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More News From of the Planet Earth

One issue that has been mostly ignored this election year is the environment. And that’s too bad because, of all the complex issues facing voters in 2004, it is perhaps the one issue on which the candidates can be most easily compared. Also, it is far more indicative of the candidates’ characters than 30 year old military records or sound-bite TV ads.

The League of Conservation Voters is an organization that grades political figures on their voting records on environmental issues. It is not a partisan organization: their list of 2003 "Environmental Champions" includes 5 Republicans as well as 11 Democrats.

The LCV endorsed Sen. John F. Kerry for President in January 2004 -- the earliest Presidential endorsement in their 34-year history. They describe him as "a Senator who has a lifetime record of standing up for a clean and healthy environment". Some of this record is summarized on the Environmentalists for Kerry site. Kerry has been a LCV "Environmental Champion". He led the fight against acid rain in the northeast as Lieutenant Governor. As a Senator, he fought efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act and rollback drinking water standards for arsenic, helped block proposals to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, wrote legislation banning the dumping of plastics and other waste off our coasts, fought efforts to drill in sensitive marine areas, and sponsored legislation protecting dolphins, porpoises, seals and other marine mammals.

In the other corner, George W. Bush earned a grade of "F" on the LCV's Presidential Report Card -- the first failing grade for a president ever. Of Bush, the LCV writes that his "record on environmental issues is the worst for any President in recent memory", that he is "dismantling 30 years of clean air protections", and that his energy policy "is a threat to our clean drinking water ... [and] includes a $29 billion giveaway to oil, gas and chemical companies that have polluted our groundwater, and then passes the bill for the cleanup costs on to taxpayers".

Bush supporters sometimes point to the "Clear Skies Initiative" and the "Healthy Forest Initiative". In spite of their friendly-sounding names, every legitimate environmental organization I've ever heard of opposes these initiatives bitterly.

The Sierra Club says that the Healthy Forest Initiative "will give free reign to the timber industry across National Forests under the guise of 'fuel reduction'". In a more detailed rundown on the initiative they say the "disconnect between what the administration says and what science says about logging and fire reveals the administration's true goal which is ... give logging companies virtually free access to our National Forests." Not convinced? The Audubon Society calls it "a program that offers far more for the health of timber companies and loggers than it does for the health and safety of neighboring communities and the forests." The League of Conservation Voters says that "contrary to its environmentally friendly name, this new program uses the pretext of fire prevention to increase logging in our national forests" and, in spite of its stated goals, "does nothing to ensure protection for communities at risk from forest fires". Greenpeace says that it will "increase the logging of healthy mature and old-growth forests...according to the Forest Service's own scientists, this type of logging can actually increase fire risk." I could go on, but you get the idea.

As to "Clear Skies", Sierra Club's rundown of the Clear Skies initiative says "why is the Administration bragging about a plan that will actually result in more pollution than if we simply enforced the existing Clean Air Act?" The Clear Skies initiative is also notable in that implementing it involved actually suppressing a report from the EPA that favored an alternative proposal, from a bipartisan group of three senators. From the Union of Concerned Scientists (which is in part an environmental advocacy group) comes this story:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) evaluated [the senate] proposal but long withheld important results on the costs and benefits of the alternative bill from the senators. Several months before the EPA finally provided them the results, a copy of an internal EPA briefing based on the study was leaked to the Washington Post. According to the briefing, the EPA concluded that the Senate proposal would cut the three pollutants earlier and in larger quantities than the Clear Skies Act, result in 17,800 fewer expected deaths by 2020, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions at "negligible" cost to industry.

(BTW, this incident was one of the motivations for a letter, signed by 48 Nobel laureates as well as many others, protesting the Bush administration's misuse of science.)

In addition to the League of Conservation Voters, John Kerry has been endorsed by Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, the National Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Nature Conservancy, and the National Parks & Conservation Association. I'm not aware of any legitimate environmental group that's endorsed Bush. I'm sure Team Red will let me know if I've missed someone.

Voters concerned about the environment should be aware that this election is a choice between Kerry, a solid supporter of the environment all his life, and Bush -- who has the worst environmental record of any president, ever.

Voters concerned about honesty and truth should be aware that folksy 'ol say-what-I-mean, do-what-I-say Dubya not only supports programs that virtually all environment advocacy groups consider to be corporate giveaways -- giveaways of the national resources that belong to us and our children. Dubya also has no problem with hanging labels like "Healthy Forests Initiative" and "Clear Skies Initiative" on these giveaways.

Posted by William Cohen at October 22, 2004 9:56 AM