Environmentalists See Trouble Ahead
By John Heilprin
Published November 30th, 2004
WASHINGTON - Environmentalists see some of their worst
fears playing out as President Bush moves to cement a
second-term agenda that includes getting more timber,
oil and gas from public lands and relying on the market
rather than regulation to curb pollution.
Bush's top energy priority - opening an Alaska wildlife
refuge to oil drilling - is shaping up as an early test
of GOP gains in Congress.
"This is going to be a definitional battle, and
we're ready," said Deb Callahan, president of the
League of Conservation Voters.
Though the election didn't emphasize such issues, administration
officials believe the results validated their belief that
many environmental decisions are better made by the marketplace,
landowners and state and local governments.
James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council
on Environmental Quality, said the administration will
continue a "partnership with the oil and gas sector"
but also will work with conservation organizations - as
long as they are "willing to engage constructively
on defining priorities and practices in domestic production."
Bush's environmental priority is to rewrite the Clean
Air Act to set annual nationwide limits on three major
air pollutants from power plants and to allow marketplace
trading of pollution rights rather than regulation to
meet those goals.
He does not plan to change his mind on his rejection
of the Kyoto international climate treaty that would impose
mandatory caps on carbon dioxide emissions. "Kyoto's
unworkable," Connaughton said.
Because of an environmental group's lawsuit, the EPA
is preparing to issue first-ever regulations to cut mercury
pollution from coal-burning power plants and new standards
for cutting soot in the air and reducing power plant pollution
that drifts between states.
Mike Leavitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection
Agency, foresees more EPA water monitoring and preparations
against chemical and biological attacks.
"I believe the mission that the president has given
me in a second term, and the agenda and the philosophy
that was validated by the election, was more progress,
faster, being achieved in a way that will maintain economic
competitiveness as a nation," he said.
Republicans in Congress plan to re-examine other landmark
1970s laws: the Endangered Species Act protecting rare
plant and animal species and their habitats, and the National
Environmental Policy Act that requires the government
to judge beforehand if actions might damage natural resources.
One area where environmentalists and the White House
could find agreement is ocean issues. The administration
is looking at setting catch quotas for individual fish
species, new protections for fragile coral reefs and ecosystem-based
management of rivers and streams, Connaughton said.
Some huge regional issues also will get attention. They
include restoring the Florida Everglades, aiding the recovery
of Pacific Northwest salmon, improving water quality in
the Great Lakes and dealing with drought in the West and
coastal erosion in Louisiana.
The administration put off until after the election a
final decision on a plan to allow road building and logging
on 58 million acres of remote forests where both are now
Interior Secretary Gale Norton's agency is rewriting
162 plans for managing about one of every 10 acres in
the United States. The decisions will affect whether wildlife
protections or new oil and gas drilling projects are favored.
Norton wants to give local governments more say.
Administration officials say they will more broadly apply
the "healthy forests" law that Congress approved
in his first term. It lets companies log large, commercially
valuable trees in national forests in exchange for clearing
smaller, more fire-prone trees and brush.
The administration wants forest managers to clear such
trees and underbrush from up to 4 million acres at risk
of fire, about 300,000 acres more than current efforts.
It hopes to double that to 8 million acres within a decade,
said Agriculture Department Undersecretary Mark Rey, who
directs forest policy.
Environmentalists still view the courts as their last
The day after the election, the staff of law firm Earthjustice
"gathered to face the news that the most anti-environmental
administration will be back for four more years,"
Buck Parker, the firm's executive director wrote supporters.
But, he added, "We're more determined than ever to