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U.S. Moving Backwards on Environment

Conservation and environmental groups think there will be an unprecedented assault on environmental laws in the congress, now that they have a Republican majority. Greg Wetstone, of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says, "In the absence of any clear, aggressive Congressional oversight we will see a more vigorous, escalated attack that includes new efforts to promote more air pollution, more water pollution, more clear cutting in the forests and more drilling, mining and logging on public lands. These actions are broadly out of step with the overwhelming consensus of the American public, and it is quite evident that this administration is fully aware of that."

"The sweep of the Bush administration's assault on our clean air protections is breathtaking," says John Walke, of NRDC's Clean Air Program. "And I mean literally breathtaking. More than 175 million Americans live in areas of the country that are so smoggy that they violate federal health standards. The Bush administration is taking us backwards, not forwards in trying to solve those serious health problems."

Changes to the Clean Air Act's New Source Review program were announced the Friday before Thanksgiving at a briefing where news cameras were not allowed. On that same day the administration also proposed broad changes to the regulation of 10 toxic chemicals. Walke says, "This was the most sweeping rollback of the statute in its 30 year history."

EPA insiders told him that these proposals were all announced on the same day so as to "jam environmental groups in order to make it more difficult for the public to offer meaningful comment on those actions within the 30 day comment period. This is a cynical and calculated way to carry out one's agenda," Walke says.

"On the eve of Thanksgiving the administration proposed a sweeping rollback of basic forest protections that have enjoyed bi-partisan support for over 25 years," says Robert Dewey, of the Defenders of Wildlife. "The Bush administration's approach is anti-science and these rollbacks have been anti-public participation, and they are clearly pro-logging industry."

The administration also wants broad changes in the Clean Water Act. "It is a water polluters payback plan," says Julie Sibbing, of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). "This is a plan to across the board eliminate entire categories of waters from protection under the Clean Water Act." Earlier this year the government changed a 25 year old Clean Water Act regulation to allow coal mining companies to dump solid waste into waterways.

Many of the new Congressional committee leaders are openly pro-industry and hostile to environmental regulations. The new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, Senator James Inhofe, is "one of the most aggressive detractors of environmental protection in the history of the Senate," Wetstone says. "(He has) been very open in he sees his role as a champion of the oil companies and has said that publicly in the past. It will be a tough time at that committee."

Senator Pete Domenici, who will take charge of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, wants more nuclear power as well as further oil and gas production, specifically within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Elliot Diringer, of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says, "The numbers have consistently shown that Americans think global warming is real, and support action to address it," Diringer says. "There is broad support for doing something about global warming.?

But instead of fighting for increased environmental protection, environmentalists are going to have to fight hard to keep existing programs. Wetstone says, "We will be using all our resources to keep from moving backwards and that is a tragedy."

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