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Fouling Our Own Nest
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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
history?"

For me, Pig-Pen's attitude embodies President Bush's
approach to the environment. We've been trashing, soiling,
even destroying the wonders of nature for countless ages.
Why stop now? Who is Mr. Bush to step in and curb this
venerable orgy of pollution, this grand tradition of
fouling our own nest?

Oh, the skies may once have been clear and the waters
sparkling and clean. But you can't have that and progress,
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 toxic waste
cleanup program is running out of money. Rather than
showing the leadership necessary to replenish the fund, the
president plans to reduce its payouts by cleaning up fewer
sites. Pig-Pen would have been proud.

This is not a minor matter. The sites targeted by the
Superfund program are horribly polluted, in many cases with
cancer-causing substances. Millions of Americans live
within a few miles of these sites.

The Superfund decision is the kind of environmental move
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
disaster zone.

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
enforce."

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 the administration's
industrial pals.

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
and, in some cases, devastating environmental     consequences as a result of the climate change.

The president's views on global warming seem aligned with
those of the muddle-headed conservative groups in Texas
that have been forcing rewrites in textbooks to fit their
political and spiritual agendas. In one environmental
science textbook, 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?"

Senator Joseph Lieberman, not exactly a left-winger on the
environment or anything else, gave a speech in California
in February 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 pollution."

Several states, fed up with Mr. Bush's capitulation to
industry on these matters, have moved on their own to
protect the environment and develop more progressive energy policies.

Simply stated, the president has behaved irresponsibly
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.