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Environmental tin ear

Posted: Tuesday, May 01, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Los Angeles Times:

The Bush administration's problem with the environment may be that President Bush and his advisers just don't know how much Americans care about their air, water and other natural resources. The results of a Los Angeles Times Poll Monday show that support for the environment is broad and deep and that a majority of Americans do not believe Bush should sacrifice the environment even for the economy or new energy production. This is not some political campaign being whipped up by the Sierra Club and its allies.

The Poll respondents rejected administration positions on potential health issues such as the level of arsenic in drinking water and the release of carbon dioxide from power plants. They clashed with Bush by supporting the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska from oil and gas exploration.

Nine of 10 Americans said it is important to preserve wilderness areas and open space, and a strong majority expressed a sense of ownership of federal lands and want their views considered in setting policy. Perhaps one reason that Bush seems to have a different attitude is that Texas, which entered the Union as a republic, has very little federal land - just 1.7 percent of the state compared with 45 percent of California. Another, of course, is Bush's alliance with the energy industry.

Most Americans do not buy the administration's arguments that last-minute environmental actions by the Clinton administration were based on bad science, were enacted hastily or ignored impacts on the areas involved. Strong majorities supported both the creation of new national monuments and a ban on logging and road building in nearly 60 million acres of national forest.

Bush has grumbled about the monuments but is not attempting to undo the Clinton actions. The administration, however, is backing off the road ban as well as the National Park Service's prohibition of snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The administration is scheduled to signal its intention on the road ban later this week.

Less certain is the administration's attitude about Bill Clinton's adoption of a landmark management plan to restore portions of Yosemite Valley to their natural state and cut congestion by restricting auto use in the core of Yosemite National Park. By stunning margins, poll participants supported restriction of public access to the parks in order to protect their resources. This includes having visitors use shuttle buses in Yosemite Valley. After viewing these figures, the Bush administration should ratify the Yosemite Valley plan without change.

The Yellowstone-Teton snowmobile ban was adopted after 10 years of study, 22 hearings or meetings held by the Park Service, most of them in the Yellowstone-Teton region, and the receipt of 48,600 pieces of correspondence on the proposal. Now, Bush administration officials say they want to get more input from local officials and are seeking a "better solution" to the proposed ban. These comments are typical of administration double-speak when it comes to the environment.

It is important to confer with local officials. Indeed, the Park Service heard from them extensively along with representatives of the snowmobile manufacturers. But the final decision rests with federal officials who bear the responsibility of protecting the parks on behalf of all Americans.

Bush's erosion of environmental protection has taken a different approach along the Mississippi River, where the administration is scaling back programs to buy up development in flood plains and to turn farmland back into wetlands to reduce flood damage. These programs make great common sense by reducing or eliminating the cost of repeated flooding. It's a bonus that they also contribute to a better environment.

Strong environmental protection has been a hallmark of Democratic and Republican administrations over the past 40 years. The one major effort to roll back protections, during the Ronald Reagan-Jim Watt years, was soundly rejected by Americans. Surely they will react just as quickly and firmly against any new attempt to weaken the nation's environmental legacy.



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