From GWB, With Love
If trashing Texas was good, trashing all of America is even better
by Selvam Canagaratna
Nobody actually wants pollution, not even politicians, says Bush-critic Paul Begala, but what happens is that other, more important priorities get in the way. "And, for George W. Bush, there is no more important priority than preserving, protecting and defending corporate power."
The Advisor to Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, to give Mr. Rohan Pethiyagoda his official designation, while urging Sri Lankans to accept the TFCA, was candid enough to tell those of us not in the know that "...the US in effect torpedoed the Kyoto Protocol...". That reference was to the proposed Treaty on Global Climate Change. America, the world’s most prolific polluter, consequently bears the greater part of the blame for the increasingly adverse effects of global warming. To know how America sees the problem, let’s get it from the horse’s mouth. GWB was quoted thus in the Washington Post on April 23,2001: "First, we would not accept a treaty that would not have been ratified, nor a treaty that I thought made sense for the country." That’s Bush being inscrutable without even trying.
Now let’s take a closer look at GWB’s credentials on environmental protection after he moved from the Texas Governor’s Mansion into the White House. Larry Noble, an analyst at the Center for Responsive Politics, summed it up succinctly: "After elections, the payback begins."
Bush’s environmental record in the White House turns out to be a continuation of the woeful litany of broken promises he left behind at the Governor’s Mansion in Texas. Let it roll, pardner...
* During the campaign Bush maintained he would not dump nuclear waste in America unless it was deemed scientifically safe. But he did just that in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain; 77,000 tons of it shipped, trucked and hauled by trains, passing through 43 states and coming within one mile of 50 million Americans while on its way to Nevada. Says Begala: "This...is the most deadly stuff on earth - waste that will still be radioactive in a thousand years. The United States Geological Service has designated Yucca Mountain as a High Probability Earthquake Hazard Zone having 33 earthquake faults in the immediate area surrounding the Mountain, including two that run under it. In 1992, an earthquake 35 miles away measured 7.8 on the Richter scale. I can’t think of a single good reason which made the Bush-Cheney duo break their word...but I can think of 7 million bad reasons...the nuclear power industry contributed more than $7 million to the Republican Party during the 2000 election year."
* GWB’s campaign promise was that all power plants would be required to meet clean air standards to reduce emissions of sulfurdioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide. But once President, he informed party senators in writing of his decision to renege on his promise to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants after encountering strong resistance from the coal and oil industries.
* The Bush administration refused to reauthorize the Superfund tax, created in 1980 on the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle and which taxes corporations to pay for the cleanup of polluted sites where a responsible party could not be identified or could not pay. So who foots the bill now’? Every American taxpayer, not the corporate polluter. The average American therefore now gets more toxic waste, fewer Superfund sites cleaned up, and more of his hard-earned money going as taxes to clean toxic sites he did nothing to create in the first place.
* A lot of the waste dumped from mining operations contains arsenic. Arsenic in drinking water causes cancer of the skin. Lungs, bladder and prostate, and according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, has also been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, anemia and disorders of the immune, nervous and reproductive systems. In March 2001, the EPA under Bush announced it was overturning a rule from the Clinton administration that lowered the allowable levels of arsenic in drinking water from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb. An enormous public outcry forced Bush to return to the earlier stringent standard. According to Environmental News Network, activists who track such issues, the abandonment of the plan to lower arsenic levels in US drinking water appears suspect in the light of $5 million campaign contributions from the mining industry.
* The Bush-Cheney war on clean air has already had its first high-profile casualty. Eric Schaeffer, director of the EPA’s Office of Regulatory Enforcement and a twelve-year veteran of the EPA, resigned and did not mince his words: "In a matter of weeks, the Bush administration was able to undo the environmental progress we had worked years to secure...Bush has little regard for the environment - and even less for enforcing the laws that protect it." Schaeffer’s parting shot, says Begala, was a bull’s eye: "Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican and our greatest environmental President, said: ‘Compliance with the law is demanded as a right, not asked as a favor’."
