Local Republicans rush to president’s defense
Bush environmental record assailedSub: Local GOP rushes to president’s defenseBy Bob BerwynA new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) suggests that the Bush administration has continually sought to weaken the country’s most fundamental environmental laws since it took office two years ago.The report catalogs more than 100 anti-environmental actions, including moves to weaken existing laws or to delay new regulations aimed at protecting the environment.But while environmental groups are sounding shrill alarm bells with every perceived new threat, Republican supporters say the administration is simply trying to return some common sense and balance to environmental policy, and to lower costly regulatory hurdles for businesses.The NRDC report lists dozens of proposed and completed regulatory changes that could weaken safeguards for air and water quality, wetlands, forests and wildlife, claiming the administration stepped up its attacks on environmental regulations after the recent mid-term elections.A second report from a budget watchdog group, OMB Watch, concludes that the Bush administration is not doing much to advance new health, safety or environmental protections. Halfway through Bush’s term, the Environmental Protection Agency has only completed two major rules, both required by court order. By comparison, the Clinton administration had completed 23 rules after two years, and the first Bush administration had managed 14.One of the most egregious examples cited by the NRDC report are the changes to clean air regulations that create loopholes for power plants and refineries, exempting them from requirements to install modern pollution controls when they upgrade or expand their facilities.New EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineer regulations ease, and in some cases end, protection for millions of acres of wetlands, while other changes have eliminated corporate liability for factory farm pollution and exempt mining waste from federal regulation. And as had been well reported in this and other newspapers, the administration also wants to reduce the amount of environmental review required for certain types of national forest management activities.The OMB Watch report also looked at the regulatory agendas of three agencies – the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The group found that the EPA has halted work on 48 environmental standards, the FDA has stopped work on 56 standards, and OSHA has halted 21 new standards.The NRDC claims the "onslaught" against the environment is being led by the administration, coordinated through Office of Management and Budget. Documents obtained by environmental groups and the media suggest that office has been trying to identify environmental regulations deemed onerous by business, and then "strong-arming" agencies to review and weaken those rules.Local Republicans are quick to counter all these charges. It’s not the Bush administration that is the problem, but extremists who try to use environmental laws to block progress, says Ray Grant of Basalt, vice-chair of the Eagle County Republican party."I think there’s been an onslaught against the things that make our country great, like the development of our natural resources," says Grant, a retired geologist who worked in the mining industry. "I think the environmentalists want to stop everything. They’re trying to tear down the country," he adds. "All these people are against everything; logging, hunting fishing."To keep things in perspective, Grant says one needs to consider the impacts of natural events like volcanic eruptions. A single eruption lasting just a few days can add more pollutants to the atmosphere than decades worth of emissions from industrial sources, he says.Citing the controversy over roadless area protection, Grant is concerned that some of the environmental laws already in place could have a long-term negative impact on the country’s economy. "What happens when we need more resources?" he asks.Republican Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone says the Bush administration’s Healthy Forests initiative is one indication that the president does not have an anti-environmental agenda. Stone also decries the partisanship that has become part of the rhetoric used by conservation groups to attack the Bush presidency. He doesn’t believe the environment should be partisan issue."I think the Democrats would prefer it to be partisan," he says. "They (the Democrats) have long been using misinformation to lead people to believe that Republicans are anti-environmental," Stone says. "The science does not change if you’re Republican, Democrat or Independent. It shouldn’t change from one administration to the next.”Stone says the constant carping and shrill warnings from environmental groups is an indication that many of them have strayed from their original mission rather than protecting the environment, it’s all about raising money, he charges. "I can’t believe the latest mailing I got from the Sierra Club," he says. "I thought they were selling Ginsu knives."According to Stone, environmental groups are using obstructionist tactics to block environmental progress, at least in the area of forest health. He says something needs to be done now to halt the spread of beetle infestations and the fire danger in Colorado’s forests."Their obstructionist tactics have resulted in gross negligence of our forests," Stone says. "It’s important that the president mentioned the Healthy Forests initiative in his State of the Union speech. It shows that it’s one of his priorities."While environmental groups claim that the Republican leadership is trying to roll back environmental protections, Stone says those groups are simply worried that any changes will prevent them from using the system to block projects."They wait for the entire process to run its course and then they bring up some issue that’s never been mention before to bring things to halt," he says. "I believe Bush is trying to be a moderate in this area. With regards to forest health, I think he (Bush) recognizes that there’s an urgent need to do something now."For more information, check the NRDC Report at http://www.nrdc.org/legislation/rollbacks/rollbacksinx.asp Or click on the Watch Report at http://www.ombwatch.org/execreport/SIDEBAR:Westerners shaping environmental policy in CongressA couple of key leadership posts in Congress have been filled by conservative Westerners with outspoken views about this country’s environmental laws, and conservation groups are worried that there could be an all-out effort to rewrite the Endangered Species Act (EAS) and other fundamental environmental measures.Rep. Richard Pombo from California is the head of the House Resources Committee, replacing Utah Rep. James Hansen. Pombo, a rancher, has railed against the ESA for years, claiming federal agencies use questionable science in their regulatory efforts and charging that environmental laws are too costly and burdensome to business.Sen. James Imhofe of Oklahoma, new chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, once referred to the Environmental Protection Agency as a "Gestapo" bureaucracy, according to the L.A. Times.Conservation groups say this new leadership group shows that Republicans have turned away from a moderate path on the environment. "The Republicans have slammed the door on the party’s tradition of conservation in order to open for business with corporate polluters who gave money to their campaigns," writes Alys Campaigne. legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a prepared statement.In an interview with the L.A. Times, Imhofe rejected charges that he is anti-environment. "It’s just that I come from a business background. I know that bureaucracies, if left alone, can become abusive."In his new role as leader of the committee, Imhofe will have an important say in how various environmental measures are implemented, and even whether they’ll receive funding.And while the Bush administration has proposed regulating harmful industrial mercury emissions, Imhofe has said he doesn’t think such regulations are practical.