Environmentalists, Bush in stalemate

Few advances made by either side in past 5 years


SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Yesterday was Earth Day, a time when Americans celebrate the environment and debate changes in the way to protect it. But the real news could be what hasn't changed.

Despite relentless rhetoric from environmentalists and industry that the Bush administration has shifted the balance from tight regulation toward a more business-friendly approach, in reality, the president and his supporters have been unable to significantly rewrite America's landmark environmental laws, even though Republicans have controlled all branches of government for more than five years.

Neither side plays it up. But environmentalists have blocked the president's most far-reaching efforts in the Senate, in court and with public opinion. They can't get anything passed, but not much has gotten past them, experts say.

"We're at a stalemate. It's like two male rams battling each other," said Sheldon Kamieniecki, a professor of political science at the University of Southern California.

Bush has succeeded in some areas since taking office in 2001.

He passed a "Healthy Forests" act in 2003 to increase thinning of federal forests to reduce fire danger. His Environmental Protection Agency approved rules to cut soot from new diesel engines by 95 percent over the next decade. He also boosted funding for hydrogen research and farmland preservation, and increased oil and gas drilling on federal lands across the West.

But he has failed in a host of areas that had been higher priorities. Among them:

Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A key goal since Bush first ran for president, ANWR drilling has failed repeatedly in Congress, most recently in December when two moderate Republican senators - Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Mike DeWine of Ohio - joined 42 Democrats to filibuster a defense bill that would have included drilling.

"Clear Skies." Bush's most high-profile air pollution initiative, introduced in 2002, would allow power plants and other facilities to set up a market-based system of trading pollution credits. Environmentalists say current laws are stronger. The measure has languished for four years in Congress.

Endangered Species Act. When Bush ran in 2000, the Republican platform described the act as "punitive" and "sometimes counterproductive." It called for changes that would offer more incentives to farmers, ranchers and other landowners, including payment when use of their land is curbed to save wildlife. A bill that would make those sweeping changes passed the House last year but has stalled in the Senate.

Water quality. After public outcry, the EPA dropped a plan last year to allow sewage plants to discharge partially treated sewage into lakes and streams during storms rather than upgrade the plants.

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said Friday that he is proud of the administration's record.

He said Bush's successes rarely receive much news coverage - and almost no accolades from environmental groups.

"The story is at best one day long ... because there's no conflict," Connaughton said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.