White House Increases Budget, Action on Environmental Issues as President Bush Begins in Earnest His Campaign for Reelection, Polls Suggest the Time May Be Ripe for Moving on Pollution Control and Protection of Natural Resources

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GEORGE BUSH has decided now is the time to make his move on the environment.

Several factors are behind this, according to administration insiders. While the State of the Union address tonight will concentrate on the economy and potential budget cuts, the proposed 1993 budget due out tomorrow includes some noticeable increases for fighting pollution and protecting natural resources.

Former White House chief of staff John Sununu is no longer around to prevent administration officials charged with environmental protection from tooting their horn. The Democratic presidential front-runner (Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas) is the weakest in his party's field on the issue. Recent polls showing the environment dropping as a subject of major concern make it safer for Mr. Bush to embrace it.

Michael Deland, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, says that "two things in particular are a testament to where the president's coming from."

"First are the budget numbers," Mr. Deland says. "There have been significant increases across the board at a time when we are obviously in a difficult budgetary situation, to put it mildly, and at a time when many other domestic programs have received substantial cuts.

"Second ... are the increases in EPA {Environmental Protection Agency} enforcement. For example, the EPA has collected more civil penalties in the three years of the Bush administration than it has in its entire previous history. Also, many more years of jail sentences, terms of imprisonment, criminal penalties paid, and so forth."

Deland also points to renewal of the Clean Air Act; a 10-year ban on offshore oil drilling off the West Coast, Florida, and New England; $1 billion for acquisition of new parkland, wildlife refuges, and recreation areas; a tripling of the rate of "Superfund" toxic-waste site cleanup; and "the most environmentally progressive farm bill ever."

"It's fair to say that George Bush has fulfilled most of his pledges and in many cases has exceeded expectations," says another administration official.

This is not a universal opinion. The League of Conservation Voters (headed by Democrat Bruce Babbitt, a former governor of Arizona) last year gave Bush a on its environmental report card.

Similarly, a recent report by the National Audubon Society, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the World Wildlife Fund warned that the administration's proposed redefinition of wetlands would have a "severe biological impact" on Florida's Everglades. …