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Bush and the Environment


A hit parade of the Bush Administrationé─˘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.

2001

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.

2002

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.

May 23: The DOE announces a new regulation that requires air conditioner manufacturers to make the machines 20 percent more energy efficient by 2006.  It replaces a regulation that required energy efficiency be improved by 30 percent.

June 3:
EPA posts a report titled “U.S. Climate Action Report 2002” on its web site. The report concludes that global warming is under way, its effects will be dire for the U.S., and that the primary culprit is man-made greenhouse-gas emissions.

June 26: The administration decides to continue to allow snowmobiling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

December 12: Bush announces a second round of proposals to allow the Forest Service to largely forego environmental-impact assessments before logging national forests. The studies have been required under the National Environmental Policy Act since 1970, when President Nixon signed it into law.

2003

March 6: The DOE asks Congress to grant the military exemption from environmental regulations regarding sonar exercises that harm marine mammals and the disposal and cleanup of hazardous waste.

June 3: The DOE announces $270,000 in research grants to help oil companies devise schemes for using heavy drilling equipment during warm weather in Alaska, which is increasingly common due to global warming. The multi-ton machinery, which previously sat on thick ice packs, now routinely sinks into the slushy tundra.

August 27:
The EPA redefines the term “routine maintenance” as it pertains to power plants. If companies buy parts that are cheaper than the ones they’re replacing, the parts are not required to comply with emission standards defined in the Clean Air Act.

September 30: The EPA announces its new Air Quality Index, a daily prediction of the air quality in 141 U.S. cities where the air is deemed “unhealthy” at some point during the year.

December 22: A federal judge overturns the Bush administration’s new snowmobile rule for Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, effectively halving the number of vehicles allowed in them.

2004

January 22: Interior Secretary Gale Norton endorses a plan permitting oil and gas development on 9 million acres of Alaska’s North Slope, a wildlife-rich area adjacent to ANWR.

February 2: The new federal budget cuts EPA funding by 7.2 percent.

April 22:
On Earth Day, Bush announces a plan to increase the acreage of protected wetlands in the U.S. by 3 million over five years.

October 27:
Dr. James E. Hansen, a top climate scientist at NASA, accuses the Bush administration of suppressing scientific evidence of global warming.

December 7: Interior Department Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles resigns after an investigation determined that he maintained illicit dealings with former energy and mining clients from his lobbying firm.

2005

February 17: Interior Secretary Gale Norton takes a tour of Yellow-stone by snowmobile, snubbing its quieter counterpart, the snow coach. “[The snow coach] is a much more ordinary kind of experience,” she explains. “It’s not as special as a snowmobile.’’

March 29: Nine states sue after a new EPA rule allows coal-fired power plants to emit ten tons more mercury pollution a year than need be, based on the best technology available.

May 5: The Administration repeals the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, a Clinton policy that protected almost one-third of national forest lands (58.5 million acres) from logging and road building.

August 8: The National Marine Fisheries Service designates the Aleutian Islands in the Gulf of Alaska a marine protected area.

August 25: Hurricane Katrina hits land. In addition to the human toll, the hurricane causes at least 575 petroleum spills, more than 350,000 destroyed cars, and four disturbed Superfund sites.

2006

January 31: “America is addicted to oil,” Bush says in his State of the Union speech.

February 6: Bush’s proposed 2007 budget allots $1.2 billion toward renewable energy, a mere 0.2 percent more than the amount budgeted for 2006.

May 25: The House of Representatives approves drilling in ANWR, but the Senate is expected to vote it down.

June 15: Bush creates the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, the world’s largest protected marine area.

June 19: The Supreme Court delivers a precariously split vote on the definition of wetlands under the Clean Water Act, an outcome many environmentalists consider a frighteningly close call.

November 7: Election Day.


Comments

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.