Beating Around the Bush

In a triumph of Bush administration doublespeak, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently cautioned women and children to watch their consumption of fish because of mercury contamination, while at the same time announcing plans to ease restrictions on the very mercury emissions that caused the problem in the first place.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, called this absurd situation "astonishing," but in fact the Bush administration has lost its capacity to astonish: This was just business as usual from a Presidency that apparently knows no shame when it comes to environmental matters. London Mayor Ken Livingston recently described President Bush as "the greatest threat to life on this planet that we’ve most probably ever seen," and this view is becoming increasingly common in Europe, where former allies have been ruthlessly alienated.

Consider these recent environmental outrages:

  • The Endangered Species Act. "The Bush administration is rewriting the rules, polices and laws that protect wildlife and their habitat," writes Some way to celebrate the Act’s 30th birthday. Among the assaults on the ESA are the writing of new rules that would allow commercial trade in 500 endangered species around the world; failing to list any species unless under imminent threat from a court order; signing into law broad ESA (and Marine Mammal Protection Act) exemptions for the Department of Defense; failing to request adequate funding for ESA programs; and weakening the laws that protect endangered species from indiscriminate pesticide use;

  • Politicizing Public Policy. A survey of EPA workers by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility reveals that three out of four respondents believe that politics are shaping agency action "more than they did five years ago." More than half think that promoting President Bush’s misguided, oil- and nuclear-intensive Energy Plan has become "more important" than environmental protection. Skeptics are right in questioning Bush’s hydrogen plan, because he wants to generate this friendly energy carrier with dangerous nuclear power. It didn’t take long for new EPA chief Mike Leavitt to reveal his polluter-friendly policies. He hailed the administration’s air-pollution policies as the "largest single investment in any clean air program in history." But critics at the Natural Resources Defense Council say they’d result in the premature death of an estimated 60,000 people;

  • Climatic Carelessness. A complete vacuum on global warming issues from President Bush (who broke a campaign promise) has forced the states to push through their own initiatives to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. "The states are taking action for one simple reason: because the federal government is not," Washington Governor Gary Locke, a Democrat, told the New York Times. He added, "We are limited in what the states can do. We need a national policy to address global warming." Even Republican governors and the libertarian think-tank Cato Institute are criticizing Bush over his do-nothing policy, which has seemingly doomed the Kyoto Treaty to failure.

    Make no mistake, when it comes to the environment George W. Bush is the worst U.S. President in modern history. We’ve been presented with a blizzard of doublespeak, recess appointments, and closed-door decision-making (slamming through by regulatory order bad policy that can’t make it through Congress). The Clear Skies Act pollutes the air, and the Healthy Forests Initiative is a giveaway to the logging industry. With a clear majority of Americans favoring strong environmental protections, this misrule constitutes a travesty of representative government. To track Bush administration misdeeds (and many other emerging environmental issues), keep a close eye on this new web-only E column. You might also consider a visit to, which is posting daily items on "the Bush administration’s assault on the environment and public health."

    Jim Motavalli is editor of E.