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Robert Sullivan
December 05, 1988
Bush may be gentler to nature than Reagan has been
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December 05, 1988

A Kinder Environment?

Bush may be gentler to nature than Reagan has been

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Bush would have broad bipartisan support in Congress for nearly all of these initiatives, but he's also committed to cutting the federal deficit and not increasing taxes. Hence money for environmental programs will be hard to find. Last week, in a report on the Reagan Administration's environmental record, the General Accounting Office, Congress's nonpartisan auditing arm, concluded that the Administration had not reduced air or water pollution and had largely ignored hazardous-waste laws. But the GAO went on to say that, for example, it would cost $1.9 billion to stem the deterioration of the national parks and $3 billion to reclaim the denuded lands around abandoned coal mines.

"What you need to take care of acid rain and a lot of other things is money," says a source close to the Bush camp. " George Bush would like to propose things in these areas, but in a cost-cutting era he may not be able to do what's needed."

Michael Bean, a senior staff attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, an organization that has been critical of the Reagan environmental record, is hoping for better days. "I think Bush is going to be cornered by the deficit, but I expect a markedly better record. He has a more enlightened attitude, and he doesn't share Mr. Reagan's personal ignorance of environmental issues."

While constrained by fiscal realities, Bush will signal his intentions on environmental issues by the people he selects to implement his policies. He'll likely banish anyone remaining at Interior who served under James Watt, the department's infamous secretary from 1981 to '83. However, that doesn't mean Bush's appointments will please die-hard conservationists. Two former EPA administrators with strong conservation credentials, Russell Train and William Ruckelshaus, are advising him, but so are two prodevelopment Western legislators, Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson and Idaho Senator James McClure.

Ideally, Bush will preside over a substantive, nonideological debate on the environment—the sort of dialogue Washington has not seen in quite a while. "Moderation is the key; look at the ANWR issue," says Brent Erickson, a Simpson aide, referring to the proposal to open the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. " Bush says he would favor development in a crisis. Preservationists are against that, and I know Senator Simpson would like to move a little faster on ANWR. But everyone can live with Bush's decision.

"Then look at wetlands. No net loss is something conservationists applaud, and Senator Simpson feels comfortable with it too."

Blake believes the Bush Administration will promote compromise on the environment. "He's an outdoors-man who cares deeply about these issues," he says. "He'll be involved because he's an environmentalist in the true sense."

The President as an environmentalist—that's also something Washington hasn't seen in quite a while.

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