The old game show, "To Tell The Truth," in which the contestants all claimed to be the same person in an attempt to stump the celebrity panelists, ended with the query, "Would the real so-and-so please stand up?" But when it comes to the interlocking environmental and energy policies in George W. Bush's young presidency, we must ask, "Would the real President Bush please stand up?"
As of late, we have seen a "greener" President Bush, who recently pledged to save us from a future "world of polluted air, toxic waste and vanished forests."
Consider Mr. Bush's recent claim that campaign promises to cut carbon dioxide emissions were merely the result of "bad speechwriters," or recent administration backtracking on the Kyoto treaty, which would mandate a reduction in gasses causing global warming. Such gasses are a byproduct of fossil fuel burning power plants.
The President's rhetoric built on earlier suggestions that the administration would provide leadership on air pollution. But Mr. Bush has already announced that CO2 -- a major greenhouse culprit -- will not be a part of his multi-pollutant policy, and Vice President Cheney has stated his intent to curtail the 1990 Clean Air Act limits on emissions from older, dirtier power plants. Such a policy rewards polluters and punishes responsible corporate citizens that have sought to protect our air, by reducing the cost-effectiveness of environmentally friendly business decisions.
What of President Bush's approach to our increasingly fragile water resources, and the toxins that threaten them? In a stunning series of reversals, the federal Environmental Protection Agency first abandoned the Clinton drinking water standards for arsenic, leaving in place standards based on 1947 science. The EPA claimed the new standards were based on a "hurried" cancer study, but within days of yet another study showing arsenic to have profound negative health effects, the administration suggested that stringent arsenic rules might soon follow an "expedited" review. We can only hope that the administration's new rules will eventually equal New Jersey's current arsenic regulations.
Meanwhile, all U.S. water research programs that track toxins, study groundwater depletion and assess water purity are being gutted by up to 70 percent, and all U.S. Water Research Institutes, including New Jersey's Rutgers Institute, are slated for elimination. Despite the water-friendly rhetoric we hear, our water quality programs are being sacrificed in the name of the President's massive tax cuts, and the administration is eliminating the scientific data needed to make critical water resource decisions.
We in the Garden State treasure the Jersey Shore, but I suggest putting aside your share of that tax cut (unless you are part of the 30 percent of tax paying Americans who won't get back a penny under his plan) to pay for huge new access fees and other local or state taxes we may see to cover new budget shortfalls. Why? Declaring storm damage and beach erosion to be "primarily local issues," the Bush budget slashes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and reduces the federal share for shore replenishment from 65 percent to 35 percent, an interesting approach, considering the increasingly heavy storms we face as our climate warms.
Even our dwindling open spaces are not immune to the disconnect between the President's rhetoric and proposed action. Despite Mr. Bush's soothing promise to protect our "vanishing forests," the Vice President proposes giving to power producers the authority to commandeer public and private land for construction of new power lines. This is especially ironic coming from Dick Cheney, a proud Wyoming native who has always championed private landowners' rights.
What about energy conservation? What about research into renewables such as solar, fuel cell and other alternative energy sources? The scientific consensus says conservation and renewable energy sources are vital components of a comprehensive long-term policy to wean us from dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil. Even the Energy Department reports that government-led conservation programs can cut energy consumption growth nearly in half, helping us avoid more drilling and pipeline construction on pristine lands.
But here again, the President's comforting rhetoric on reducing air pollution, and Mr. Cheney's promises to promote technology development, are in glaring contrast to the administration's proposed emphasis on fossil fuel production and new pipelines. These policies ignore the air pollution caused by non-renewable fossil fuels and the continuing dangers of pipeline accidents. The Bush budget also disparages research and development of new, environmentally sound technologies, proposing 40 percent cuts in R&D on renewable resources. The budget abandons long-term energy needs while promoting policies that increase our dependence on oil.
Okay, the show is over and it's time for the real President Bush to stand up.
Unfortunately, by the looks of his synergistic energy and environmental initiatives, it seems the President is standing up for his big oil buddies and energy industry campaign contributors, not for everyday Americans who simply want clean air to breath and water to drink.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, represents the 8th Congressional District.