Putting Environment Last

Article excerpt

NEARLY TWO YEARS INTO BILL CLINTON'S TERM, and with "environmental extremist" Al Gore at his side, it is time for environmentalists to assess the Clinton administration.

The Clinton administration's policies have weakened the already minimal restraints on environmentally destructive corporate behavior, giving corporations an even longer leash to strip the lands, pollute the air and water and poison the citizenry. As Peter Montague of the Environmental Research Foundation noted, "Clinton has shown himself willing to sell out the American public on essentially every important environmental issue, whenever corporate executives tell him to."

Many of the administration's policy decisions will undermine the ability of citizens and government agencies alike to control corporate polluters.

* The North American Free Trade Agreement will exacerbate the toxic mess on the U.S.-Mexican border. In the United States, its broader impact undermines local, state and federal efforts to implement or enforce tough environmental regulations.

* The new General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which the administration hopes Congress will approve this year, could subject U.S. federal and state environmental laws to GATT challenges, and exercise a chilling effect over the development of new environmental standards. The new GATT would require member countries to use the "least trade restrictive" means of achieving a particular environmental goal.

* The appointment of Justice Stephen Breyer marked the ascendancy to the top of the judicial hierarchy of the cruel practitioners of "risk-benefit analysis." Like other devotees of this allegedly objective mode of analysis, Justice Breyer has involved risk analysis to belittle environmental and health and safety risks and to overstate the costs of protective measures.

The administration has displayed a penchant for compromises that elevate mercantile interests over environmental values.

* In seeking to sell a pesticide reform package to both environmentalists and industry, the Clinton Environmental Protection Agency sought to abolish the Delaney Clause, the federal law which prohibits the use of cancer-causing pesticides that concentrate in processed foods. The chemical industry despises the Delaney Clause's firm zero-risk policy and its emphasis on prevention rather than control of environmental harms.

* In land-use disputes in the Pacific Northwest and South Florida, the administration has forcefully advocated "compromises" that would open millions of acres of old growth forest to logging and permit sugar barons to continue siphoning clean water from Lake Okeechobee and releasing fertilizer-contaminated water into the Everglades ecosystem.

There is very little on the positive side to counterbalance Clinton's sell-out on the environment. Even where the administration has backed pro-environment positions, it has failed to support them with enough vigor to shepherd legislative proposals through Congress in the face of an emboldened business community. A case in point is the administration's failed effort to overturn the Mining Act of 1872, which lets mining companies stake claims to federal lands for $5. …