Arsenic and old lead: A mixed Bush record on environment
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush added a measure of balance to an environmental ledger light on regulation Thursday when he backed a treaty to phase out a group of toxic chemicals used mostly in poorer countries.
The chemicals, known as ”the dirty dozen,” include PCBs, dioxins and pesticides such as DDT that can contribute to developmental defects, cancer and other problems in human and animals.
Bush’s statement that he will sign and support ratification of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants earned him rare, and qualified, praise from an environmental lobby that has been dealt a series of setbacks by his administration.
The president’s support for the treaty ”is an important step forward in halting the worldwide spread of dangerous chemicals,” said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust.
But, Clapp predicted, ”This will not defuse the international controversy over the president’s unilateral rejection of the global warming treaty.”
Bush’s opposition to the Kyoto accord on global warming and his pulling back of standards on arsenic in drinking water willed to him from the Clinton administration helped mark him among activists as an impediment to environmental protection.
This week, Bush’s emphasis has shifted a bit.
He left in place a Clinton-era rule expanding wetlands protection, upheld regulations requiring thousands more businesses to report their releases of toxic lead and revisited the arsenic matter, saying he’d act on new standards within nine months.
The toxic chemicals treaty applies mostly to poisons no longer used in industrialized countries, so banning them does not carry the costs that the United States could face under the Kyoto protocol.
The chemicals treaty, another leftover from President Clinton, passed what Bush appeared to lay out as his tests.
He said it addressed an international problem that can affect Americans’ health; it was negotiated with cooperation between business and environmental groups, and it was done with due concern to the needs of less developed countries, and in partnership with them.
”And now, a Republican administration will continue and complete the work of a Democratic administration,” he said in a Rose Garden ceremony staged before flowering crabapple trees.
”The risks are great and the need for action is clear,” Bush said. ”We must work to eliminate or at least severely restrict the release of these toxins without delay.”
In packaging Bush’s environmental steps this week, his aides were mindful of Earth Day activities and the summit of Western Hemisphere leaders in Quebec, both this weekend. The summit is about trade but such gatherings tend to intensify the focus on environmental and human rights issues as well.
Asked Thursday if Bush is a ”green” president, his spokesman Ari Fleischer said, ”He is a balanced president.”
Bush’s orders to staff on environmental matters has been, ”Take actions based on science, not public relations,” Fleischer said.
Critics say evenhandedness has been lacking.
”We started the year really believing that this was an administration that was going to look for some balance and try to find unity, and it’s been everything but that,” said Bill Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society.
Apart from his dismissal of Clinton’s arsenic rules and the global warming treaty, Bush abandoned a campaign promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and suspended new cleanup requirements for mining companies.
He sought to accommodate timber interests’ challenge to the Clinton ban on road-building and logging in a third of the nation’s federal forest land.
And he backed away from a campaign pledge to ask Congress for a ”minimum of $100 million a year” to protect tropical forests in developing countries, instead proposing $13 million – the same as Clinton.
Many of Bush’s moves have come in reaction to a spate of rules released in Clinton’s final days. Bush suspended the rules until he had time to review them.
Now, he’s letting some take effect and pulling others back for more study.
Bush has supported Clinton requirements for cleaner engines and fuel for diesel trucks and buses, and for tougher energy efficiency standards for washing machines and water heaters. But he’s scaled back new energy efficiency rules for air conditioners and heat pumps.
Business leaders have been pleased overall with Bush’s approach. But business interests plan to file suit against the new lead regulations next week, and home builders have already sued against the wetlands rules.
On the Net:
Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov
Wilderness Society: http://www.wilderness.org/
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