Tuesday, September 09, 2003

George Bush, Friend to the Environment:
With key positions in the hands of industry veterans, the administration has been able to pursue one of its most effective stealth tactics -- steering clear of legislative battles and working instead within the difficult-to-understand, yawn-producing realm of agency regulations. It's a strategy that has served Bush well, especially in his push to give the energy industry-which donated $2.8 million to the 2000 Bush campaign-access to some of the nation's last wildlands. In Congress, where the administration's agenda must endure full public scrutiny, Bush's effort to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has failed repeatedly. But there was little public debate over a plan to drill 66,000 coalbed methane gas wells in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana-a massive project that will result in 26,000 miles of new roads, 48,000 miles of new pipelines, and discharges of 2 trillion gallons of contaminated water, disfiguring for years the rolling hills of that landscape. That plan was hatched behind closed doors, by the secretive energy task force headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

The Cheney task force is behind another of the administration's pet projects-protecting utilities from having to comply with a law enacted 26 years ago. Some 30,000 Americans die each year because the federal government is unwilling to take meaningful steps to enforce the Clean Air Act's standards for coal-fired power plants. Nearly 6,000 of those deaths are attributable to plants owned by a mere eight companies, according to a study by ABT Associates, which frequently conducts assessments for the EPA. (The companies are American Electric Power, Cinergy, Duke, Dynegy, FirstEnergy, SIGECO, Southern Company, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.)