President Bush's report card on the environment gets a gentleman's "C." It's better than critics are willing to admit but worse than most previous Presidents, Republican and Democrat alike. As the 2004 Presidential election heats up, so does the partisan rhetoric over environmental policy. Let's deconstruct the Bush Administration's environmental policies. There are some pluses and many minuses.
The White House gets credit for backing tougher standards for diesel engines and for developing a plan to clean up the PCBs in the Hudson River. It is also making it easier to redevelop contaminated urban "brownfield" sites. President Bush should also get credit for extending the market approach of the 1990 Clean Air Act. It set caps on acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide and allowed companies to trade the rights to emit SO2. Now the Administration wants to use the approach to cut nitrogen oxides and mercury, as well as SO2 further. The caps set could be lower, but the approach gets an "A."
The Administration gets a low grade, however, in protecting the nation's water. It has a proposal that excludes many streams and wetlands from the Clean Water Act. Even Republican supporters such as the hunters' group Ducks Unlimited fear that it could destroy crucial habitat.
The Administration also gets poor grades on public land use. It is lifting protections on federal lands to open them up to more drilling, mining, and logging. Certainly the nation needs more energy production. But nearly all public lands are already open to development. Much of the nation's beef, lumber, and oil comes from public lands. There are a few pristine places left in the U.S. for backpackers, hunters, and eco-tourists. These wild and beautiful places are threatened.
Finally, the Administration fails on global warming. Rejecting the Kyoto Protocol on its merits made sense. But failing to follow up with a credible alternative, as promised, gives the White House an "F." The U.S. has good market policies that could work. It needs to show global leadership on the issue.
Final grades on the environment for this Administration don't come due until November, 2004. President Bush still has time to improve.