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A top environmental advisor to President Bush who has come under fire from liberals defended Administration policy at a speech in the Science Center last night.
Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality James Connaughton presented an optimistic picture of the world’s environmental condition and said successes have been distorted and misunderstood by the public.
Connaughton said that two prevailing views, that we “will end by destroying the earth” and that “everything will keep getting better” are false.
“These two beliefs show a fictional dichotomy in opinion and public discourse” said Connaughton. “The reality is far different. In fact, it is a balance between the two.”
Connaughton went on to speak about the 1969 National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), which he said continues to provide the basis for policy making.
“There has been an enormous foundation of practices, tools and work that has grown up in the 30 years since NEPA,” Connaughton said.
“It has been truly revolutionary,” he said.
Connaughton said the success of NEPA, coupled with a fresh and realistic perspective on the environment prove that there is hope where many believe none to exist.
“There are a finite number of environmental issues that we have to tackle,” said Connaughton.
“We need only to focus on identifying the problems, tackling them and then solving them,” he said.
But Connaughton said that good environmental policy must allow for progress as well.
“In order to attain our goals, we need to be practical, we need a strong and growing economy,” Connaughton said.
“Progress costs money. We can only do it through growth,” he said.
Connaughton emphasized the need for cooperation between the public and private spheres.
“Advancement in technology needs investment,” said Connaughton. “This has to be a collective private and public commitment.”
Connaughton promoted the Bush Administration’s environmental program, calling proposed “Clear Skies” legislation, “by far the most ambitious presidential proposal to cut air pollution ever to come along.”
Connaughton said the plan would cut pollution from power plants by 70 percent.
While Connaughton pitched his perspective as an optimistic one, some environmentalists have taken a dimmer view.
Connaughton and his council have drawn criticism for changes they have made to NEPA—its author, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., called it a “concerted attack” on the law.
About 30 people attended the event last night, most saying they came to hear about environmental policy from a leading public figure.
“I came because I was interested to hear from the Bush Administration’s number one guy on the environment,” said Graduate School of Arts and Sciences student Casey L. Brown. “It was informative, but I thought he glossed over a lot of issues.”
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