Look out, America. Bush has found an environmental ally: Michael O. Leavitt, his newly confirmed nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
As governor of Utah, Leavitt openly opposed federal environmental regulations and fought the tightening of the Clean Air Act’s national pollution standards in the late 1990s. Last spring, Gov. Leavitt engaged in a controversial, behind-closed-doors negotiation with Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to open millions of acres of Utah wilderness to industrial development. And, until the project was stopped by the state courts, Leavitt staunchly supported the construction of a major highway through fragile wetland areas around the Great Salt Lake. All of this while claiming to uphold a “balanced” environmental platform.
To say the least, Leavitt’s is not the most comforting track record for a national environmental watchdog. And yet, after winning his Senate confirmation last Tuesday, Leavitt took office yesterday as the new head of the EPA.
But then again, Leavitt’s history of glossing over his favors to industry groups with moderate political language seems to fit right in with the tactics of the Bush administration. While Bush touts his commitment to clear skies and healthy forests, his policies show a flagrant disregard for environmental protection and a distinct pro-industry bent.
Despite his rhetoric, Bush’s plans do little to confront pressing environmental concerns. His “Clear Skies Initiative” proposes end-of-pipe filtration of some air pollutants, but conveniently leaves out any regulation of carbon dioxide emissions, the leading contributor to global warming. Meanwhile, the “Healthy Forests Initiative” calls for opening restricted forests to commercial logging, in the hopes of preventing forest fires — no trees, no fires, right? (Supporters of the plan euphemistically call it a “fuel-reduction project.” Never mind the fact that forest fires tend to burn much more intensely when fed by the scrub that grows up after certain types of logging.) In the end, these pet projects simply amount to a green-washing of benefits to oil and timber interests.
In the past few months alone, Bush’s proposals have managed to weaken national environmental standards with stunning efficiency. In June, the Bush administration reportedly deleted much of an EPA report on climate change, making the United States the only developed nation that is actively ignoring the problem of global warming. In August, the EPA signed onto Bush’s proposed rollback of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review program. The old rules of the New Source Review placed any major addition onto an older power plant under the more stringent emissions regulations applicable to a new plant. The Bush rollback exempts any addition or renovation that costs less than 20 percent of the plant’s value, even if the project significantly increases the plant’s pollution emissions — it essentially frees many of the nation’s oldest plants from the strict regulations they used to face. In fact, EPA lawyers announced this Wednesday that, as a result of this policy change, they were dropping investigations into 50 plants for past violations of the Clean Air Act. And just last week, Bush pushed another Healthy Forests-esque measure through Congress, to prevent forest fires by thinning trees on roughly 20 million acres of federal land in California, a move which many environmentalists see as another thinly-veiled gift to the timber industry. In Leavitt, Bush may have found the perfect match for his own environmental negligence. As for what this dynamic duo might do to our country’s environmental quality, the future is dubious. Upon his confirmation last week, Leavitt stated, “I accept this responsibility knowing that the president is committed to substantially more environmental progress and doing it in a way that does not compromise our place in the world competitively.”
If all we have to look forward to is more of Bush’s brand of “environmental progress” — more healthy, treeless forests under clear, CO2-filled skies — we’d better tell him to leave our future alone.
Maggie Dietrich is a junior in Berkeley College. She is the co-chairwoman of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition.