Natural Resources on the Line:The Bush Administration's Assault on the Environment
& An International Environmental Call to Action against War in the Persian Gulf: January 1991

January 31, 2003

By Senator Barbara Boxer

January 19, 2003 -- On the last day of 2002, the Bush administration issued a ruling designed to undermine the "dolphin safe" tuna label. It was a fitting end to a year in which the administration repeatedly and relentlessly attacked the environment. Now it seems that no one is immune from these attacks -- not even the dolphin, whom we have protected for the past 12 years under a program popular with consumers and fishermen alike.

In all my years in public life, dating back more than 20 years, I have never seen an administration more hostile to our environment. At every turn, it has sacrificed our environment on the altar of special interests. In doing so, it has endangered our people and our planet.

The Bush administration's war on the environment comes at a time when we need environmental protection more than ever:

  • Asthma is now the leading cause of hospital admissions for children.
  • Toxic waste threatens 1 in 4 Americans, including more than 10 million children, who live within four miles of a toxic waste dump and are at risk for numerous health problems.
  • Lead poisoning affects nearly a million children under age 5 in this country.
  • Chemical compounds continue to threaten chronic exposure as their number and quantity increase. Since 1975, at least 75,000 new chemical compounds have been released into the environment through consumer and industrial products, many without basic toxicological testing.
Sen. Barbara Boxer with some of her young constituents
Protecting our environment has long been a basic American value embraced by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Early in the country's history, statutes were passed protecting wildlife and forest resources. A Democrat, Harry Truman, signed the Clean Water Act. Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, first set aside for protection the land now known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It was a Republican, Richard Nixon, who signed into law the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. Another Republican, George H. W. Bush, signed the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments into law. And a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, signed the Superfund law.

One hundred years ago, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt said, "The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value."

Unfortunately, President Bush does not subscribe to Roosevelt's sentiment and does not share the values of past presidents from both parties. Instead of protecting our natural resources, he allows them to be squandered. Instead of protecting our environment, he offers plans and prescriptions to plunder it. Since his first day in office, January 20, 2001, Bush has worked to roll back more than 200 laws and regulations that protect our public health and environment.

One of his first initiatives was a failed attempt to keep the level of arsenic in drinking water at high levels that were established in 1942, before arsenic was a known carcinogen.

Soon afterward, the president did an abrupt about-face on his campaign promise to address climate change, withdrawing from an international treaty and refusing to take concrete steps to address the issue.

He proposed to deny Medicaid testing of poor children for lead poisoning, then withdrew the plan after public outcry. But he stacked the expert panel on lead poisoning with industry representatives.

Bush has vigorously pursued oil drilling in some of America's most pristine places, targeting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge despite evidence that drilling would devastate the landscape and the native people's way of life for a pittance of oil. He is also in favor of drilling along California's coast.

Bush has opened 58 million acres of public forests to roads, logging and other forms of destruction and is now working at further weakening forest protections, especially those that benefit wildlife.

The administration is supporting a Department of Defense request for sweeping exemptions from environmental and public health laws, despite absolutely no evidence that any further exemptions are needed for national security.

The president has abandoned the principle of "polluter pays" and shifted the cost of cleaning up Superfund sites -- the nation's most toxic areas -- from the polluters to the taxpayers. In some cases, he has halted funding for cleanups altogether. He is the first president in more than 25 years not to support a tax on polluters to pay for Superfund-site cleanups.

Right after the 2002 elections, Bush moved forward with the most sweeping rollback of the Clean Air Act in its 30-year history in order to allow the oldest, dirtiest industrial facilities to increase pollution.

And when individual states exercise the constitutional right to protect their citizens, the president has intervened in order to protect corporate special interests. In California, the administration fought in court against California's right to protect its coast from offshore oil and gas drilling. Most recently, Bush joined the auto industry in court to argue against California's right to clean up its air and decrease auto emissions.

After two years, it is clear that Bush has a consistent and systematic environmental policy: to sacrifice the health of our families and every natural resource -- including grasslands, wetlands, forests, oceans, rivers, parks and wildlife -- in favor of special interests. In doing so he has turned his back on California values and American values.

Barbara Boxer, who has represented California in the U.S. Senate since 1993, is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and chaired the Superfund, Toxics, Risk and Waste Management Subcommittee in the last Congress.
?2003 San Francisco Chronicle, Reprinted by permission of Sen. Boxer.