* David Doniger of America’s Natural Resources Defence Council, writing in The Economist of August 30, 2003, says Bush rejected plans that his own administration’s studies showed would yield health benefits of more than $60 billion each year (from avoided deaths, hospitalizations, asthma attacks and sick days) while costing the power industry just $3.5 billion more. "Who has the high ground on benefits and costs?" he asks rhetorically.
* Bush has proposed opening up the country’s protected land and national parks, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil drilling. Begala calls it "a stunning suck-up to big oil. Next to tax cuts for the rich drilling in the pristine Alaskan wilderness is Bush’s favourite panacea for the California energy crisis, the recession and America’s problems with Iraq..."as for Iraq oil, we won’t see Barrel One for eight years...by then Saddam Hussein will be dead or deposed or both, if we are to believe the bellicose promises of the Bush foreign policy speeches." Dead on, wouldn’t you say, though written in 2002?
* When the Democrats in Congress stopped him drilling in the Alaska wilderness, Bush turned to the Rockies. The Denver Post reported the Bush administration had its sights set on some of the most beautiful parts of the Rockies.
* But no other single activity more perfectly exemplifies the Bush-Cheney approach than does its energy task force, how utterly and completely the administration is dominated by the energy industry. Consider this, says Begala, "the president, vice president, national security advisor, secretary of energy, secretary of the interior, secretary of the army, chairman of the National Economic Council, the White House chief of staff, the president’s chief political adviser, the vice president’s chief of staff, the director of presidential personnel and numerous lesser officials - all either came from the energy industry, owned stock in it or did legal or lobbying work for related industries. No wonder Newsweek noted: ‘Not since the rise of the railroads more than a century ago has a single industry placed so many foot soldiers at the top of a new administration.’
No account of the Bush administration’s multi-pronged attack on the environment would be complete without recording the unholy alliance and the mutually beneficial relationship between GWB and that enormous multinational corporate polluter, the ‘late’ energy giant Enron. The association predates Bush’s time as Governor. Bush’s company, Spectrum 7 (remember?) was in trouble and struggling to stay afloat way back in 1986. Enron, though established only in 1985, rode to his rescue. With a relationship going back that long it was no surprise that Enron became the single largest patron of George W. Bush’s improbable political career. Such was the closeness between him and Enron’s CEO, Ken Lay, that Bush fondly called him "Kenny Boy".
Says Begala: "In the 2000 election cycle, like any politically sophisticated corporation, Enron gave to both parties, but it wasn’t exactly balanced... George W. Bush alone received more than nine times more money from Enron than every Democrat running in every House and Senate race in America combined. Staggering."
Once he became President, GWB paid back Kenny-Boy’s many favours by populating the government of the United States with Enron cronies: over 52 former Enron executives, lobbyists, lawyers or significant shareholders were placed in key positions. Says Begala: "The reality is... that Bush and Cheney did turn huge amounts of America’s public policy over to Enron, a corporation that will go down in history as representing corruption, arrogance and venality...That’s why George’s behaviour after Enron collapsed was so disconcerting. Said to prize loyalty above all other virtues, the President pretended he barely knew Kenny-Boy....it does show the hypocrisy, the jaw-dropping mendacity of the man who sat in the Oval Office...as Enron spiralled into bankruptcy."
This, then, is the Bush-Cheney environmental wrecking crew trashing America’s own environment with gay abandon, while professing to an overwhelming desire to help Sri Lanka save hers through the Tropical Forest Conservation Act. This latest manifestation of American altruism occurs, strangely enough, just when the ADB is also offering to help us save our Protected Areas, "persuading" us in the process to adopt a new wildlife policy (that stresses exploitation rather than conservation) and to effect radical changes to our existing Fauna & Flora Protection Ordinance that make a mockery of "protection". There is something sinister afoot, and next week we’ll consider the pros and cons of the TFCA and see how it fits into the big picture.
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