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The Bush Legacy – A Trashed Environment

By James Donahue

The day will come when citizens of the world will look back on the George W. Bush era and realize that of all the wicked things he did, his worst criminal act will probably be singled out as the trashing of the environment.

It has been a steady series of acts, often by executive order, that has dismantled years of work by environmental groups to get laws passed to put controls on the chemicals and pollutants our industries, farms, cities, automobiles and landfills are spewing into the air, land and water. They have worked hard to protect endangered species, stop the logging of our last great stands of forests, prevent the ravaging of our national parks and reduce the emissions of greenhouse gasses now known to be causing global warming.

Bush rode into office declaring that he did not believe in global warming. Once given his office by Supreme Court action (he was not clearly elected) Bush openly launched an assault on the environment that was so blatant and relentless that news reporters had difficulty keeping up with all of it.

It was clear that Bush was sold out to big business interests that were paying well to have pollution controls eased on coal burning factories, diesel and gas-burning cars, planes, trucks, trains and buses, and to have restricted lands and coastal areas opened for new explorations of oil and gas reserves, and protected forests open to lumbering.

As early as 2003, writer Mark Hertsgaard of the Nation magazine, noted that “every week seems to bring news of a fresh abomination, from making environmental impact assessments in the national forests optional, to excusing the country’s dirtiest power plants from upgrading their pollution controls.”

Hertsgaard said “the temptation in writing a midterm evaluation like this one is to list every anti-environmental action the Bush Administration has taken over the past two years. But that would make for long and tedious reading.”

He wrote that “the irony is that Bush has compiled this odious record without having an environmental policy as such. Instead, his environmental achievements – an ever-lengthening list of regulations relaxed, actions delayed and foxes put in charge of henhouses - have come mainly as a consequence of policies pursued in other fields: economic, military and, above all, energy.”

In spite of cries by environmental groups, and stories like Hertsgaard’s well written analysis of Bush’s destructive acts against the earth, the relentless ravaging continued unabated for the next two years. There was hope that it would be stopped when 2004 presidential elections rolled around, but lo . . . Bush won a second term. And the damage has gotten worse. Much worse.

And while this has been going on in the United States, the European block of nations has been rushing to slow down the rush to runaway global warming that scientists say is already causing extreme weather pattern changes all over the world, and threatens the very future of life itself on the planet if we fail to get it under control.

The world began to breathe easier when American voters overwhelmingly kicked the Republicans out of office this time around, and put a dynamic personality like Barack Obama into that chair. There has since been a long, anxious wait while Obama builds his cabinet and prepares to take office Jan. 20. But we should not expect miracles.

Bush wasn’t just wrecking the environment during his tenure. He also leaves office with two unfinished wars that need to be resolved, a world economy plunging into a possible depression because of a crashed U.S. economic system, a crumbling infrastructure, education and health care systems that demand immediate attention, and other problems so staggering that environmental issues may not appear high on Obama’s agenda.

Yet in his parting shots, Bush has issued a long list of rule changes, most of them aimed directly at allowing loggers, contractors, electric companies, airlines, coal mining companies, and most other forms of business operation to skirt environmental restrictions.

Because he did it 20 days before leaving office, the rules will go into effect before Obama’s Democratic Congress can get into power and take steps to block them. Consequently it is going to take months of actions and public hearings to fix the mess Bush has left for the new administration.

And it all must be fixed.