BELIEVING that politicians will keep their campaign promises has always required a certain naivete. Only savvy Washington-watchers know how to distinguish the various varieties of campaign promises, how to draw the line between mere half-truth and actual lies. And only the most green of Beltway newcomers would maintain that full candor is a part of the campaign.
So why make a fuss when politicians fail to make good on their pledges? Most of the time at least some small part of what the campaigner says will find its way into policy decisions.
But in the case of George Bush and his "Ich bin ein Environmentalist" campaign rhetoric, the winning candidate has compiled a perfect record--he has broken every single campaign promise concerning environmental protection.
.Air pollution. More than 150 million Americans live in areas which fall below federal clean air standards, and the American Lung Association estimates that more than 100,000 people in this country die each year from dry sulfate air poisoning alone. President Bush introduced a new clean air bill last year to combat this problem; during the campaign he spoke of individuals' "right" to breathe clean air. But now Bush is threatening to veto this very bill, the first of its kind since 1977, because Congressional Democrats had the nerve to attach real enforcement mechanisms to Bush's platitudes.
.Acid rain. A Harvard study last March found that some rain over Boston reaches the acidity of battery acid. Sixty thousand lakes in North America are threatened. President Bush stated in a campaign speech that "the time for action on clean air and acid rain is now." The Clean Air Act of 1990 would do something about this problem (the 1977 act did not), but the President says he may veto it.
.Oil spills. The Exxon Valdez dumped 11 million gallons of oil on one of the most environmentally pristine areas left in North America. While on the campaign trail, Bush called for "immediate" steps "to protect our oceans." Yet he has not disavowed his support of oil drilling in untouched parts of Prince William Sound. Finally, oil lobbyists are pressuring Bush to authorize drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Preserve, despite reports that indicate only a 19 percent chance of finding any oil there.
.Global warming. Every respected scientist in the nation agrees that global warming is a real phenomenon. Specialists argue over the amount of warming, but no one contends that the greenhouse effect is a hoax--no one, that is, except America's leading armchair environmentalist, White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu.
President Bush himself talked during the campaign of countering the greenhouse effect with a "White House effect." He promised to convene personally an international conference on global warming at the White House. He reneged on these pledges; when Europeans actually held a conference in the Netherlands, Bush specifically instructed the U.S. delegate not to agree to any restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions.
And at the Houston economic summit in August, Bush avoided the global warming issue by arguing that it did not exist! That's what opponents of the 1977 Clean Air Act said about acid rain.
DESPITE his poor record thus far, Bush still has an opportunity to atone for his "crimes against nature." At the very least, he should work to reverse America's dependence on oil imports by backing the recent fuel efficiency bills in Congress which are part of the clean air package. These laws would raise average mileage to 40 miles per gallon, a technologically simple and inexpensive measure (many cars already get better gas mileage). With the use of airbags and the spread of seatbelt laws, fuel-efficient cars do not have to be unsafe cars.
With all of his campaign blustering on environmental preservation, one would think that Bush should have done something right, if only by accident. No such luck. Bush correctly voices concerns about the effects of environmental protection on business. But striking a balance between environment and efficiency is different from ignoring the environment altogether.
Conservatives are huffing and puffing and threatening to blow the House down over Bush's flip-flop on "no new taxes". A similar outcry over his environmental duplicity is well-overdue.
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