Not surprisingly, President Bush has thus far failed to mention the environment in discussions about his second-term agenda. But even though the White House will be focusing primarily on foreign policy and domestic economic issues, some environmentalists are optimistic that the administration will work to leave an environmental legacy to be proud of during its second term.
“We hope the President’s conciliatory and unifying words in his acceptance speech signal a new willingness to meet us halfway on key conservation issues,” says Rodger Schlickeisen of Defenders of Wildlife. “We remain vigilant as ever but are hopeful that we can make some meaningful progress in Bush’s second term.” Defenders of Wildlife is particularly concerned about the rollback of the Clinton-era national forest “roadless” rule, efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, and waning protections for endangered species.
Fred Krupp of Environmental Defense says that Bush’s re-election “offers an opportunity to make progress on a series of vital issues that need rapid positive action.” Krupp points to global warming, clean air, and the protection of oceans as key issues in which the Bush administration has opportunities to make lasting change. Environmental Defense hopes to put its long history of bipartisan problem-solving to work in helping the White House to come around on these issues and others.
Meanwhile, other environmentalists are taking a more defensive stance. “As sweeping as this administration’s attack on the environment has been, things are about to get worse,” says NRDC president John Adams, who vows to fight Bush administration plans to further loosen regulations on factory emissions and water quality standards.
Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity worries that the Bush administration will join forces with the Republican majority in Congress to launch an unprecedented assault on endangered species protections. “Bush has already placed fewer species on the Endangered Species List than any president since the act was passed,” says Suckling, who frets that the combination of a Republican majority in Congress and “a president as anti-environmental as Bush” could lead to the passage of scores of anti-environmental laws over the next few years.
But, in an interesting turn of events, perhaps the environmental silver lining of the 2004 election lies in the fact that President Bush considers himself a “Reagan Republican.” During the 1980s, Ronald Reagan’s disastrous environmental policies inspired millions of Americans to take matters into their own hands when it came to protecting their land, air, water and wildlife. Membership levels at environmental groups swelled to unprecedented levels, and when Bill Clinton took office he enjoyed widespread public support for his pro-environmental initiatives.
Indeed, what might make W a green hero in the end is his very opposition to many of the federal environmental policies initiated by his predecessor, and the outrage it stirs among a public looking to preserve the quality of the environment it has inherited.
CONTACTS: Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 682-9400, http://www.defenders.org; Environmental Defense, (212) 505-2100, http://www.environmentaldefense.org; Natural Resources Defense Council, (212) 727-2700, http://www.nrdc.org; Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 623-5252, http://www.sw-center.org/swcbd.