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-Encouraging lawsuits against the federal government that challenge existing environmental laws, and then feebly defending the cases in court.
-Ignoring science that doesn’t support the president's goals, and pressuring government scientists to produce the results the administration wants.
-Using fuzzy math to overestimate the costs and underestimate the benefits of regulations that protect human health and the environment, which can lead to the elimination of much-needed rules.
These are just a few of the administration’s strategies, which are being pursued beneath the radar of a public that overwhelmingly supports environmental protections. Bush Versus the Environment is a compelling and important look at one of the most important issues facing America today, one that will have consequences that last long after Bush has left office.
The Fox Is Guarding the Henhouse
During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush offered clues as to how he would deal with the environment. In his speeches he said nice things about cleaning up pollution and protecting wildlife and supporting parks, even going so far as to make some specific promises (several of which he broke soon after assuming office). But people who looked beneath his words and heeded the old Watergate adage-follow the money-quickly saw where Bush's loyalties lay. The trail of campaign dollars led to big corporations and powerful industries, many of which will lose a lot of money if the federal government does a better job of protecting the environment, and will make a lot of money if the government weakens certain environmental regulations. The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group, took the campaign contribution data compiled by the Federal Election Commission and coded it by industry. Using that coded information, Public Campaign, a progressive public interest group, and Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, figured out how much money the various industries affected by environmental regulation had given to which politicians and political parties. Mining, timber, chemical and other manufacturing, oil and gas, and coal-burning utilities together contributed a staggering $44.1 million to the Bush-Cheney campaign and to the Republican National Committee.
Public Citizen and Earthjustice then did something even more interesting. They took the industry-by-industry breakdown of campaign contributions and compared it with the environmental policies undertaken by the Administration during Bush's first 18 months as president. For example, the timber industry gave $3.4 million and the Administration introduced and pushed an initiative designed in part to open up more federal lands to logging. In another example, the coal-burning utilities gave $2 million and the Administration has made regulatory changes and has not enforced existing laws so that these utilities can avoid the expense of installing the most effective pollution-control technology.
Now, for a moment I'd like to indulge in some educated speculation. From what I've learned about the President and his values, I'd guess that his generous treatment of the industries that filled his war chest is for the most part not a matter of simple corruption. The simple corruption scenario goes like this: a politician needs money for his campaign; he gets money from a corporation, a union, a wealthy individual, or some other contributor who is shopping for access and influence; after the politician gets elected, he gets a visit he can't refuse from lobbyists working for the contributor; some arm-twisting ensues, and then the politician gives the contributor at least some of what he wants, even if it requires doing something that is not in the public interest. However, I think that usually there is an essential difference in the way this Administration interacts with its big campaign contributors.
Rather than getting a visit they can't refuse and having their arms twisted by lobbyists, the Administration invites the lobbyists to the White House and together they map out mutually satisfying plans that require no arm-twisting. Corporate leaders and owners from oil and gas, timber, chemical manufacturing, mining: these are George W. Bush's people. It comes as no surprise that he would cater to them and that they would contribute to his campaigns. Consider the notorious energy task force convened by Vice President Dick Cheney, which brought dozens of energy industry honchos together behind closed doors to help develop the President's energy policy. In addition, much of the time industry doesn't even have to meet with White House officials to make its desires known because the Administration is run largely by people from industry, and they are already on the same wavelength with industry lobbyists.
Nowhere is this close-knit relationship between the White House and industry more apparent than in the people that the President has appointed to offices in the natural resource agencies. The main agencies are the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Interior's responsibilities include national parks, national monuments, national wildlife refuges, fish and wildlife, and the vast range and mineral resources of the hundreds of millions of acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). EPA addresses a wide variety of issues but is especially concerned with pollution, pesticides, and other environmental influences on human health. Several other agencies, such as the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture (which includes the Forest Service), devote a significant minority of their time to environmental matters.
As you read this book, you may get the feeling that these agencies are schizophrenic, one moment acting as champions of the environment, the next moment serving industry at the expense of the environment. Partly, this inconsistency reflects a fundamental tension between the appointees, who occupy the top ranks of the agencies, and the career civil service employees, who hold the rest of the positions. Though the appointees hold the upper hand and can get most of what they want, the career employees enjoy institutional savvy and certain protections, so sometimes they can influence decisions when they disagree with the appointees. In the Bush Administration, struggles occur constantly between appointees and ecologists, land managers, wildlife biologists, and other career civil servants. Often the Administration has retaliated against agency employees whose views and scientific studies impede the President's agenda, but still there remain pockets of resistance to some environmentally harmful White House policies.
