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

Bush on the Environment

Air Date: Week of


CURWOOD: The EPA's announcement on the arsenic regulations is the latest in a flurry of actions on the environment by the Bush administration. Most of the moves, so far, are consistent with Mr. Bush's campaign promises and some have drawn criticism. Here to analyze the environmental impact of Mr. Bush's first 60 days in office is Lynn Scarlett, president of the California-based Reason Foundation and a political observer for Living on Earth. Hi, Lynn.

SCARLETT: Hi, Steve.

CURWOOD: Now, at some point you were serving on Bush's environmental policy transition advisory team. I imagine that's just about over now.

SCARLETT: Just about wrapped up, that's right.

CURWOOD: Tell me what happened in these early days on these environmental issues. Let's talk about the roadless initiative that Clinton had put in that the president wants to roll back, and the drilling in ANWR.

SCARLETT: You know, a lot of folks have thought that, perhaps, some of these comments that Bush has made recently about drilling in ANWR or backing away, perhaps, from the roadless initiative, is somehow a big veering back toward a very conservative old-style Republican agenda. But, in fact, we saw roots of these policies back in the campaign. Bush made it very clear in his campaign speeches that he supported drilling of ANWR. That the United States, he thought, needed to develop its energy supplies. The roadless initiative, likewise. This was something that always had been of concern to many conservative Republicans, and there had always been expressed by Bush's campaign folks that, gee, maybe we ought to re-look at that. And then, there was the monuments issue, too, which the Bush campaign had always expressed concern about the top-down fashion that those monuments had been set aside under the Babbitt regime at Interior.

CURWOOD: Let's look now at the carbon dioxide decision. This is something he campaigned on. He said that he was going to include carbon dioxide as a pollutant for power plants, along with things like sulfur dioxide and particulates. But then he abruptly reversed himself. What happened there?

SCARLETT: I think what happened is that Bush began to realize that, perhaps, particularly in the context of an economy that's slowing down and the energy problems that the nation seems to be increasingly facing, that, gee, maybe it was premature to go on an aggressive strategy that would implicate or affect energy and electricity supply. You know, a couple things came to light. One was an Energy Department report that suggested that a multi-pollutant strategy that regulated carbon dioxide would actually be quite a bit more costly than they had originally anticipated. I think that really was kind of a wake-up call to President Bush to say, gee, let's take a deep breath here and not completely ignore this issue or not step away from it forever, but let's take a pause and see whether this is really the right approach or not.

CURWOOD: A pause. So, where do you think things will be going in the future?

SCARLETT: You know, it's really hard to say. I think that this presidency would like to find an approach that would be more incentive-focused, perhaps would inspire the development of cleaner technologies, perhaps inspire energy efficiency, but do so without kind of rates and dates regulatory approach. But again, I think we don't know, because frankly, we had him first expressing a desire to, perhaps, go a multi-pollutant strategy, but then a kind of reversal. And I don't think we know where, exactly, the presidency will go in the future.

CURWOOD: Now, one of the people who was out there in the reversal, of course, was Christine Todd Whitman, who went to the climate change negotiation informal session for that, but representing the U.S. government, said "Hey, we're going to do this." And now she looks pretty bad. What will happen with her? She's lost some authority, one would think.

SCARLETT: I think in the near-term, this, of course, has been very difficult for Christie Todd Whitman. She obviously was out there on the front line talking about the multi-pollutant strategy, and so she's the one that looks a little bit like she was out ahead of the game. And yet, all of the things she were saying were rooted in campaign documents. What she's going to need to do, in my view, is in the whole array of other environmental issues that are out there, I think she's going to need to target a few top visibility issues -- mercury, something -- and set a fairly aggressive agenda, and get the backing of the White House, so that she can regain some of her environmental authority at the agency and externally.

CURWOOD: Now, what about Gail Norton? Environmental activists really pounded on her during the confirmation hearings. How is she doing? What's she been talking about?

SCARLETT: It's funny. A lot of the media continue to just hammer on her statements about ANWR, that is the drilling up in the Arctic area. But when you listen to what Gail's saying, her real message is really quite different. I was at an event in Washington last week, and the main theme she spoke of was, gee, how can we bring farmers, environmentalists, ranchers, Native Americans, all together to the table to address things like grazing problems, species protection? She gave an example of the Aplomado falcon and an experiment that had gone on in Texas, in which ranchers worked with environmentalists, with the state agents, in a kind of incentive-based program to work to preserve the Aplomado falcon. I think this is where Gail's heart lies. And yet, oddly enough, people are sort of not paying attention to that central message that she's putting out.

CURWOOD: Let's look ahead. What do you hope to see out of the Bush administration on the environment? What do you expect to see?

SCARLETT: You know, I don't think this is going to be a reg relief Rollback, peelback, early 90s agenda. I think what we're going to see instead is some of this flexibility, some of this attempt to work with local folks using incentives, using cooperative decision making. I would hope that what we would see is an agenda that moves towards a performance-focus, for example. In my greatest dreams I'd like to see national performance indicators developed, so that we can take the pulse of environmental performance at the national level. I'd also like to see a move toward much more flexible approaches. I mean, after all, a lot of knowledge resides out there on the farms and in the factories, and you need to tap into that knowledge. I'd like to see that happen. I'm not sure that it will.

CURWOOD: Lynn Scarlett is president of the Reason Foundation and a commentator for Living on Earth. Always a pleasure, Lynn.

SCARLETT: Thanks, Steve.

(Music up and under: James, "Watering Hole")

CURWOOD: Coming up: The Small Business Administration comes under fire for financing sprawl. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now, this health update with Diane Toomey.



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