Bush’s environmental plan presents a bleak future

President Bush has once again launched an assault on environmental protection in our country. America’s environment has by far the biggest price to pay in Bush’s belt-tightening plan. Bush cut the FY2006 budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by nearly seven percent, an action that reveals a disturbing lack of commitment to facing our ongoing environmental challenges.

Bush has stated that his plan is to make cuts throughout the government to deal with the deficit, but the reality is that environmental activities are often singled out for disproportional reductions relative to other domestic programs. As a result, the nation’s air, land and water are at risk.

One-third of the cut stems from a reduction in government contributions to water-quality infrastructure. The president’s budget takes no accountability for the growing needs of communities to protect and restore their watersheds.

The Bush administration ignored its own research, which stated that $450 billion is needed in order to keep our streams and rivers clean and disease-free (EPA Gap Analysis).

To compensate for the water cuts, Bush has included a 10 percent increase for the Superfund, a program established to clean up toxic waste sites. This will allow the EPA to clean up about 50 sites.

However, we shouldn’t celebrate just yet, as this represents a decline from the Clinton administration, when the EPA cleaned up an average of 87 sites per-year.

The Superfund program was created on the principle that polluting companies should be held accountable for the messes they made. Bush’s budget, while proposing a slight increase, effectively abandons the “polluter pays” principle by failing to call for reinstatement of the fees to pay for the program. Instead, it will be the taxpayer who foots the bill for these cleanups.

Bush justifies the cuts claiming they are based on “sound science.” Ironically, the administration is requesting significant cuts (totaling $93 million or 12 percent) to EPA’s science and technology accounts.

Given Bush’s poor environmental track record in his first term, we should hardly be surprised by steep cuts to the EPA’s budget.

Likewise, as a former oil executive, we shouldn’t be shocked by his decision to endorse drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

What is shocking, however, is the level of deceit Bush used to trick the nation into supporting his agenda.

For example, Bush promised to fully fund the National Ocean Service, the primary federal agency working to protect and manage America’s coastal waters and habitats. His budget fulfills only seven percent of this pledge.

He also promised to ensure the upkeep of the 2002 Farm Bill. His budget reduces funding for key agricultural conservation programs and cuts in half mandatory funds that the Farm Bill provided for the Renewable Energy System program.

The promises regarding the Conservation Trust Fund, the Land and Water Conservation and other such programs have met similar fates.

Perhaps the biggest betrayal of the environment occurred when Bush decided to offer factory farm polluters more than two years immunity from the Clean Air Acts. Despite the magnitude of this sell-out, it received little media attention.

The reason? Bush cleverly timed it for the day after his second presidential inauguration. With the media focused on him taking office again, he probably figured the public wouldn’t even notice when he let polluters off the hook for their actions. Sadly, he was right.

The Bush administration has persistently sought to hide the true effect of its budget cuts through a sideshow of deceptive gimmicks. It has repeatedly undermined the use of science in decision-making, replacing it with a political agenda.

And most distressingly, it has greatly neglected the environmental crises we are passing on to our children.

This budget steps sharply away from this nation’s longstanding conservation tradition. Token increases in a few politically charged locations cannot hide the fundamental shortfalls in conserving America’s natural resources.

If we continue to deplete our nation’s greatest resources for the next four years due to Bush’s failed environmental stewardship, the devastation we can expect to face in the future will be catastrophic.

I believe former Vice President Al Gore put it best when he said, “By choosing to stick its head in the sand, the Bush administration not only embarrasses the country when the world expects leadership from the United States, but it also puts our economy at risk by encouraging illusory decision making.” Gore may have lost the presidency in 2000, but won the battle of sound conservation ideas.