Bush's Secret War
Mary Elizabeth Komperda

It seems that the war in Iraq is not the only war that the Bush administration has been waging these past few months. Public attention and scholarly debate are devoted to following the War on Terrorism, but few people seem concerned about this second, yet perhaps more costly and destructive, combat campaign. This second war does not require President Bush to ask for billions of dollars in federal funding, public support, media attention, or even international cooperation. However, this war, increasing in its intensity and violence against the land and lives of all Americans, is perhaps the most effective, and least debated, campaigns of force in all of U.S. history. I speak of none other than the War Against the Environment being waged by the Bush administration today.

Some of the early battles of this war were certainly publicized: increasing arsenic levels in our drinking water, drilling for oil in ANWAR, and declassifying millions of acres of federal lands in order to allow for industrial development. However, in recent months, the nation’s focus on international terrorism has permitted the conquest and destruction of the environment to continue at a stunningly rapid rate. As Sen. Joe Lieberman recently commented, quoting George Orwell’s 1984, on Bush’s latest environmental actions, “So it’s ‘War is peace.’” The scope of environmental actions taken by the Bush administration over the past few months range from the merely negligent to the utterly destructive. From land to water to air, it seems that nothing remains sacred in the Bush’s administration quest to appease industrialists.

The first phase of the War on the Environment is being waged on land, as a variety of new initiatives and decisions serve to strengthen big business and weaken natural resources. President Bush’s proposed “Healthy Forests” initiative requires thinning out national forests as a way of decreasing the possibility of large-scale forest fires. However, as members of the U.S. Forest Service have pointed out this past week, this scientifically questionable proposal serves as a permit for opportunistic timber companies to rapidly cut down and destroy old-growth trees, some of which are estimated to date back to the arrival of the Mayflower. Additionally, Bush's plan seeks to eliminate the public's rights to appeal harmful logging projects and to challenge them in the court system.

A second conquest on land occurred in early September, as the EPA reversed a 25-year old prohibition on the sale of PCB-contaminated land. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are chemicals, previously used as coolants and lubricants, which are known to cause cancer in animals. PCBs have been banned in the U.S. since 1978, and, until this past August, PCB-contaminated land was not allowed to be sold due to the risk of buyers spreading the toxin and accidentally building on toxic land before a cleanup could occur. Thanks to this latest EPA decision, unknowing companies and individuals are now at risk of purchasing an estimated 1000 pieces of property in the U.S. contaminated with these chemicals and endangering the lives of themselves, their families, and employees.

The battle over the skies has proved to be a much easier victory than even the Bush administration had hoped. One recent Bush administration ruling established that carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is thought to be the primary cause of global warming, will no longer be labeled a pollutant and, therefore, will not be regulated by the government. All this, despite the fact that the classification of carbon dioxide as a pollutant and its consequent regulation was a Bush campaign promise. This ruling has effectively eliminated the potential for more stringent pollution emission caps on automobiles and industries to be implemented anytime in the near future.

One of the most crushing defeats of the environment in this latest war occurred only a few short weeks ago, on August 27, 2003, when the Bush administration revised the Clean Air Act to allow industries to avoid having to install new pollution controls under the New Source Review program. The Clean Air Act, implemented in 1977, mandated that all new industries must install new pollution control technology to meet federal pollution standards, but grandfathered in old industries, ruling that businesses already in existence in 1977 would only be subject to the new regulations upon upgrading their factories. However, the EPA recently ruled that industries may make “routine maintenance, repair and replacement” without being subject to the Clean Air Act. This new change will permit an estimated 17,000 plants, including over 500 coal-burning power plants built before 1970, to continue to emit millions of tons of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide into our skies.

Changes in the Bush administration staff itself also suggest that the War Against the Environment is intensifying. President Bush recently appointed Utah Governor Mike Leavitt as the new EPA administrator. Leavitt, who as governor allowed millions of acres of previously protected Utah wilderness to be industrially developed, is viewed by many conservation groups and environmentalists as strongly pro-business. Additionally, in early September, it was revealed that two former top EPA officials, including the air and radiation office’s chief of staff, had accepted private-sector jobs at utility plants that will directly benefit from the EPA’s new changes to the New Source Review program. The EPA claims that these officials did not take part in the recent decisions easing pollution controls for power plants, but at the very least, this situation calls into question the increasingly intertwined relationship between industry and the EPA.

The Bush administration has been engaged in the War Against the Environment for years, but their efforts are intensifying and do not show any signs of relenting. The War on Iraq may have provided the opportunity for this second, more pernicious war to continue unnoticed and rarely contested. Even when questioned, the strategists behind the War Against the Environment can always drum up support based upon security concerns and energy anxieties. However, the Bush administration’s persistent complaints about the high cost of environmental protection for the government, industry, and consumers seem misplaced, if not downright absurd, when balanced against President Bush’s recent request for $87 billion in military defense spending for Iraq and Afghanistan. We certainly do need defense spending, President Bush, but not primarily to defend and protect our homeland against the Iraqis or Al-Qaeda; we need defense spending to protect our water, land, and skies from your own administration.