Has the Bush administration trashed the environment?

Posted: Apr 22, 2004 12:00 AM

On the eve of "Earth Day," the Bush administration stands accused of trashing the nation's environment. The New York Times similarly indicted the administration in its recent Sunday magazine cover story: "Changing the Rules -- How the Bush Administration Quietly -- and Radically -- Transformed the Nation's Clean-Air Policy."

I asked Dr. S. Fred Singer, an atmospheric physicist, to take a look at the article. He has served as the first director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service, chief scientist of the U.S. Department of Transportation; deputy assistant administrator for policy in the Environmental Protection Agency; and deputy assistant secretary of the Department of the Interior. His many books include "Global Climate Change," "The Greenhouse Debate Continued," and "Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming's Unfinished Debate."

Larry Elder: John Kerry said that Bush has the worst environmental record in recent history, or in modern history. What's your reaction to that?

S. Fred Singer: That's just political hogwash. We have data that the environment is getting better. I mean, I don't really think it's because of Bush, but the Environmental Protection Agency has been continually enforcing standards, both on air and water pollution, and as a result, air and water are getting cleaner every year.

Elder: Has Bush quietly and radically transformed the nation's clean-air policy? And, if so, is that a bad thing?

Singer: I don't think there has been any such transformation. In fact, since Bush came to the White House, he's announced a policy to control mercury emissions from power plants, which is something that had not been done previously, and I think he is going to enforce that. So I don't see why the New York Times complains, but I suppose this is an election year and complaints of this sort are in order.

Elder: Bush has been criticized for, as the Los Angeles Times put it, "turn(ing) his back on (the) global warming treaty." Remember the global warming treaty? Congress unanimously passed a resolution saying that if Al Gore goes over to Japan and negotiates a global warming treaty that excludes Third World countries, it is going to be dead on arrival. John Kerry is one of those who voted for that resolution, saying that we're not going to ratify it if it excludes Third World countries. It does exclude Third World countries.

Singer: That'll be a unanimous vote in the U.S. Senate.

Elder: Tell me about global warming. Is there a consensus? Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? Is it clearly damaging the environment?

Singer: I think the simplest way to talk about it is to look at it, ask questions: Is the climate actually warming? And then you have to look at the data. And the data that I'm most familiar with, and I think the best data that we have, come from weather satellites because they make observations of the whole globe every day and they're good instruments. They tell us the climate is not warming significantly. So this is not a problem. To attack a non-problem with a measure that would really damage our economy, I think would just be completely irresponsible.

Elder: The article talks about Bush's final energy policy, which was announced May 16, 2001, "The policy's defining notion was simple: environmental regulations have constrained America's domestic energy supply. In broad strokes, the N.E.P. laid out the next three years of the Bush administration's energy and environmental agenda: roll back wilderness and wildlife protections to open up more public land to oil and gas development; establish fast-track hydropower permits; expand offshore oil and gas drilling; and replace tough Clean Air Act rules, including new-source review, with an industry-friendly market-based pollution trading system."

Singer: The energy bill that's before the Congress is immensely complicated, and includes many, many items I would not agree with. For example, substituting ethanol for gasoline as a fuel is wasteful, both economically wasteful, and also environmentally. It is an extremely expensive solution to the problem, and it doesn't even save any energy. It's a terrible idea. Also, the idea of sequestration of carbon dioxide; this is another terrible idea. (There are) a number of things in the energy bill that I, personally, would not care for. But, on the whole, I think it is not a bad piece of legislation. I think what's going to happen though is that they will probably pass it in small steps.

Elder: This is a political question, and you may not want to answer it. Why do you suppose the Republicans have such a black eye about the environment?

Singer: I think it has to do with the fact that the green organizations tend to be oriented toward the Democratic Party. It's as simple as that. It's been this way now for many, many years. They have been strong supporters of Al Gore, and they simply haven't forgiven George Bush for beating Al Gore.