Though the Bush White House demands strict adherence to its agenda and dictates in unusual detail what it wants its appointees to do, the nature of the people who occupy the top positions still matters a great deal. Bush may be the commander in chief, but these appointees are the generals and colonels, and they exert enormous influence on America's environment. I've chosen for brief examination three Administration figures. They occupy prominent posts and are representative of the kinds of people Bush has placed in nearly every high-level office and in most of all the appointed positions.
As Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), James Connaughton is the President's senior advisor regarding the environment. He is responsible for developing the broad policies that constitute Bush's environmental agenda. He also serves as one of the head cheerleaders for the President's purported approach to the environment, zealously spreading the gospel of free-market solutions and voluntary compliance with environmental laws. Connaughton previously was a partner in the Environmental Practice Group in the law firm of Sidley & Austin, where he counseled a wide array of corporations and trade associations. For example, he represented companies that were balking at cleaning up sites that were so wretchedly polluted that the EPA had placed them on the Superfund list. Among those clients was General Electric, responsible for more Superfund sites than any other corporation in America, according to one measure used by EPA. Connaughton also lobbied government on Superfund matters on behalf of Atlantic Richfield, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, the Aluminum Company of America, and other corporate interests looking to avoid cleanup bills. In 1993, Connaughton coauthored a law journal article entitled "Defending Charges of Environmental Crime-The Growth Industry of the 90s."
Mark Rey serves in the Department of Agriculture as Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment, which means that his main job is to oversee the management of the U.S. Forest Service and our 190 million acres of national forests and grasslands. This makes him Bush's quarterback on the logging of public lands. No doubt Rey appreciates the irony of his position, given that for most of his career he has been one of the most prominent figures on the other side of the desk, lobbying the Forest Service in an effort to increase logging in the national forests. From 1976 to 1994, Rey worked for a variety of major timber entities, such as the American Paper Institute and the National Forest Products Association, including a stint as vice president for forest resources for the American Forest & Paper Association, one of the nation's leading proponents of logging in national forests. After that he worked on the staff of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Rey often has pushed to reduce public involvement in forest management decisions. While on the Senate committee staff, he authored a version of the National Forest Management Act for Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), a strong advocate for more logging on public lands, which would have done away with citizen oversight committees and other opportunities for the public to protect our national forests. Rey also cowrote the notorious "salvage rider," which suspended environmental laws that controlled the clear-cutting of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. Over the years Rey has maintained ties to the Wise Use movement, a loose coalition of antiregulatory groups quietly backed by resource extraction industries. The extreme attitudes of many in the Wise Use movement are evident in the words of one the movement's founders and leading lights, Ron Arnold, who said, "Our goal is to destroy, to eradicate the environmental movement. We want to be able to exploit the environment for private gain, absolutely."
Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton arguably occupies the most powerful environmental position in America, overseeing some 500 million acres of public lands, including our national parks and our national wildlife refuges. She began her long antiregulatory career in 1979, when she joined the Mountain States Legal Foundation. Mountain States provides the legal muscle for the Wise Use agenda, working to remove environmental safeguards and open more public lands for logging, oil and gas exploration, mining, off-road vehicle use, snowmobiling, and the like. In the mid-1980s she followed James Watt (another Mountain States stalwart) to Reagan's Department of the Interior, where she served as Associate Solicitor. One of her tasks was to help draft a paper supporting oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. During most of the 1990s, she served as the Attorney General for Colorado, where she is remembered for numerous antienvironmental actions, such as cutting the state's environmental budget and declining to sue polluters even though they repeatedly broke air pollution laws.
Over the years Norton has taken many antiregulatory positions, always pushing her basic theme that government, especially the federal government, should back off and let the market take care of the environment. For example, while working at Mountain States she argued in one case that the court should declare the Surface Mining Act unconstitutional; now, as Interior Secretary, she is supposed to enforce that act. In 1995, she filed a brief in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court in which she argued that killing endangered species by degrading habitat should not be considered illegal under the Endangered Species Act. The Supreme Court didn't see things Norton's way. Her interpretation would have gutted the act, given that habitat modification-clear-cutting, overgrazing, draining wetlands, etc.-is by far the biggest threat to imperiled animals and plants. As head of Interior, Norton is in charge of enforcing the Endangered Species Act.
The question arises: what have these and other Bush appointees done to the environment lately? Their pasts are suggestive, but what really counts is what they're doing now that they're in office. I don't recall any of them leaning into the microphone at a nomination hearing and telling the Senate committee that he or she intended to manipulate the system to benefit industry or to pursue ideology-driven antiregulatory agendas. Far from it. The President's nominees swore to protect America's environment and uphold our environmental laws. So, despite their antienvironmental backgrounds, have Bush's appointees indeed protected the environment?
