President Bush's roll of shame on the environment

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The Independent Online

The approaching presidential election is doing nothing to improve the dreadful environmental record of the Bush administration

The approaching presidential election is doing nothing to improve the dreadful environmental record of the Bush administration. To the roll of shame that includes rejection of the Kyoto global warming treaty, demands to open up an Arctic wildlife wilderness to oil drilling, and sundry depredations of the existing Clean Air Act, we must now add the latest proposals to open up swathes of virgin land to the tender mercies of Mr Bush's friends in the logging industry.

The plan, which would overturn restrictions imposed by President Clinton, affects more than 60 million acres of roadless territory in a dozen western states and Alaska, an area larger than England, Scotland and Wales combined.

Like most other stealth assaults by this administration on the environment, at first glance it appears reasonable enough. Ostensibly, the proposals deal not with logging per se, but with the issue of whether roads can be built through national forests. Now devolution is a "good thing", is it not? So why not let individual states decide how land is used, rather than the federal government, in a "one-size-fits-all" policy imposed by Washington? After all, those most affected by the fate of the forests will be the states themselves and their citizens.

The reality, of course, is rather different. Where roads go, the timber companies will follow. State legislators, concerned with jobs and economic development, are far more likely to yield to the blandishments of these latter than Congress and the federal government in distant Washington. Out west, moreover, state administrations tend to be Republican. It is unlikely they will be rushing to Washington to petition the federal government to keep the roads and the loggers out, as the scheme theoretically allows them to do.

Small wonder then that environmental groups are outraged. There is, however, a simple solution. Over the years, polls have shown that a clear majority of Americans believe that protection of the environment should take priority over economic growth. It is to be hoped that they will seize their opportunity at the ballot box this November to make sure that Mr Bush is no longer in a position to ride roughshod over their views.

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