Bush, Kerry go politicking on Earth Day

President and challenger turn campaign toward environmental issues

April 23, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

HOUSTON - The Bush and Kerry campaigns marked Earth Day yesterday by trading charges about which candidate is the planet's better friend.

Democratic Sen. John Kerry wrapped up a three-day environmental issues tour with a rally in one of President Bush's former Texas hometowns to criticize the president's record.

"Some things just weren't meant for recycling," Kerry said of re-electing Bush. But he told that crowd, "You've got to give George Bush credit because he has actually proven himself very good at recycling. He has recycled the deficit, the bad economic policies, the bad environmental policies, the bad foreign policy."

"And that's why, I hate to say this to Texas, but that's why he's got to be recycled back to Crawford," Kerry told cheering supporters at the University of Houston.

Bush spent part of Earth Day in Wells, Maine, where he met with volunteers working in wetlands protection and touted U.S. Department of Agriculture numbers showing that wetlands loss has decreased.

Bush announced a goal of protecting at least 3 million wetland acres over the next five years. He urged Congress to pass his 2005 budget request, which includes $4.4 billion for conservation programs.

"Instead of just limiting our losses, we will expand the wetlands of America," Bush said after highlighting efforts to help preserve wetlands at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve.

The 1,600 acres of salt marshes, beaches, forests and freshwater wetlands are located a few miles from the Bush family's compound at Kennebunkport.

"Good conservation and good stewardship will happen when people say, `We're just not going to rely on the government to be the solution to the problem,'" Bush said.

Former Environmental Protection Agency head Carol Browner told CNN later yesterday that Bush had redefined wetlands so that nearly half of U.S. wetland areas were no longer protected by the EPA, the Reuters news agency reported.

Kerry called Bush's new plan a "smoke and mirrors game" and criticized Bush as a president who makes environmental policy based on the desires of big-money interests.

He also sought to link the president's foreign policy to energy company interests.

"I will put in place the principle that no young American in uniform should ever be held hostage to America's dependence on oil," Kerry said.

The Sierra Club used Earth Day to release a book by Carl Pope, the organization's executive director, entitled Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress.

The book offers a damning portrait of Bush's environmental stewardship.

"This is what the American people do not know: The Bush administration is full of officials who believe - from the bottom of their hearts, not just their wallets - that weaker laws on clean air, less funding to clean up toxic waste dumps, and national parks and forests run for private profit are actually good for the country," Pope wrote.

In February, the Union of Concerned Scientists, which includes 20 Nobel laureates, issued a statement accusing the Bush administration of distorting scientific findings to further its political aims.

Later yesterday, Kerry raised money at a reception at a Houston hotel.

Aware of the harsh criticism to come, the Bush campaign got Texas Sen. John Cornyn to speak to reporters prior to the Kerry event.

Bush, said Cornyn, has been a champion of environmental protection.

"President Bush has proposed some far-reaching legislation, the Clear Skies legislation, which, unfortunately, thanks to Senator Kerry and the leadership of the Democratic Party, has not had an opportunity to be voted on by the United States Senate and signed into law," Cornyn said.

Kerry opposed the Clear Skies legislation, branding it as a law that "would actually undercut protections on soot, smog and toxic mercury, while completely ignoring the threat posed by global warming emissions."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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