President George W. Bush’s Earth Day pledge to protect or restore 3 million acres of U.S. wetlands is seemingly no more than a token environmental acknowledgment meant to appease swing voters who might care about the state of the nation’s natural resources. Bush’s abysmal environmental record warrants skepticism of his newest plan.
The wetlands – covering more than 250 million acres of the United States – are an important ecosystem, and if Bush wants to make promises regarding their conservation, he must be held accountable. Bush’s visits last week to the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Maine and Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Florida made for great eco-friendly photo opportunities and sound bites, but the president has already made his priorities clear: Big business and the energy lobby will always win in his administration.
Bush practically announced his indifference about conservation during his Maine visit: “Good conservation and good stewardship will happen when people say, ‘I’m just not going to rely upon the government to be the solution to the problem.’ ” While there are many issues in which the government should not poke its bureaucratic nose, conservation of fragile ecosystems is not one of them.
The federal government has a responsibility to look after such important habitats, and Bush is trying to avoid that responsibility. Self-policing won’t work with farmers and businesses trying to stay afloat – they must adhere to regulations. And if not the government to impose such rules, then what entity?
Bush’s other anti-pollution claims – “reduced harmful emissions, reclaimed brownfields, cut phosphorus releases into our rivers and streams” – are hardly anything to write home about. The administration’s mercury emissions initiatives are a joke, its clean air and water policies insufficient and blatant pandering to oil companies disturbing. Backing out of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which would have significantly reduced U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, was reprehensible. If the Bush administration succeeds in protecting any existing wetlands – let alone reclaiming lost ones – it will be nothing short of miraculous.