Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: Michael R. Deland

Now that I’m in the private sector, I can’t resist a bit of proselytizing. Martin, we can—or shortly will be able to—store electricity with our mechanical flywheel batteries at American Flywheel Systems, and you will see solar and wind power within your lifetime because our batteries will store that energy when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

That commercial aside, Martin indicated how he joined the administration, and so I’ll share with you how I did. I had been considered for several jobs within the environmental arena and, for various reasons, none of those were attractive or materialized. I was preparing to go back to the private sector when I got a call from the chief of staff, John Sununu, with whom, in his gubernatorial days in New Hampshire, I had fought rather regularly on environmental issues. He said that the president was interested in resuscitating CEQ which, charitably speaking, had been allowed to wither on the vine during the Reagan days. And I responded that it really wasn’t worth his time or my plane fare unless the president really was serious about this. He assured me that he was, and I came to Washington, met with the president, and became convinced that he indeed did want to deliver on his campaign pledge of becoming the environmental president. And so, on the basis of that, I was honored to sign on to try and help. I submit that the record will show that no president in history has done more to protect our environment than did George Bush.

However, that is one of the world’s best-kept secrets. The discussion in which Roger Porter (who is with us this morning) participated on the opening night about the inner workings of the White House and the collegial, consensus-building process was in large measure true, but in the environmental arena the differences tended to become a bit more public than they did in some others. Governor Sununu, at that session, indicated that he, when he came in at 6:15 in the morning, would check from which direction the “lightning bolts” were coming and would throw himself in front of them. And that, generally, was true. However, in the environmental arena he did manage to throw a few lightning bolts himself, which, along with the activities of the Competitiveness Council set up in the vice president’s office, tended to send a mixed message—again, charitably speaking—that didn’t put in perspective the accomplishments of the Bush administration.

I could cite you numbers of statistics. I suspect that both Boyden and Bill will speak about the Clean Air Act, landmark legislation breaking a ten-year logjam, substantial budget increases in time of budgetary constraint. Bill’s budget at EPA, for example, was increased 47 percent. There were more enforcement actions initiated, more polluters put behind bars, more civil penalties collected in the four years of Bill’s tenure at EPA than in the entire previous EPA history. Substantial budget increases for national parks; more lands set aside in parks and natural refuges than at any time since Teddy Roosevelt’s days; the farm bill; the preservation

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