As Bush marked his first 100 days in office, the aides acknowledged that
high public approval ratings for the president's job performance overall
have not matched on his actions on the environment and on the nation's
energy policy. But, they argued, their approach is to balance such actions
with considerations on how to pay for them.
Bush has drawn the ire of environmentalists for decisions such as his
breaking a campaign promise to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from
domestic power plants; pressing Congress to approve opening the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling for oil and natural gas; and
delaying implementation of rules reducing the amount of arsenic allowed in
drinking water, which Bush's predecessor Bill Clinton had approved.
Critics also have attacked the administration for stating unequivocally
that the United States will not ratify an international treaty on global
warming unless it is renegotiated to make the cost of its pollution-cutting
measures less burdensome for U.S. businesses.
The administration and congressional Republicans have complained that many
of the environmental measures to which it objects, such as the
arsenic-in-water standards, were rushed through by Clinton in the last days
of his administration and merit further scientific study before they are
implemented, if at all. Democrats counter that the arsenic standard had been
under review for two years and that further studies are unnecessary.
In a CBS News poll released Thursday, 38 percent of 921 adults surveyed
said they approved of Bush's handling of environmental issues, while 39
disapproved. Bush has received overall job-approval ratings of around 60
percent in recent polls, slightly higher than Clinton at the 100-day point
of his presidency in 1993.
The CBS poll also showed that more than two-thirds of those surveyed
believe protecting the environment for future generations should be a higher
priority for the country than producing energy. In contrast, 70 percent of
the respondents said they believed Bush places a higher priority on energy
production than on environmental protection.
Moreover, 75 percent of those polled by CBS said the United States should
maintain current environmental laws, while 19 percent said such laws should
be relaxed to spur economic growth.
In another poll, conducted jointly by CNN, USA Today and the Gallup
Organization and released Tuesday, 63 percent of those questioned said big
business exerts too much influence over decisions made by the Bush
administration. Only 30 percent of the 1,015 adults surveyed disagreed with
Vice President Dick Cheney, who resigned as CEO of the oil field services
company Halliburton last summer to be Bush's running mate, said in an
interview on the television program "Fox News Sunday" that the public had
been misinformed about the administration's energy proposals, and their
potential impact on the environment.
He said the goal of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR,
to energy exploration was a key example.
"It's a classic example of where we get distortions sometimes by what I
would argue are people taking a more extreme environmental view," Cheney
said. "The notion is being peddled out there that we want to take 19 million
acres of wilderness in Alaska and tear it up to develop oil and gas. The
fact is, to develop that 19 million acres you only need to disturb an area
about the size of Dulles Airport out here (near Washington) -- about 2,000
acres" in all.
"So, we need to have an informed debate and judgment about it, but we
think it ought to be opened up," he added.
Pointing to the electricity shortages that have beset California for
months, Cheney said they provided proof of what happens when energy supply
lags behind increases in demand in a growing economy. He blamed California's
failure to construct enough power plants over the past 25 years as a key
reason for the crisis, but said imposing price controls on producers - as
California has done - was a short-term solution at best.
Several of the Sunday news programs aired a clip from a new political ad,
paid for by the Democratic National Committee and attacking Bush's
environmental record so far, in which a girl holds out a glass of water and
asks, "May I please have some more arsenic in my water, Mommy?" This is
followed by a boy holding a hamburger saying, "More salmonella in my
Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, was shown the clip, which is now
airing on television stations in the Washington area. He said the clip, as
well as the recent polls, smacked of a perception that Bush is "not trusted
on the environment."
Card, appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation," argued that "the president is
deeply concerned about the environment. But he also knows that we have to
have economic activity that allows America to grow financially, that we have
opportunities to find jobs and live a better life. And also, with a sound
economy comes better environmental policy because we have the resources to
clean up our environment."
Sen. John Breaux, the Louisiana Democrat who came out early in Bush's term
to support the president's proposed tax cut and is a key liaison between the
White House and moderate Senate Democrats, said the administration was
handling environmental issues "fairly badly. I think they would admit that."
"When you're talking about arsenic in water and carbon dioxide emissions,
people want the government to be careful on how we handle these things,"
Breaux said. "And I think from the way it was announced, the rapidity in
which it was pronounced, I think they made a mistake in doing that.
"I think they scared a lot of American people, and that's certainly not
good for anyone."
Breaux said a bill to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and
gas drilling could not pass the Senate, given the opposition from both
"They don't have enough Republican support for it," he said. "It's kind of
become the holy grail of the environmental movement."
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