Bush and his policy on the environment

Posted: Friday, April 07, 2000

The following editorial appeared in today's edition of The Washington Post:

Moving along the alphabet of traditionally Democratic issues, Texas Gov. George W. Bush turned from education to the environment this week. He offered a plan to accelerate cleanup of abandoned industrial ``brownfields,'' blamed the federal government for failing to police pollution at its own facilities and took some swipes at Vice President Al Gore for various positions he took in his book on the environment.

Restoring brownfields resonates with local officials as well as environmentalists; reclaiming those vacant, weedy plots that blight many cities is a way to boost local economies and fight sprawl as well as clean contaminated land. A number of states, including Texas, have cleanup programs under way; Gov. Bush called for giving states more flexibility within a framework of federal standards. He would tailor cleanup goals to the planned use of the land and protect developers from future federal liability, both policies in place or supported by EPA. In many cases the impediment to redevelopment appears to be not federal regulation but lack of money; Gov. Bush proposes turning an existing loan program into state block grants and permanently extending a tax deduction for cleanup costs, but offers no new funds.

When he took on education as a campaign issue, Gov. Bush had a record in Texas that worked to his advantage. On the environment, even allowing for Texas' work on brownfields restoration, he has an uphill fight. Texas leads the nation in toxic emissions from industrial facilities; Houston last summer replaced Los Angeles as the U.S. smog capital. Gov. Bush advocated voluntary reductions in industrial emissions, but did sign laws that will require reductions from older utility plants and penalize other older plants that don't meet pollution standards. His appointees to the powerful Texas Natural Resources and Conservation Commission have been criticized as too closely tied to industry.

Gov. Bush started off the year tagged by the League of Conservation Voters as the biggest threat to the environment among the leading presidential candidates. This speech was an effort to burnish his credentials, but it left important issues unaddressed. It will take more than this to make the case that he would be a strong environmental steward for the nation.

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