The smoke of the Sept. 11 attacks might have cleared from the New York skies, but the Bush administration is using the legislative screen created by the attacks to reverse Clinton-era environmental policies – a move that would ordinarily meet public outrage and harsh opposition from environmental groups.
While most are aware President George W. Bush advocates oil drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, few know of other proposals. In the name of national security, he is pushing for road building in national forests and continues to promote the interests of oil, gas and timber industries over civil concerns, according to environmental watchdog groups. He also wants to give mining companies easier access to mine gold, copper and zinc on public lands. Despite resistance from the Environmental Protection Agency, he is lowering energy-saving standards of air-conditioners.
Normally, advocacy groups and environmentalists would be up in arms over these moves, calling the public to lobby against the policy changes. Since the attacks, however, they have been hindered by the fear that their interests might seem unpatriotic. Many have also been hesitant to hold Bush accountable for his apathy regarding environmental issues and overindulgence of big industries. The political balance has shifted dramatically since the attacks, and environmental issues now appear insular to many politicians.
The EPA – whose leader Christine Whitman has been criticized since her appointment for her inability to control the agency – has utterly failed in curbing Bush’s behavior. Originally, Whitman suggested Bush back off drilling for oil in Alaska, but recanted when she met staunch White House disapproval. She failed to persuade Bush to keep his word on carbon dioxide emission regulation, leaving Democrats, environmentalists and even Republicans to contend she is out of the loop. Earlier this year, Whitman also withdrew her vow to decrease the allowable arsenic level in drinking water – further suggesting her inability to advocate for environmental concerns and leading us to believe she should be removed immediately.
Bush’s motivation is also highly suspect, as both he and Vice President Dick Cheney have vested interests in the extractive industries they promote. What’s worse, they shield deregulation from criticism with the xenophobic claim that further regulation would drive up energy costs and make us more reliant on foreign sources of power.
Even in times of crisis, the country cannot abandon environmental concerns. The public’s soaring support for the president must not prevent advocacy groups from keeping executive power in check. Voicing environmental concerns is not unpatriotic because it seeks to protect the nation from something other than terrorism.