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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bush & The Environment

Air Date: Week of

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TOOMEY: Regardless of the views held by his Cabinet members, it's George W. Bush who in the end will be held responsible for his administration's environmental policy. For some insight into what we can expect from the new president, as well as the new Congress, we are joined by Republican Senator and chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Bob Smith of New Hampshire. Thanks for joining us, Senator.

SMITH: Thanks for having me, Diane. I'm glad to be here.

TOOMEY: Also joining us is Lynn Scarlett, director of the Los Angeles-based think tank the Reason Foundation. Hello, Lynn.

SCARLETT: Hi, Diane. Good to be with you.

TOOMEY: Lynn, you've worked as one of the environmental advisors to Governor Bush, as a private consultant, not as a representative of the Reason Foundation. What do you think will be at the top of his environmental agenda after he takes office?

SCARLETT: I think that Governor Bush, environment was not at the top of his issues, but I think to the degree he focuses on the environment he is going to look to the states. I think he's going to want to perhaps fund the states for the land and water conservation fund, try to get those appropriations through to the states so that they can actually invest in some land conservation. I think he's going to try and rev up or work with the states to further do some of the innovative, more incentive-based and performance-focused approaches that they've been working on. But I think we're going to see a kind of iterative, low-key, evolutionary kind of environmental policy coming out of President Bush.

TOOMEY: Well, environmentalists might say low-key means benign neglect.

SCARLETT: No, I don't think we'll see benign neglect. What I think we'll see is an understanding that particularly with this tight election, and in any event, with the deep divisions that have separated industry and environment and Democrats and Republicans on environmental issues, that what is needed is kind of an olive branch, a coming together, attempts at some kind of convergence. And what that means, probably initially, is taking some small baby steps. That doesn't mean neglect. It means understanding that we have an environmental regulatory infrastructure in place. It is not likely to be dismantled. The American public doesn't want it to be dismantled. But it does need some fine-tuning, that under the current system there is a tendency to focus on punishment rather than inspiration and inspiring private stewards. There's a tendency to prescribe outcomes rather that inspire innovation. And I think that you'll see Governor Bush as president trying to nurture innovation and incentives, so that we have a nation of private stewards. But that means using the existing infrastructure and then taking baby steps forward to make it a little more resilient and dynamic.

TOOMEY: Senator Smith, what are some of the environmental priorities for Republicans in Congress this session?

SMITH: As the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I really look forward to working with the Bush administration on these things. I think the Clean Air issue is one. You know, we think in terms of environmental legislation, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund Act. I mean, these are smokestacks. We need to cooperate. We need to have interrelations. You know, we need to interrelate these, to connect these smokestacks and have an environmental policy that works.

TOOMEY: Where are the environmental issues that Republicans and Democrats can manage to muster a bipartisan spirit over?

SMITH: Well, we did it on the Everglades. Governor Jeb Bush, as well as Vice President Gore, as well as Governor George Bush, myself in the Senate, Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana is the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. We passed that Everglades bill on a vote of 85 to one in the Senate, and it passed overwhelmingly in the House. And so that was a big bipartisan victory. Even Bruce Babbitt called it one of the major environmental laws of the last 40 or 50 years. So I think we proved we can do that and I think that we can work together on these issues. I think this is one area where we can get some bipartisan cooperation.

TOOMEY: Lynn, what's your take on the ability of people to reach across the aisle on environmental issues?

SCARLETT: You know, I think there's enormous potential there. It hasn't really happened to the degree that it should or could. But if you go out and look at the various think tanks, Democrat side, Republican side, if you look at what various Congresspersons, Senators and in the House are saying, there are a lot of common themes. Specifically, tremendous interest in turning our attention towards a performance focus. You know, for 20 years we've decided that environmental performance was measured by seeing how many enforcement actions we did, rather than saying gee, by golly, is the air cleaner, is the water cleaner, how are the manatee doing in the Everglades? There's a big focus and interest in developing better performance indicators. I think one could move forward on that so that the nation as a whole has a better sense of our report card, how are we doing.

TOOMEY: The Clinton administration has made some recent environmental pronouncements. One big one was the roadless initiative, where almost a third of the national forest system, I believe it's some 60 million acres, will be closed to new logging roads and almost entirely closed to logging. The timber industry has said the plan spells out bad management for federal land and economic harm to its industry. What might President Bush's response be to this plan? Would he try to overturn it?

SMITH: Well, I think Governor Bush and President Bush would be in total agreement with me on that, that these decisions are best made by the local people, by the forest management plans. There's a very specific layout of how that's done, who's involved in the decision making, from foresters to local community groups, and the various government agencies. So I'm perfectly happy with that. I don't think we need to have the president of the United States with some Executive Order issue a roadless initiative that said we can never cut a tree in a national forest.

TOOMEY: Lynn, you mentioned the national monuments. I believe President Clinton has designated about a dozen of them by law. He did that without Congressional approval. He can do that by law. There's been talk, though, that a Bush administration might revisit those designations. What's your take on that?

SCARLETT: You know, I don't know whether he actually would revisit the ones that have already been undertaken, simply because there tends to be a momentum once a decision is made. But I don't think we'll see President Bush using that national monuments legislation in the way that President Clinton did to kind of autonomously and unilaterally set aside lands.

TOOMEY: Ralph Nader has said that a Bush presidency will galvanize the environmental community as never before. For instance, he says the Sierra Club doubled its membership under James Watt, who was the Secretary of the Interior under President Reagan for a time. What's your response to that statement?

SMITH: You know, I've been on the earth a few years, Diane. I haven't found anybody yet that likes to drink dirty water, likes to breathe dirty air, or likes to sit around the toxic waste dumps and see that they don't get cleaned up. These same environmental groups, and I'm not here to criticize them, but they said the same thing about me, that I was going to be the worst thing that ever happened since, you know, to the environment, in the history of mankind. And yet, I was able to shepherd an Everglades restoration bill through the Congress. I passed a beach restoration bill. We passed an estuary preservation bill, and on and on. So I think, you know, watch what we do and you know, judge us on the basis of what we do, not on what some preconceived notion is.

TOOMEY: Senator Bob Smith is chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. Thanks for joining us today, Senator.

SMITH: Thanks for having me. I'm delighted to have been with you.

TOOMEY: Lynn Scarlett is the director of The Reason Foundation. Lynn, thank you for your time.

SCARLETT: Thank you. It's been fun.

TOOMEY: A new hope for a murky problem: Lake Tahoe is getting millions of dollars to help restore its clarity. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now, this environmental health update with Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.

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