The environment

Kerry's energy and environmental proposals are more sustainable and scientifically sound.

In this year’s race for the U.S. presidency, President George W. Bush and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry have clashed on every major election issue, from homeland security to stem cell research. But few debates come close to matching their clash on environmental policy.

Environmental issues draw many stakeholders to the table. Farmers and ranchers want relief from pests and better yields from their crops; naturalists and conservationists worry about the harmful effects of pesticide runoff on wildlife and fragile ecosystems.

These competing interests make it easy to label a candidate as either a “greenie” or an environmental disaster, depending on which side of the coin he falls on – and also makes it impossible to please everyone.

The trick, of course, is to strike a balance. While the Bush administration claims to have done just that during the last four years, in reality, most of its environmental “progress” has been anything but.

Bush has accumulated one of the most dismal environmental records in history. During Friday’s presidential debate, he grossly misled the audience with his grandiose list of false achievements, including “improvements” in air and water quality as well as protection for national forests and wildlife.

Bush’s incredibly named Clear Skies initiative decidedly undermines the Clean Air Act. Under the Clear Skies proposal, power plants would actually be allowed to release more pollution – including five times the amount of mercury currently allowed, as well as more carbon dioxide and other harmful gases that contribute to acid rain – than they would if the Clean Air Act were effectively enforced.

The administration’s treatment of the Clean Water Act has been similarly abysmal. Bush has significantly weakened the act, allowing more sewage diversion into the nation’s water supply and reversing a Clinton administration decision to require states to speed up “nonpoint” pollution cleanup (pesticides, fertilizers, logging, street-project runoff and the like).

Furthermore, mercury levels continue to rise in the nation’s lakes, contaminating fish and endangering the people who eat them – especially children and pregnant women.

Bush has also done nothing to protect our nation’s few irreplaceable old-growth forests, which are relative hotspots of biodiversity, instead seeking to open more national forests to logging. The administration has failed to enforce endangered species protections already in place, instead asking for compliance exemptions and failing to designate critical habitat needed for many species’ survival.

Bush’s despicable desire to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is also impractical – even if all the oil in the refuge were collected, it could only power the United States for approximately a year and a half. It is clear Bush’s priorities are with businesses and oil companies – not protecting America the beautiful.

Challenging Bush’s plans are Kerry’s energy and environmental proposals, which are much more sustainable and scientifically sound than Bush’s quick-fix solutions and cleverly disguised “clean” initiatives. Kerry supports international commitments, such as the Kyoto Protocol, to reduce harmful gas emissions worldwide and hold the United States accountable for its pollution contributions. He also focuses on true renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biodiesel fuel.

Kerry also plans to increase funding for national parks and curb logging in national forests. He opposes opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas exploration. He supports the original Clean Air Act and wants to further reduce mercury emissions.

Where Bush’s personal involvement with and profits from the oil industry taint his environmental credibility, Kerry’s personal life supports his strong record. He developed his relationship with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry – herself a strong environmental advocate – partially through their interests in environmental concerns.

Environmental problems are not always apparent during day-to-day living. But the negative effects continue and grow. Poor stewardship of our land will become more obvious as we lose pristine wilderness and become more conscious of dangerous pollutants in our air and water.

These concerns warrant a change in that stewardship.