TARNISHING THE DREAM
The Bush administration is intensifying its assault on Southern California’s environmental legacy.
Here are the 10 worst attacks of 2004
President George W. Bush might not like California – give us back the $9 billion Enron et al. looted from us, please – but we can’t take any comfort in not voting for him. His environmental record proves he can do more than irritate California; he can hammer us. Even during the feel-good talk of the 2004 election year, the man mainstream eco-groups have dubbed the “worst environmental president in history” tore at California’s web of environmental protections, for decades the most progressive in the country, as though they barred the door to the church.
“He’s relishing his legacy, rather than ashamed of it. Much to our chagrin, and much to industry’s and polluters’ delight,” says Rob Perks, spokesman at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which puts out the Bush Report monitoring a juggernaut of deregulation that has changed over 350 rules since 2001. “You would think that would change with a second term, that he would be free to stop thinking about the political favors, but he’s worse now. He’s saying, ‘I don’t have to worry about pissing off any of those hunters or fishermen who voted for me, I can just go ahead and please my buddies in industry.’” With a smidge of new power in Congress, we can look forward to new Republican assays against the Endangered Species Act, as well as continued efforts to gut the nation’s top health legislation, the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, plus a slew of anti-environmental judicial appointments.
California will weather the deregulation in better shape than most other states in the union. But not because of Bush. To wit, here are the 10 worst federal assaults on Southern California’s environment from 2004:
1. Dented L.A.’s Fleet Rules. L.A.’s South Coast Air Quality Management District made a rule a few years back that the city’s fleet vehicles, like trash trucks and transit buses, must run on clean fuels like natural gas. The Bush administration threw its weight behind big oil and big engine (the Engine Manufacturer’s Association) when they took the SCAQMD all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won a 2004 ruling saying the rules were illegal in some cases. The rules are still in effect, but this was a big victory for diesel polluters, which one study found to be the source of 71 percent of the region’s cancer risk.
2. Stopped Cleanup of Rocketdyne. The Boeing-owned Rocketdyne facility in the Santa Susana Mountains above Simi Valley is one of the most critically polluted sites in the country, saturated with defense-contractor goo from perchlorate to radionuclides and linked to a high rate of cancer in the surrounding communities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally issued cleanup parameters for Rocketdyne under its Superfund program, but Bush’s Department of Energy almost immediately ruled in 2004 that it would protect Boeing and ignore them, forcing L.A. city and county to sue.
3. Limited Critical Habitat. Bush absolutely loathes the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and has not voluntarily listed one species since taking office (Clinton and Bush I listed about 500), wants to delist wolves and grizzlies, besides cutting $10 million of its enforcement funds. In Southern California, Bushies have cut critical habitat – a designated protected zone for ESA-listed species – for local salmon and steelhead runs by 90 percent. Habitats for the arroyo toad, tiger salamander, red-legged frog and other SoCal critters were similarly erased to make way for raw urban sprawl.
4. Unleashed the Military. In 2004, the Pentagon freed the military from having to abide by either the ESA or the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the primary protector of whales, dolphins, etc., out at sea or on the 28 million acres of land under military control, allowing a spate of building and live-fire carnage in places like Camp Pendleton, Fort Irwin, and Point Mugu. Next up for 2005: a military assault on the Clean Air Act and toxic waste disposal rules. Look for more Rocketdyne-like military waste (depleted uranium ammunition, anyone?) in your neighborhood soon.
5. Poisoned the Well. In April 2004, the National Academy of Sciences recommended setting standards for drinking water contamination by perchlorate, pesticides, atrazine, etc. The new EPA quickly snuffed them, saying they’d be reconsidered in 2009 – when Bush is gone. In related news, the Pentagon refused to accept EPA findings that defense contractors were the source of perchlorate and other drinking water contaminants. These toxins are in our drinking water. The Colorado River and L.A. aquifers are suffused with perchlorate. You are drinking it right now.
6. Slashed the Forests. The Bush Department of Agriculture used the suppression of wildfires like those in the Angeles National Forest in 2003 as an excuse to quadruple logging in national forests over the last three years, and pro-timber Ag Undersecretary Mark Rey announced in 2004 the cut would double again, targeting marketable old growth trees over those which would actually reduce wildfire. Bush succeeded in 2004 in killing the Clinton moratorium on building roads into roadless areas of the national forests – which Bush had pledged to uphold. Worst of all, in December the administration announced a complete revamp of forestry rules, relaxing the “look before you log” environmental reviews and wildlife protections added in 1976. These new rules help lock out environmental groups from holding up the cut in court.
7. Exported the Water. Sidestepping environmentalists, both of California’s U.S. senators, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Bush’s federal fisheries managers allegedly ignored biological studies, and in early 2004 cleared massive new exports of water from Northern California to Southern California, threatening salmon and steelhead runs in order to distribute new 25-40-year contracts to agribusiness and city development.
8. Brandished the Drills. In early 2004, the Bushies proposed opening 140,000 acres of the Los Padres National Forest to oil and gas development. On the upside: Two bills pending in Congress would protect the Los Padres, and there is massive resistance to the Bush proposal.
9. Looked at the Oceans – but Only Looked. An early 2004 report by the Pew Oceans Commission was echoed exactly by a report from the Bush-appointed U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, which read: “The oceans are in trouble. Our coasts are in trouble. Our marine resources are in trouble … all, perhaps, in serious trouble.” In response, Bush signed an executive order in December to launch the Committee on Ocean Policy. He would not, however, fund the committee, and has decided to consult the experts in industry on how to find a market solution. Which sounds like the oceans will be in worse shape by the time he stalls four more years.
10. Pulled EPA off the Job. Wonder why Christie Todd Whitman quit the EPA? During Bush’s first three years, the NRDC reports there was a 75 percent decrease in federal lawsuits against polluters, and a 57 percent decline in civil penalties and fines. Superfund listings ceased altogether. In July 2004, a new report by Knight-Ridder newspapers showed that federal enforcement of air pollution regulations at oil refineries, in particular, had dropped off as much as 50 percent. The South Bay can get ready for dirtier air.
Just to make it clear that Bush’s hostility wasn’t only California’s opinion: In February, 63 scientists – including 20 Nobel laureates and 19 recipients of the National Medal of Science – released a statement accusing the Bush administration of “deliberately and systematically” distorting scientific facts and misleading the public in order to further its own partisan political objectives. Welcome to the world of George W. Bush, your environmental president.