Bush-Cheney: A Mean Kind of Green

t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Tuesday 10 August 2004

Bush-Cheney: A Mean Kind of Green
By Kelpie Wilson

Now that the Democrats have officially nominated the Kerry-Edwards ticket, and the two have pledged to make environmental issues a key part of their campaign, the Republicans will have to respond.

Republican strategist Frank Luntz sent a memo earlier this year to congressional Republicans warning that they are vulnerable on the environment. The leaked memo revealed the plan: deny, deny, deny that the environment is deteriorating and insist that things are only getting better.

Bush-Cheney have already begun to roll out campaign season gimmicks meant to paint a green sheen on the team, but it doesn't take much to see right through the surface of these announcements to the nothingness underneath. Here are some examples from the last few weeks:

Making headlines in all the major news media was the announcement that EPA was considering lawsuits against 22 power plants under the "new source review" regulation that requires operators to install the best pollution control technology on new or upgraded plants. What the administration did not reveal was that they have been delaying this enforcement action for years and that the Justice Department does not have the funding to bring the cases anyway. No lawsuits will be filed. It was all just election year talk.

Closely following the bogus enforcement announcement was the news that EPA had awarded a record $30 million research grant to the University of Washington to study the effects of air pollution on cardiovascular health. But the administration failed to explain why the study is needed.

Only a month previously the American Heart Association published the results of its study that concluded that the link between air pollution and heart disease is unambiguous. In order to appear to be doing something about the problem, the Bush administration has decided to study it to death. As a side benefit, the study will use up funds that could have been spent on enforcement.

Sharing is seen as a nice thing, especially in an election year, and so the administration announced the Bush plan for sharing methane-recovery technology with poor countries. This technology is routinely used in the U.S. to recover methane gas from landfills that is then used to fuel power plants. Bush said the goals of the program are to "increase energy security, improve environmental quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

But sharing means something different to the Bush administration than it does to you and me. The Bush plan is to give a $53 million subsidy to U.S. corporations to develop methane recovery technology that they can then sell to poor countries. The only "sharing" here is U.S. taxpayers once again sharing their hard-earned money with corporations.

The Bush strategists are masters of the shell game, and their proposal last week to change the rules for selling public land is a fine example of their art. The current rules allow the Bureau of Land Management to sell land near cities and use the proceeds to purchase more ecologically valuable lands for protection. The new rules would allow the BLM to keep 20% of the proceeds to fund their programs.

The administration is promoting this as a green initiative to provide more money for the BLM's conservation programs, but the reality is that it would create a huge incentive for the chronically under funded agency to sell-off public land. The proposal is sure to please those right-wing ideologues who believe that even the National Parks would be better off if privatized, while generating a green smoke screen as cover.

Cheney paid a visit to my swing state home last week, speaking to a crowd of 3,000 at the county fairgrounds in Medford, Oregon. There he made sure to get in plenty of "big hair" taunts aimed at Edwards and tout the centerpiece of the administration's environmental "accomplishments": the Healthy Forests Initiative.

The heart of the Healthy Forests Initiative is a slew of regulatory changes designed to open the way for more logging. The administration deftly used the fear of wildfire to force acceptance of the changes which reduce or eliminate public input into forest management decisions.

The parallels with Iraq are irresistible. Way out in the forest, trees of mass destruction are just waiting to burst into flames and bring conflagration down on our communities. Except that all the sensible people agree that the greatest danger is the small diameter re-growth that crowds in around houses and towns.

Real homeland security can only be provided by thinning those small, densely packed trees. But the timber industry is not interested. They have their sights set on the big trees in the backcountry. It will cost money to protect these homes and towns near the forests, and just like Homeland Security, there is not enough money to do the job.

Congress passed the Healthy Forests Act last year authorizing $760 million for fuel reduction, and Bush claims to have fully funded it in the 2005 budget, but the reality is different:

"The President has used the same creative accounting tactics as Enron and WorldCom to make it appear as though he is fully funding the Healthy Forests Act," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) in a written statement about the budget. "In truth, his budget steals from other Forest Service programs to fund thinning projects and ultimately leaves the agency unprepared to fight forest fires and do the fuels reduction work that will create jobs and begin to return our forests to their natural state."

The hyping of these mean, measly, fake green initiatives stands in stark contrast to the standard Bush modus operandi around environmental issues. The Bush administration record on the environment consists almost entirely of a series of rollbacks of popular environmental protections for air, water, wildlife, parks and forests. In almost every case, these rollbacks were announced to the public on Fridays, ensuring that they would miss the major news cycles and most people would simply never hear about them.

While the Bush team may not know beans about forests, they understand the American political ecosystem all too well. They know that the news media thinks with a reptile brain. They can propose the most outlandishly brown initiatives, and as long as they attach even the tiniest sparkly green lure, reporters will bite on it and swallow the hook.

This state of affairs is only possible because the American public's concern level for the environment is still fairly low. Polls routinely rate environmental concerns below the economy, terror, war, education, health care and crime. However, when asked what their concerns for the future are, people rank the environment as number one or two.

Despite all the green smoke and mirrors promoted by Republicans and the corporate establishment, people know that an environmental day of reckoning is due. What the Democrats need to do is start preparing us for the realization that that day is now. With climate change accelerating, oceans dying and fossil fuels running out, we don't have a lot of time to turn things around.

Environmental concerns have the huge disadvantage of being technically complex and sound-bite unfriendly. What we need more than anything else right now is leaders who will tell us the truth about the sorry state of our environment and help educate us by connecting the dots.

Kerry's campaign plank linking renewable energy development with energy independence and national security is an example of the kind of leadership we need. I hope it is not an isolated example but the beginning of a new era of honesty and courage in American politics. Our very survival depends on it.

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Kelpie Wilson is the t r u t h o u t environment editor. A veteran forest protection
activist and mechanical engineer, she writes from her solar-powered cabin in
the Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon.

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