MAXWELL: Environment is at risk if Bush is elected

11/5/2000 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Most writers, including me, have focused on possible Supreme Court appointments, Roe vs. Wade, tax cuts and health care in the presidential race and have placed the environment in the background.

As a Florida native and a lover of the great outdoors and all of the good things that nature bestows, I am worried. I worry about the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, aggressively exotic flora and fauna in Florida and probable oil drilling off my state’s pristine shores.

I worry about billowing smokestacks in the state of Texas and an oil man’s orientation to the environment.

What ecological ethic would George W. Bush bring to the White House? I am not alone in my worry, but the odd circumstance of the environmental vote in the 2000 presidential election is that Bush may benefit by default. In this race, two candidates, Al Gore and Ralph Nader, offer true environmental records, and it appears they may split the vote.

In other words, the Green Party candidate may help elect the candidate with the darkest environmental record.

In the Lone Star State, according to the Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope, Bush ushered in a so-called “voluntary” approach to clean air. What would make voters think that _ backed by a GOP-controlled Congress _ he would not push for the same approach nationally? After all, Bush has said he opposes enforcing environmental standards against big companies. In Texas, he has let water quality deteriorate to benefit refineries and paper mills. Lake Sam Rayburn is one of the worst examples.

“What if (Bush) eliminates federal financial support for both drinking water and water pollution, as his budget calls for and his record in Texas (46th in spending on drinking water) suggests?” writes Pope.

Like Pope, environmentally knowledgeable African-Americans worry that if a President Bush applies his Lone Star approach of lower standards and lower polluter liability to toxic waste clean-up, black communities nationwide near toxic waste sites will suffer even more than they suffer now.

The Texas governor has promised to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. If a President Bush turns the park over to the oil companies, Pope asks, what will be the fate of the Gwich’in people of the Arctic. Will such exploration destroy and spoil the calving terrain of the Porcupine Caribou herd?

Pope and other environmentalists worry that Bush would attempt to amend the Endangered Species Act and refuse to remove the dams on the Snake River or reduce timber cutting levels in the Pacific Northwest. If a President Bush succeeds, extinction of the endangered salmon, Pope said, would become a “legally acceptable option.” And, as he asks, what will happen to the livelihoods of the region’s fishing families?

Another big concern is the fate of wildlife that depend on the country’s national forests if Bush dismantles many Clinton-Gore reforms.

What, Pope asks, happens if the GOP president reverses the current administration’s roadless area protection effort by restoring the timber industry to the “mastery of the forests and the Forest Service that it enjoyed under his father? If he doubles, or triples, the cut on those forests? What will it mean for millions of people in Bangladesh and other low-lying countries when an American refusal to confront the problem of global warming unleashes the floods and typhoons of a rising ocean upon them?”

Nader’s role is a disturbing one at this point, and Pope and other leading environmentalists are taking him to task. Nader lied to his own followers, who signed petitions that placed his name on the ballot in many states. He promised he would not campaign as a spoiler in the swing states. When he was called to the mat for breaking his word, Nader told Pope in a letter that he is a political candidate who wants to grab every vote he can. He also described environmental leaders as having a “servile mentality” because they oppose his spoiler role.

“Very well _ you admit you are a candidate _ admit that you are, like your opponents, a flawed one,” Pope responded. “Irresponsible as I find your strategy, I accept that you genuinely believe in it. Please accept that I, and the overwhelming majority of the environmental movement in this country, genuinely believe that your strategy is flawed, dangerous and reckless. Until you can answer how you will protect the people and places who will be put in harm’s way or destroyed, by a Bush presidency, you have no right to slander those who disagree with you as “servile.’

“You have called upon us to vote our hopes, not our fears. I find it easy to do so. My hope is that by electing the best environmental president in American history, Al Gore, we can move forward. My fear is that you, blinded by your anger at the flaws of the Clinton-Gore administration, may be instrumental in electing the worst.”

In the opinion of experts such as Carl Pope, the future of our natural treasures and their contributions to human welfare are too important to be sacrificed for Nader’s egomaniacal campaign. The environmental danger _ the fear _ in this election is Bush. Gore is the environmental hope. In a column published in the St. Petersburg Times, Nader writes that the Green’s campaign is “one of principle and idealism.”

Pope’s reply to Nader’s “idealism and principle”? How does he intend to protect “real people and real places” if Bush wins?