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ISSUE 117 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/27/2004

Bush policies disconcerting

By Dan Schramm
Staff Writer


Friday, February 27, 2004

All of our social ills are not the fault of one man. Even if he tried (and sometimes it seems like he is trying), President Bush could not dismantle the network of economic and ecological relationships that keep our communities strong. Furthermore, cogent political critique is no excuse for social inaction: change starts on the streets, not at the polls, and certainly not in D.C.

Amidst all the other high crimes and misdemeanors that seem to be his administrations M.O., the failings of Bushs environmental policies may seem trivial or irrelevant. And yet, these policies may be the ones that our descendants will remember as his greatest transgressions. Their consequences will be felt long after we have retreated from Iraq and the federal budget is repaired. What follows is a brief and incomplete summary of those transgressions.

The Clear Skies Initiative: this humorously titled piece of legislation will lower the air pollution standards at coal and gas powered electrical plants. The Clean Air Act states that if any capital improvements are made on existing facilities, proportional improvements must also be made in emissions controls of air pollutants like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. Bush wants to redefine capital improvements as those that cost one-fifth or more of the current value of the facility; anything less would be routine maintenance. Considering that most energy plants are worth around $1 billion, an energy company could make $200 million worth of equipment upgrades, claim it is routine maintenance, and make no emissions improvements. John Walker, director of the Natural Resources Defense Councils clean air program, calls such upgrades "the effective repeal of [this law] through illegal administrative means," and "an accounting gimmick."

The Healthy Forests Initiative: Apparently Bush thinks a healthy forest is one uncluttered by all those tree things. The administration proposed this act as a forest fire suppression measure after getting expert advice from logging companies. The plan opens up vast new areas of national forests to intensive logging even though these areas are mostly fire-resistant stands of old growth far from human settlements. The real kindling for forest fires are young trees with trunk diameters smaller than six inches, but whats more profitable  logging birch saplings or 150 year-old stands of fir and pine?

Mercury: Last December, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) announced that new warnings would be put on cans of tuna saying that mercury levels in fish are unhealthy for children. The same week, the EPA announced a policy shift: instead of reducing mercury emissions 90 percent by 2008, they will only be reduced by 30 percent. Considering that one drop of mercury can contaminate an entire lake of fish, most experts have advocated a complete and immediate ban on mercury emissions. But Bush got the polluters take on the situation and decided that tradable tax credits are good enough for the health of our ecosystems and our children.

The Cheney Energy Task Force: Little need be said here that hasnt already been covered extensively by government watchdogs. Plug it into Google; youll get the picture.

Subsidies: St. Olaf chemistry professor Paul Jackson has a saying: "Show me a subsidy and Ill show you a polluter." Subsidies are indicators of what the government values, meaning that under Republicans, most go to big business (free markets? uh-huh). Logging is almost completely subsidized because those companies pay nothing to clear forests that are supposedly owned by the people. Industrial agriculture also receives gigantic subsidies simply to grow nothing, or to grow monocrops of corn that can be fed to cattle and hogs. But why not subsidize organic farms, or renewable energy research instead? The short answer: because a "permaculture" garden cant produce a presidential campaign.

Oil: In central Asia, its called "the devils tears," because when the worlds empires come to get it, they leave political oppression and environmental rape in their wake. Is terrorism connected to the environment? You bet, and youd be surprised whos on your side. If you can find the article, you should read "Oil and the new Great Game" by Lutz Kleveman. Its in the Feb. 16 issue of The Nation and is a must-read for those who think Iraq was a case-study in altruism.

No, one man does not single-handedly destroy all good things, but in terms of the environment alone, Bush makes Dr. Blight and Sly Sludge look like do-gooders.


Staff Writer Dan Schramm is a senior from St. Louis, Mo. He majors in philosophy with a religion emphasis and an environmental studies concentration.


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