Bush administration clears logjam on environment with final decisions

January 17, 1993|By Keith Schneider | Keith Schneider,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is ending its days i power with a series of striking decisions affecting national parks, forests, agriculture, land, industrial wastes and endangered species.

The decisions -- some supported by business interests, some by environmentalists -- make this the most active period of the Bush presidency on natural resource issues.

Just last week, the U.S. Forest Service, a unit of the Department of Agriculture, said it would end clear-cutting on 5.3 million acres of national forest in the Sierra Nevada to save the habitat of the California spotted owl and head off a possible threat of its extinction.

Selective logging will be permitted, but this is the first national forest to end clear-cutting after a July decision to halt the practice in national forests around the country.

In the latest actions, the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that it wanted to end a requirement that developers of genetically engineered pesticides gain federal permits for outdoor experiments of less than 10 acres.

Only a few such experiments will now need permits from the government. In another decision Friday, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a plan to improve the management of 91 million acres of federal wildlife refuges.

By themselves, these actions by the administration, which affect tens of millions of acres of land and thousands of people, would be among the most important and disputed resource decisions made by the Bush administration.

But in the weeks since the election lifted a political shadow from the decision makers, there have been a host of others.

Administration officials decided to sharply increase the number of plants and animals to be protected under the Endangered Species Act, to settle Indian land claims in Alaska and Arizona, to transfer federal land in California to the state for a new nuclear dump, and to approve testing of a hazardous waste incinerator in Ohio.

There is no pattern to the decisions other than that most of the issues have lingered for years and heads of the federal environmental and resource agencies were eager to conclude them before Bill Clinton is inaugurated Wednesday, the officials said.

"The reason they have come in packaged form is that there is now, unfortunately, the end of the Bush administration and a need to resolve issues we have been working on for some time," said Michael R. Deland, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who issued his office's annual report on the state of the environment this week, a month earlier than usual.

Congressional leaders said they were surprised by the number of decisions. But several noted that at the end of Jimmy Carter's administration, several lasting decisions were made on environmental policy.

Six weeks before leaving the White House, for example, Mr. Carter signed the Superfund law for cleaning up toxic wastes, the start of one of the largest environmental public works programs in the government.

"Right away you notice that the Bush administration's decisions cut both ways, some to protect the environment and some against," said Sen. Max S. Baucus, a Montana Democrat who is '' chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Leaders of environmental, industrial and property rights groups, all of whom criticized some actions and praised others, noted that the election results had freed Mr. Bush and his deputies from any lingering political ramifications caused by the decisions.

"It's amazing what a losing election can do for bringing clarity to an issue," said James E. McDonald, vice president for governmental communications for the American Nuclear Energy Council.

But these same leaders also said that many of the decisions would be blocked by opponents in court or reviewed by Mr. Clinton and his Cabinet members.

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