Thursday 4 December 2003

America's war on nature

Not content with raping and exploiting people, the Bushies are also raping and exploiting the planet. But I suppose that's what being the Heir to the Throne of the Kingdom of Bastards entails.

For decades, US corporate interests have systematically sabotaged efforts to protect the environment. But the Bush years have seen the polluters encouraged to despoil as never before.

George Bush will go down in history as America's worst environmental president. In a ferocious three-year attack, the Bush administration has initiated more than 200 major rollbacks of America's environmental laws, weakening the protection of our country's air, water, public lands and wildlife. Cloaked in meticulously crafted language designed to deceive the public, the administration intends to eliminate the nation's most important environmental laws by the end of the year. Under the guidance of the Republican pollster Frank Luntz, the Bush White House has hidden its anti-environmental programme behind deceptive rhetoric, telegenic spokespeople, secrecy and the intimidation of scientists and bureaucrats.

The Bush attack was not entirely unexpected. George Bush had the grimmest environmental record of any governor during his tenure in Texas. Texas became No 1 in air and water pollution and in the release of toxic chemicals. In his six years in Austin, Bush championed a short-term pollution-based prosperity, which enriched his political contributors and corporate cronies by lowering the quality of life for everyone else. Now President Bush is set to do the same to America. After three years, his policies are already bearing fruit.

I am angry both as a citizen and a father. Three of my sons have asthma, and I watch them struggle to breathe on bad-air days. And they are comparatively lucky: one in four African-American children in New York shares this affliction; their suffering is often unrelieved because they lack the insurance and high-quality healthcare that keep my sons alive. My kids are among the millions of Americans who cannot enjoy the seminal American experience of fishing locally with their dad and eating their catch. Most freshwater fish in New York, and all in Connecticut, are now under consumption advisories. A main source of mercury pollution in America, as well as asthma-provoking ozone and particulates, is the coal-burning power plants that President Bush recently excused from complying with the Clean Air Act.

Furthermore, the deadly addiction to fossil fuels that White House policies encourage has squandered our treasury, entangled us in foreign wars, diminished our international prestige, made us a target for terrorist attacks and increased our reliance on petty Middle Eastern dictators who are hated by their own people.

When the Republican right managed to install George Bush as President in 2000, the movement's leaders once again set about doing what they had attempted to do since the Reagan years: to eviscerate the infrastructure of laws and regulations that protect the environment. For 25 years it has been like the zombie that keeps coming back from the grave.

The attacks began on Inauguration Day, when Bush's chief of staff and former General Motors lobbyist Andrew Card quietly initiated a moratorium on all recently adopted regulations. Since then, the White House has enlisted every federal agency that oversees environmental programmes in a co-ordinated effort to relax rules aimed at the oil, coal, logging, mining and chemical industries as well as car-makers, real-estate developers, corporate agribusiness and other industries.

This onslaught is being co-ordinated through the White House Office of Management and Budget - or, more precisely, OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, under the direction of John Graham, the engine-room mechanic of the Bush stealth strategy. Graham's speciality is promoting changes in scientific and economic assumptions that underlie regulation - such as recalculating cost-benefit analyses to favour polluters. Before the White House, Graham was founding director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, where he received funding from America's champion corporate polluters: Dow Chemical, DuPont, Monsanto, Alcoa, Exxon, General Electric and General Motors.

Penalties imposed for environmental violations have plummeted under Bush. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed eliminating 270 enforcement staffers, which would reduce staff levels to the lowest ever. Inspections of polluting businesses have dipped by 15 per cent. Criminal cases referred for federal prosecution have dropped by 40 per cent.

The EPA measures its success by the amount of pollution reduced or prevented as a result of its own actions. Last year, the EPA's two most senior career enforcement officials resigned after decades of service. They cited the administration's refusal to carry out environmental laws.

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