Bush and the Environment

A hit parade of the Bush Administration’s environmental foibles (and even a few good deeds). By Victoria Schlesinger

From repealing the Roadless Area Conservation Rule to opening the country’s largest national park for logging and mining, the environment has suffered under President George W. Bush’s watch. But as the timeline shows, there were a few green victories along the way.


January 20: George W. Bush takes office.

February 28: New Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Christie Todd Whitman announces that the agency will continue a Clinton plan to cut the amount of sulfur and particulates in diesel fuel pollution by more than 90 percent.

March 8: Bush nominates J. Steven Griles as Deputy Secretary of the Interior, the No. 2 position in the agency that manages federally owned lands. Griles is a former employee of National Environmental Strategies, an energy-consulting firm.

March 20: The EPA announces that it will not cut permissible levels of arsenic in drinking water from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb, in keeping with World Health Organization and European Union standards. After conducting a cost-benefit analysis, the agency reverses its decision on October 31st.

March 28: The White House announces that it will not endorse the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

May 10: The Department of Energy (DOE) rejects a Freedom of Information Act request for information on the identities of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force.

June 30: The Administration announces that it is reconsidering a Clinton ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park.

August 17: The White House appeals a federal judge’s order to stop the drilling of new oil wells off the coast of California.

September 19: The DOE announces $30 million in grants to study how organic material can be turned into fuel.


February 14: The Bush administration announces that it will postpone cutting the emission levels of sulfur, mercury, and nitrogen oxide produced by power plants for ten years. Under the Clean Air Act, levels were to be lowered by more than 50 percent.

February 19: For a fifth time, the Department of the Interior (DOI) calls for public comment on banning snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. (The overwhelming consensus of the previous four comment periods: “Ban them.”)

February 27: Eric Schaeffer, head of the EPA Office of Regulatory Enforcement, resigns in protest of what he calls the Administration’s attempt to weaken agency rules that regulate power-plant emissions.

February 28: The New York Times reports that Cheney’s energy task-force committee was advised by 18 of the energy industry’s top 25 financial backers of the Republican party, while few environmental groups had access to the task force.

April 2:
The Bush administration cuts a $10 million EPA fellowship program that supports graduate students seeking degrees in environmental science, policy, and engineering.

April 7: The DOI releases results from its 12-year study of the impact oil drilling could have in ANWR. The study finds that drilling could harm wildlife such as caribou, polar bears, and musk oxen.

April 14: The DOI issues a brief addendum to its report, stressing that it is possible to drill without harming wildlife.

May 3: The EPA issues a clarification of the term “fill material” as it pertains to mining under the Clean Water Act. The new rule permits companies that remove mountaintops in search of coal to dump the rubble into rivers, lakes, and wetlands.

May 17:
The Forest Service recommends that 9 million of the 16.8 million acres of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the country’s largest national park, be opened for logging and mining.

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This is an informative timeline, but it should include the Bush administration's action on January 15, 2003 when they published an announcement of a new policy excluding an estimated 20 million acres of wetlands and many other waters from protection under the Clean Water Act. While the environmental community and its allies and members of Congress mounted a successful campaign to stop the administration from re-writing the definition of waters protected under the law, the administration's policy remains in place today.

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