.
In the meantime, the first popular-vote loser in more than a century to sit in the Oval Office is pointing a drilling rig at the heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Behind the cover of a messy Beltway budget battle, Bush intends to disembowel our nations environmental programs, much to the delight of industry and his conservative base.Back