Tracking Bushs assault on the environment

Book Review

In his recent work, “Crimes Against Nature,” Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental attorney, writes a scathing critique of the anti-environment policies of the George W. Bush administration. Kennedy observes, “George W. Bush will go down as the worst environmental president in our nation’s history.”

Bush’s policies threaten wholesale destruction of our environment as a result of his sellout to polluting corporate interests. A compliant corporate media has abandoned its public trust and maintained silence while the environmental tragedy unfolds. A media that either kowtows to corporate polluters or is outright owned by them, such as NBC and General Electric, has abdicated its responsibility to inform the American people.

Ominous signs first appeared during Bush’s governorship of Texas. Under Bush, Texas had the worst pollution record of the 50 states, and was 49th in terms of environmental spending. Texas also ranked first for the most important pollution indexes, and Houston replaced Los Angeles as the smoggiest city in the country.

In anticipation of resistance to his policies in Texas, Bush declared “tort reform” to be an emergency and “appointed judges who made it all but impossible for Texans to bring class action lawsuits against polluters.”

Kennedy charges that during Bush’s Texas years, the future president “developed tactics and policies that guide his autocratic leadership today: closed-door meetings with industry insiders, who are among his biggest campaign contributors; reliance on pseudo-scientific studies by right-wing think tanks; emasculation of regulations that cut into industry profits; citizens muzzled in debates that affect their communities.”

Upon becoming president, Bush wasted no time in attacking the environment. On Inauguration Day, the new administration froze every one of Clinton’s pending environmental regulations. Appointees with anti-environmental sympathies and backgrounds were placed in key positions throughout the government and followed an intentional policy of ignoring environmental laws and regulations.

The author notes how the administration has “slashed funding for environmental science,” and has at its disposal from private sources “a lavish-funded brigade of hired guns and ‘biostitutes’ — crooked scientists on industry payroll, housed in fancy think tanks that publish junk science to persuade the public that there are no environmental crises and undo the laws challenging their pollution-based profits.”

Bush officials have pressured scientists to alter findings and even rewrite studies. Reports from agencies such as the National Academy of Sciences, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration have been altered, suppressed, or discredited by the administration.

The Bush administration’s reverse Midas touch has been felt in nearly every area of the environment, from chemical pollution to carbon dioxide emissions to the wanton destruction being carried out in Appalachia. Kennedy describes how the Appalachian Mountains, especially in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, are now undergoing a tragic and irreversible change.

The coal industry is literally “dismantling the ancient mountains and pristine streams through a form of strip-mining known as mountaintop removal.” Many hundreds of feet are being blown off the tops of these ancient hills and mountains in order to reach the thin coal seams that lie beneath them. Mountains have been reduced to level plains.

So far, over 4 million acres of forests have been turned into flat, barren wastelands. The process does not create jobs and has “nearly dispensed with human labor.” West Virginia, which had 115,000 mining jobs in 1960, has less than 15,000 today.

Kennedy explains how the courts were able to temporarily halt the mountaintop removal process as a result of enforcing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). However, in the most blatant and arrogant misuse of their power, former coal industry officials now working for the Bush administration simply rewrote the EIS, converting most of it into a “discussion of how to make it easier to get permits” for this process.

One activist quoted by Kennedy, Julia Bond, notes, “Definitely the Bush administration and the coal industry have teamed up to wipe Appalachia off the map. This is Appalachia’s last stand. When the mountains go, so goes our culture and our people, and it’ll be the Bush administration that drives a stake through our heart.”

With the exception of Kennedy’s “obligatory” paeans to the alleged virtues of free-market capitalism, the book is a well-thought-out, informative critique of the systematic environmental destruction now being carried out by the Bush administration.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.