Note: For the record, Truman did not sign the Clean Water Act. In 1948, Truman signed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. The FWPCA was in 1972 and signed into law by Nixon after Congress overrode his veto. The 1972 version (which itself has been amended several times) became known as the Clean Water Act in the late-1970's.
-- Gershon Cohen, Ph.D.
Project Director, Campaign to Safeguard America's Waters, Earth Island Institute,
Box 956 Haines, Alaska, 99827, Phone /Fax 907-766-3005

Twelve Years Later, Another Bush Threatens a New War in the Gulf

In December 1990, with then-president George H. W. Bush threatening to attack Iraq under cover of an expedient United Nations resolution, an international coalition of environmental groups published a statement in opposition to war in the Middle East. The warning proved to be prophetic. Twelve years later, the statement remains frighteningly relevant. Except for a few minor points, it could have been written in 2003.
Reprinted from the back cover of the Winter 1991
Earth Island Journal -- published in January 1991, just prior to the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War.

An International Environmental Call to Action -- January 1991

In happier times, Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam shake hands in Baghdad. In the 1980s, Rumsfeld helped assure that Saddam had access to weapons of mass destruction. Credit: Video image/ Washington Post
The loss of human life that has already occurred in the Persian Gulf conflict is unpardonable; the prospect of more bloodshed is ominous and unacceptable. We oppose innocent lives unjustly being sacrificed to establish the beachhead for a New World Order-- based on military intervention to control access to oil and other natural resources in the Third World.

As we condemn international support for governments that violate human rights, we also condemn the use of military force to settle disputes. Therefore, we condemn both the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the massive offensive military buildup in Saudi Arabia by the US and others under the aegis of the United Nations.

Misguided US energy policies have generated the need-- for such intervention by increasing oil addiction. The only intelligent response to the world's oil addiction is to reduce the demand, not go to war to guarantee the supply. But the Bush administration has no plans to change its energy policies which, over the last ten years, have virtually destroyed efforts to promote energy efficiency and appropriate alternatives to oil. Instead, the administration is holding fast to the very policy that has brought the world to the brink of war.

Such intransigence is giving license to big oil and energy companies to exploit the Gulf crisis by promoting poisonous energy solutions-- such as nuclear power and the exploitation of protected wilderness areas. Without a major change in energy policy, we will continue down the path that has brought us to the Persian Gulf and that is precipitating the greenhouse and ozone crises.

Recent experiences in Vietnam, Central America, Afghanistan and the Iran-Iraq war all clearly point to the grave ecological consequences of military build-up and warfare -- consequences that will affect people and the environment that sustains them for generations.

We are deeply concerned by the immediate and long-term environmental and human health implications of the use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. We are also concerned by the potential social and environmental catastrophe that would result from the bombing of chemical weapons facilities, oil drilling platforms and refineries and nuclear-powered ships bearing nuclear arms.

Furthermore, the targeting of water recourses, whether it be the destruction of dams, dikes, wells, marshland, oases or irrigated agricultural systems would have profound impacts on the Persian Gulf's ecological stability, most directly affecting the rural populations of the area. The devastation of the land, and the subsequent creation of millions of refugees are inevitable consequences of a full-scale war in the Persian Gulf.

It is in this context that we call on environmental leaders, activists and community organizations everywhere to:
    (1) Urge all foreign and occupying military powers to withdraw from the Gulf and to support the creation of a zone of peace in the region.
    (2) Call on all oil-consuming governments -- especially the United States, which consumes 24 percent of the world's oil -- to pursue non-nuclear alternative energy and energy-efficiency strategies.
    (3) Participate in anti-war and peace activities, bringing forward environmental concerns as one of a broad series of reasons for opposing war in the Persian Gulf.
    (4) Pressure the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council to consider issues of ecological security, the effects of the massive militarization of the Persian Gulf and the potential ecological implications of war in the region.
    (5) Call on the US Congress to incorporate environmental considerations into their headings on US Persian Gulf policy.
    (6) Educate other environmentalists, community organizations working on environmental issues, peace activists and the general public about the interrelated social, political and ecological dimensions of the Gulf crisis.
Convenors: Carl Anthony (Urban Habitat Program*), Peter Bahouth (Greenpeace), Judi Bari (Earth First!), Walden Bello (Institute for Food and Development Policy), Brent Blackwelder (Friends of the Earth/US), Saul Bloom & John Millier (Arms Control Research Center), China Brotsky, Joshua Karliner & Nancy Netherland (Political Ecology Group), David R. Brower (Earth Island Institute), Lorenzo Cardenal (Nicaraguan Environmental Movement), Herb Chao Gunther (Public Media Center), Randall Hayes (Rainforest Action Network), Nicholas Hildyard, Larry Lohnamm, Pam Simmons & Patrick McCully (The Ecologist Magazine/Great Britain), Elizaberh Ising (Student Environmental Action Coalition), Ruth Kaplan (Environmental Action), Jane McAlevey (Environmental Project on Central America), S. M. Modid. Idris (Third World Network/Malaysia), Juliette Major (International Rivers Network), Ross Mirkarimi (IWU/US Greens), Monica Moore (Pesticide Action Network/US), Richard Moore (SouthWest Organizing Project), John O' Connor (National Toxics Campaign), Charles Scheiner (North Atlantic Network). * Organizations listed for identification purposes only.

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