Bush's Second-Term Stamp on Environment

By Brad Knickerbocker writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 18, 2004 | Go to article overview

Bush's Second-Term Stamp on Environment


Brad Knickerbocker writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


With the newly reelected Bush administration backed up by a tighter GOP grip on Congress, the coming political season could become a watershed mark for environmental protection and energy policy. As a result, federal laws and regulations dealing with everything from endangered species and forest protection to air and water pollution to oil and gas drilling, are likely to see a rigorous shaking out.

The administration is eager to achieve things denied it during President Bush's first term: pumping oil out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), allowing loggers access to millions of acres of roadless national forest land, easing Clean Air Act restrictions on some pollutants, making it easier to extract oil and gas in the Rocky Mountains, and passing an energy bill put together by Vice President Dick Cheney with help from the energy industry.

The election dust had barely settled before activity on environmental issues began. Monday was the deadline for public comment on the administration's rollback of protections for national forest roadless areas ordered by former President Bill Clinton. Tuesday, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona held Commerce Committee hearings on climate change. Wednesday brought hearings in the House on mercury pollution.

The resignations this week of Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, who oversees forest policy, only served to stir the political pot. Confirmation hearings for their predecessors are sure to include pointed questions about administration goals.

This is likely to include an examination of the successes and failures of the Endangered Species Act - one of the strongest tools environmentalists have to protect wildlife habitat. But administration officials and lawmakers chairing key congressional committees say the law has been too restrictive of ranchers, farmers, and developers.

Wildlife vs. energy

The wilds of Alaska are a prime focus. For more than a decade, the political battle over Arctic oil has raged. Oil companies say their newer methods of drilling wouldn't harm the habitat for caribou, polar bears, and snow geese in ANWR's coastal plain. So far, environmentalists, backed by just enough lawmakers, including some key Republicans, have managed to block an activity they say would damage the wildlife refuge for less than a year's worth of oil.

But Republican gains in House and Senate, plus war in an oil- rich part of the world and $2-per-gallon gas, may change all that. "With oil trading at nearly $50 a barrel, the case for ANWR is more compelling than ever," says Senate Energy Committee chairman Pete Domenici (R) of New Mexico. If Republicans attach the ANWR-drilling measure to the federal budget bill, minority Democrats would not be able to filibuster it back to the shelf.

The 'greening' of state laws

While Washington is the main focus of federal policy, what actually happens regarding environmental protection increasingly is happening elsewhere. …

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