Mr. President, Use your
Bully Pulpit: Bush is Right on Environmental Issues, But Fails
to Say So
by Tom Randall
The July 27 U.S. House of Representatives vote to arbitrarily set a limit of ten parts per billion for arsenic in drinking water provided yet another example of the Bush Administration's stunning inability to articulate positive environmental messages, even when its policies are quite sound.
The measure, introduced by Representative David Bonior (D-MI), mandating a 10 ppb limit for arsenic in drinking water by the year 20061 passed with 19 Republicans voting for it and another 18 not voting at all. Enough Republicans defected to have handily defeated the misguided amendment, had the President's own party stuck with him.
But they abandoned him, voting for this arbitrary standard just months before an Administration-ordered deadline for the National Academy of Science to recommend new allowable arsenic levels. To a large extent, according to Capitol Hill sources, these errant Republicans bowed to pressure from environmental groups that grossly distorted President George W. Bush's actions in an extensive, nationwide campaign waged while the President and his staff remained virtually silent on the subject.
The campaign by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and others alleged that President Bush was planning to allow more arsenic in drinking water, "as much as twice as much as doctors, scientists and health organizations say is safe."
Scary. But not true.
However, in the absence of a coherent, effective message from the White House, it was enough to rouse fears in constituents who, in turn, called and wrote their representatives protesting what they had been told were the Administration's actions.
The President could have, and should have, easily explained his plan to the American people, giving them reason to support their representatives in defeating a law that is based on fear, not science or reason. The American people needed and deserved to be told these facts by the President.
In the last hours of the Clinton Administration, then-President Bill Clinton approved a new regulation reducing the allowable arsenic in drinking water from 50 ppb to 10 ppb by 2006. President Bush still wants the new standards to go into effect by 2006. He simply asked the National Academy of Science to recommend what the new standards should be - something the Clinton Administration did not do - and report to him this fall.2
Bush's action would allow municipalities to save tax money if the 10 ppb standard should prove needlessly low or better protect water users should that standard be found to be too high.3
However, on environmental issues, it seems this Administration has turned what former President Teddy Roosevelt called the "bully pulpit" into a communications black hole. Everything goes in, but nothing ever comes out.
If that continues to be the case, there are sure to be more environmental defeats in President Bush's future. So-called environmental groups are well organized and well funded - up to $3.5 billion annually by some estimates - and are so political, they often end up being wrong on environmental issues. It will take a presidential bully pulpit to bring a voice of reason to environmental debates on many key issues.
The Administration's actions are right on global warming. It would be foolhardy to pursue exceedingly expensive actions to stop global warming which, many scientists believe, is a non-problem or, at the very least, one not caused by mankind. But, without the President's voice, there are many in Congress pressing for economy-crippling controls on carbon dioxide.
The President is right to revisit the Clinton Administration's ban on road building in 60 million acres of national forests. According to forestry experts, roads are important to sound forest management, which is important for the environment.4 Continued presidential silence will harm the forests.
Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,5 the outer continental shelf, the Gulf of Mexico, the inter-mountain west and the shores of Lake Michigan can be done in environmentally-friendly ways. But, without the President explaining the issue to the people, these options are in danger of being taken off the table. The price of inaction is higher energy costs and an ever-increasing reliance on foreign sources of oil.
The Administration could take many other badly needed actions.
It could resist higher Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for passenger vehicles: Standards which are being pushed by environ-mental groups, but which have the perverse effect of making cars more dangerous, resulting in more highway injuries and deaths.6 It could also advance exciting new nuclear energy technologies that use spent nuclear waste as fuel, providing more energy to consumers at a lower cost in an environmentally safe manner. It could seek modifications to the Endangered Species Act, a law that now endangers the livelihoods of thousands of family farmers and ranchers7 and takes away the right of many Americans to use their own property.8 It could ban the use of oxygenates in gasoline-additives that do nothing to improve air quality but do result in higher prices, shortages and water pollution.9
The Administration could take a host of such badly needed actions
to improve people's lives and better protect the environment at
the same time... but only if the President finds his way to the
1 Tom Randall, "New Legislation Would
End Study of Safe Arsenic Levels for Drinking Water, Put Millions
at Risk," Ten Second Response #72701, The National Center
for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, July 27, 2001, available
2 Tom Randall, "Campaign to Save Our Environment Plays Fast and Loose with the Truth on Arsenic," National Policy Analysis #343, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, July, 2001, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA343.html.
3 Randall, "New Legislation Would End Study of Safe Arsenic Levels for Drinking Water, Put Millions at Risk."
4 Gretchen Randall and Tom Randall, "Forest Roadless Rule Delayed 60 Days," Ten Second Response #51101b, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, May, 11, 2001, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/TSR51101b.html.
5 Gretchen Randall, "Environmental Groups Target Congress on Bush Energy Plan/ANWR," Ten Second Response #73001, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, July 30, 2001, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/TSR73001.html; John Carlisle, "Environmentalists' Opposition to Oil Exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is Unfounded," National Policy Analysis #324, January 2001, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA324.html; Amy Ridenour, "Government Energy Policy Errors Contribute to High Gasoline Prices," National Policy Analysis #283, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, March 2000, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA283.html.
6 Gretchen Randall, "National Academy of Sciences Issues Final Report on Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards," Ten Second Response #73101b, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, July 31, 2001, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/TSR73101b.html; Pearse Frazier, "CAFE Standards Increase Would be a Lose-Lose Proposition for People and the Environment," Ten Second Response #72501, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, July 25, 2001, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/TSR72501.html; David Ridenour, "Raising Sports Utility Vehicle Standards Would Kill Americans," National Policy Analysis #256, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, July 1999, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA256.html.
7 Gretchen Randall, "In the Klamath Basin, Farmers and Ranchers are Becoming the Real Endangered Species," National Policy Analysis #345, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, July 2001, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA345.html.
8 Directory of Environmental and Regulatory Victims, 2000 edition, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/VictimDirectory00.html.
9 Syd Gernstein, "Gasoline Additives Fuel High Prices and Environmental Problems," National Policy Analysis #302, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, July 2000, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA302.html; Syd Gernstein, "Clean Air Regulations Harmful to Minority Economic Gains," National Policy Analysis #303, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, August 2000, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA303.html.
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Tom Randall is director of the John P. McGovern, MD Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs of The National Center for public Policy Research. Comments may be sent to email@example.com.