Not often. Many of his appointees have, in fact, spent most of their time manipulating the system to benefit industry or pursuing ideology-driven antiregulatory agendas.
Connaughton, Rey, Norton, and any of dozens of other appointees could serve to illustrate the ties between their pasts and their presents, but instead let's have a look at J. Steven Griles. As Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Griles is the number-two person at Interior, right below Norton-and some employees of the department and some Interior watchers say that Griles largely runs the place, at least on a day-to-day basis.
Griles knows his way around the halls of Interior. He worked there for the eight years of the Reagan administration, serving as Deputy Director of the Office of Surface Mining, then Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Water, and finally as Assistant Secretary of Lands and Minerals Management. While in these positions he advocated for the expansion of oil and gas development on public lands; he weakened environmental regulations and enforcement pertaining to mining operations; and he pushed for offshore oil drilling in California. Some say he pushed too hard for the offshore drilling; in 1989, he wrote a memo attacking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service findings about the harmful environmental effects of such drilling. Just before he left office he gave a parting gift to coal companies by reducing coal royalties, then he took a job in the coal industry as senior vice president for coal giant United Company.
After working for King Coal, in 1995 Griles formed his own lobbying firm, J. Steven Griles & Associates. That same year he also went to work for a high-powered lobbying outfit called National Environmental Strategies (NES), founded by former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour. Between 1995 and his appointment to Interior, in 2001, Griles represented dozens of major corporations and industry associations on environmental matters. A large majority of his clients were coal companies, outfits seeking and extracting coal-bed methane (a form of natural gas), offshore drilling interests, and corporations fighting air pollution regulations. His roster included Shell Oil, Arch Coal, Texaco, the American Petroleum Institute, Chevron, Pittson Coal, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, Unocal, the Coal Bed Methane Ad Hoc Committee, Dominion Resources, and Occidental Petroleum. When Bush nominated Griles, John Grasser, spokesman for the National Mining Association, expressed approval, calling him "an ally of industry."
Posted January 14, 2010
The "violations" Bush committed were so "under the radar" that by the time the book was written the air and water was cleaner and the annual increases in greenhouse gas emissions had been reduced by 80% over the American record in 2000.
The interesting thing is that the mainstream press as well as the Keith Olbermanns and the Rush Limbaughs of the media missed this latter story. It took the IEEE (a professional organization for electrical and electronic engineers) to dig the truth out of the available data. While Al Gore toured Europe decrying the American record (16%+ increase from 1990 to 2006) as compared to the EU's (a DEcrease!), two IEEE researchers took the UN statistics and broke them down by years, and it turned out there was a significant inflection point in the data. Divided into 1990-2000 and 2000-2006 (the most recent year in the UN data), the rate of growth in the US dropped by 80% to just 1.6%, while the rate in the EU flipped from negative to a positive 1.8%, making them worse than the US during the dread "Bush Era". Given the IEEE is a supporter of the idea of human-caused climate change, the two researchers reported they had mixed feelings about what their research exposed. In fact, they discovered a correlation that ALL media outlets overlooked: the nations signing the Kyoto Treaty actually had WORSE records overall than those nations who were lobbied to sign but refused (including the US). Oops! What differentiates these IEEE researchers and the author of this book is the simple fact that the IEEE fellows didn't let their personal opinions cloud their critical thinking -- they reported (reluctantly) that the whole environmental issue is more complicated than the simplistic view the typical environmental activist has of it. [Note: the improvement in the American record was not the result of recession, as the overall period of improvement was one of economic growth on par with the earlier period; the reversal of EU results was due to the fact that their earlier good record was mostly the result of replacing antiquated power plants and factories in former Eastern Bloc countries; and no one suggests that Bush actually TRIED to improve US emissions by government policy -- the market likely simply found Americans more interested in "green" marketing and reacted rationally to it.]
Meanwhile, Bush didn't toss bones to the likes of Senator Byrd, who had successfully lobbied Bush's predecessor, President Clinton, to allow West Virginia mining operations to continue lopping the top off mountains to get at the coal, sending tons of pollutants into rivers (and prompting a federal judge to consider the Clinton administration an "abuser" of the Clean Water Act). Nor did Bush write a book in which he called metals mining the worst water-polluting activity one could do with a piece of land, yet then lease out his property to a tin mining company just to add $50K/yr to his considerable income -- something that Vice President Al Gore did with some of his Tennessee property. And the higher Clean Water criteria that Bush rescinded upon entering office were rules that the Clinton/Gore administration had seen fit to withhold for the first 7 years and 11 months of its own tenure, putting the unattainable higher goals in place in a cynical move they both knew would have to be overturned in order to avoid an economic calamity.
However, one must admit this book is unquesti