President Bush stepped up his attack on the environment in the week preceding Thanksgiving by poking holes in the Clean Air Act and tearing up long-established rules governing the management of the nation’s 155 national forests. He topped the week off by announcing that the United States would not participate in negotiations on a treaty requiring countries to collect and publish information on the amount of industrial pollutants released into the atmosphere.

Carl Pope, Sierra Club executive director, said the new forest rules “reflect the Bush administration’s belief that only timber companies belong in America’s national forests.” He said the new rules were the latest examples of a “string of decisions to rewrite national forest safeguards to benefit logging companies. This Thanksgiving the timber industry will enjoy a hearty feast of increased logging courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service,” he said in a statement released on Nov. 27.

Pope said the new directives, some of which overturn regulations dating to the presidency of Ronald Reagan, reflect the Bush administration’s continued efforts to undermine forest protections and reward timber industry contributors to GOP coffers. Forest products industries contributed more than $3 million to election campaigns during the 2002 election cycle. The four largest – beginning with Weyerhauser Timber Company and International Paper – raised some $1.25 million, with 70 percent of it going to the Republican Party and its candidates.

Environmental groups were just as outraged over Bush’s decision to gut provisions of the Clean Air Act that require older factories to install modern pollution control technology whenever they make changes in production or process that increases pollution

Pope called Bush’s action “bad news for anyone who breathes,” adding his action gives polluters “the green light to ignore Americans’ health and safety by increasing air pollution that has been linked to asthma, heart disease and premature death.”

Pope challenged Bush to enforce the law by “telling power plants to reduce their pollution so our communities are healthier places to raise families.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) joined the fray with a statement saying, “The Bush administration decided to allow corporate polluters to spew even more toxic chemicals into our air, regardless of the fact that it will harm millions of Americans.” According to John Walke, director of NRDC’s Clean Air Program, 30,000 people die each year from power plant air pollution, a situation that will be made even worse by Bush’s action.

NRDC warned that Bush’s decision to weaken the Clean Air Act “is a sign of things to come” and predicted that the White House will use it’s control of Congress to intensify support of industry demands that longstanding environmental safeguards be dismantled across the board.

Senator James Jeffords (I-Vt), who is losing the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and with it the power to issue subpoenas to reluctant witnesses, joined in sounding the alarm. “We’re really in big trouble,” he said.

Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, said industry was eager to capitalize on the slim majority Republicans won in the Nov. 5 Congressional elections. “The president raised $140 million in corporate funds,” Clapp said, “and he has lots of debts to pay back.” He said a lot of the payback will be in the form of weakened environmental regulations.

And they have their lists ready. Only days after Nov. 5, officials of the American Petroleum Institute met in Denver to map out strategy to win their chief goal: for the new Congress, an energy bill that would open public lands in five western states to further oil and gas exploration.

Nor would the rape of the nation’s environment and natural resources stop there. William Kovas, a spokesperson for the United States Chamber of Commerce predicts that the first payoff will come with adoption of the Bush-Cheney energy policy that includes exploration in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Although an energy bill tops their list, a checklist of the goals of the “extractive’ industries – oil, gas, mining and lumber – include $34 billion in tax breaks for exploration and expansion and the development of new technologies. The “gimme” list also includes a natural gas pipeline in Alaska and limitations on the liability of the nuclear power industry in case of catastrophic accidents.

The new chairmen overseeing environmental matters in the Senate are vigorous advocates of business interests who are chafing at the bit to reverse the priorities of the current chairmen. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a former real estate developer and a champion of oil and gas interests who is skeptical of global warming takes over from Jeffords when Congress reconvenes in January. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), who will head the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, enjoys the reputation as the Senate’s most vigorous proponent of nuclear power.

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Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries