Fouling Our Own Nest
July 4, 2002
By BOB HERBERT
Do you remember the character Pig-Pen in the "Peanuts"
cartoons? He was always covered with dirt and grime.
He was cute, but he was a walking sludge heap, filthy and proud of it. He once told Charlie Brown, "I have affixed to
me the dirt and dust of countless ages. Who am I to disturb
For me, Pig-Pen's attitude embodies President
approach to the environment. We've been trashing, soiling,
even destroying the wonders of nature for countless
Why stop now? Who is Mr. Bush to step in and curb this
venerable orgy of pollution, this grand tradition of
our own nest?
Oh, the skies may once have been clear and the waters
sparkling and clean. But you can't have that
too. Can you?
This week we learned that the Bush administration plans to
cut funding for the cleanup
of 33 toxic waste sites in 18
states. As The Times's Katharine Seelye reported, this
means "that work is likely to grind
to a halt on some of
the most seriously polluted sites in the country."
The cuts were ordered because the Superfund
cleanup program is running out of money. Rather than
showing the leadership necessary to replenish the fund,
president plans to reduce its payouts by cleaning up fewer
sites. Pig-Pen would have been proud.
not a minor matter. The sites targeted by the
Superfund program are horribly polluted, in many cases with
substances. Millions of Americans live
within a few miles of these sites.
The Superfund decision is the kind of
we've come to expect from the Bush administration. Mother
Nature has been known to tremble at the
sound of the
president's approaching footsteps. He's an environmental
In February a top enforcement
official at the Environmental
Protection Agency, Eric Schaeffer, quit because of Bush
administration policies that he
said undermined the
agency's efforts to crack down on industrial polluters. Mr.
Schaeffer said he felt he was "fighting
a White House that
seems determined to weaken the rules we are trying to
That, of course, is exactly
what this White House is doing.
Within weeks of Mr. Schaeffer's resignation came official
word that the administration
was relaxing the air quality
regulations that applied to older coal-fired power plants,
a step backward that delighted
During this same period, the president broke his campaign
promise to regulate
the industrial emissions of carbon
dioxide, a move that, among other things, would have helped
in the fight to slow
the increase in global warming. Mr.
Bush has also turned his back on the Kyoto Protocol, which
would require industrial
nations to reduce their emissions
of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
The president was even disdainful
of his own
administration's report on global warming, which
acknowledged that the U.S. would experience far-reaching
in some cases, devastating environmental consequences as a result of the climate change.
president's views on global warming seem aligned with
those of the muddle-headed conservative groups in Texas
been forcing rewrites in textbooks to fit their
political and spiritual agendas. In one environmental
the following was added:
"In the past, the earth has been much warmer than it is
now, and fossils of sea creatures
show us that the sea
level was much higher than it is today. So does it really
matter if the world gets warmer?"
Joseph Lieberman, not exactly a left-winger on the
environment or anything else, gave a speech in California
in which he assailed the president's lack of
leadership on global warming and other environmental
issues. He characterized
the president's energy policy as
"mired in crude oil" and said Mr. Bush had been "AWOL in
the war against environmental
Several states, fed up with Mr. Bush's capitulation to
industry on these matters, have moved on their
protect the environment and develop more progressive energy policies.
Simply stated, the president has behaved
toward the environment and shows no sign of changing his
ways. You could laugh at Pig-Pen. He was just
a comic strip
character. But Mr. Bush is no joke. His trashing of the
environment is a deadly serious matter.