Candidates go with green on Earth Day

Kerry blasts Bush record on environment

president defends `market' approach

April 22, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - President Bush will commemorate Earth Day with a visit to the Maine coast today, while John Kerry intends to bash the president's environmental record during a trip to Bush's home state.

Environmental issues have lost some of their political potency in recent years, but Kerry has good reason to hit them hard. Tough talk on the environment can help energize the Democratic base, encourage contributions from environmental activists and give the Massachusetts senator another chance to cast the president as beholden to corporate interests.

Kerry's message today in Houston is timed to dovetail with attacks on Bush from environmental groups that will celebrate Earth Day by condemning the president's stewardship of the environment.

In contrast, Bush will offer proof that his "market-based" approach to environmental regulation works. And just last week, the Environmental Protection Agency designated hundreds of communities nationwide that will be required to clean up polluted air. Some in the environmental movement praised the action, which affects 170 million people.

Nonetheless, the president will face blunt criticism in the debate over cleaner skies, water and landscapes.

For example, Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, charges that Bush has reversed two decades of progress in dealing with toxic waste and four decades of progress on clean water.

"He's not just worse, he's much worse than anybody," Pope said. The president's campaign aides dismiss such criticism as sniping by "permanent partisans" aligned with the Democratic Party.

While polls show that most Americans think the environment is deteriorating, it ranks well behind many other issues for most voters.

A Gallup poll last month found that 62 percent of Americans worry a "fair amount" or "a great deal" about environmental quality, down from 77 percent in 2001. The cost of health care, crime, terrorism, the economy, hunger and homelessness, energy costs and drug use were more pressing concerns.

Americans are also much less likely than they were in past years to put environmental protection above economic growth. Faced with that choice, 49 percent said they would favor environmental protection, down from 70 percent in 2000.

During his four-state Southern swing this week, Kerry is highlighting environmental issues. He'll end his tour in Texas, where he'll attend an Earth Day rally at the University of Houston. He's expected to denounce the president for his "polluter-friendly policies."

In Florida on Tuesday, Kerry stressed the importance of clean oceans and beaches. Yesterday, he met with Louisiana sportsmen and environmentalists and took a boat tour to examine the effects of coastal erosion near New Orleans.

Bush will try to burnish his environmental credentials with a visit to the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in Wells, Maine. The 1,600-acre facility - roughly the size of the president's Texas ranch - is a public-private partnership dedicated to the study of coastal environments.

Although both candidates promise to make the nation's air and water cleaner, they favor different approaches. Bush leans toward market-based solutions that give industries more latitude in meeting anti-pollution goals.

"We will reach our ambitious air-quality goals through a market-based approach that rewards innovation, reduces cost and, most importantly, guarantees results," the president said in 2002 at a visit to Whiteface Mountain Lodge in the Adirondacks. "Mine is a results-oriented administration."

Kerry says he would be much more aggressive in reducing pollutants. He also opposes Bush's plan to permit oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"Being responsible about the environment is not some goo-goo, do-gooder, silly notion that you embrace once a year on Earth Day," Kerry told a small outdoor crowd Tuesday in Tampa, Fla., as a great blue heron stood in low water nearby. "It's important to life itself."

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