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How the Bush administration has fared

Published Aug. 28, 2005

President Bush's environmental adviser, former corporate lobbyist James L. Connaughton, said the administration has kept the basic regulatory structure that has produced cleaner air and water over the past 30 years.

But where the past administration and many environmentalists often favored tough enforcement and costly litigation, Connaughton said, Bush favors market-driven approaches to achieve better environmental protection.

Here's what Bush has done on air and national forests.


Like many of the administration's attempts to soften environmental protection, the change was announced when the press and public would not be paying attention: New Year's Eve 2002.

The tweak involved the term "increase" in a 25-year-old provision called New Source Review, which requires factories and power plants that upgrade facilities to add pollution controls.

Rather than use the previous two years' emission levels to determine if an upgrade would cause more pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency said factories and refineries could use any 24-month period within the past 10 years.

In November, the EPA tweaked the rules again: A pollution review and new emissions controls would be required only if the cost of an upgrade exceeded 20 percent of a plant's value.

The changes gave polluters far more flexibility than under the Clinton administration and earned the Bush administration high marks from power companies. (The energy and natural resources industries have donated $4-million to Bush's re-election campaign, almost 10 times what they've given John Kerry, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.)

The EPA says the changes streamline regulations, increase the reliability of electrical plants and improve air quality.

Many older plants had avoided upgrading their facilities with newer, cleaner technology so they wouldn't have to undergo the new source review, the EPA and industry groups said. Relaxing the rules would entice those plants to install better equipment.

But an independent report by the National Academy of Public Administration _ commissioned by the EPA _ found it unlikely the 20-percent rule would improve air quality and said the EPA had offered no scientific data to support it. The new rules, it said, would create only "wider loopholes."

Environmentalists and several states have sued to stop both changes. Action is pending.

The White House says its policies strike a balance between improving air quality and helping keep energy affordable and the economy strong. Emissions of the six major pollutants dropped by 7.8 percent from 2002 to 2003, the EPA said last week.

In May, the administration announced more stringent emissions controls for diesel-powered heavy equipment used in farming, construction and fishing.

Bush also proposed the Clear Skies initiative, which aims to give power plants an incentive to get cleaner more quickly than the law requires. It would allow them to accrue pollution credits as they cut emissions, credits they could sell to other plants or bank for future expansion.

The bill, supported by the power industry and opposed by environmental groups, is mired in Congress. The EPA is working to make most of the changes by administrative rule.

National forests

Just before President Clinton left office, he signed the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, to protect 58.5-million acres of national forest wild lands from road-building and logging.

Almost as soon as President Bush took office, he suspended the rule. The major revisions his administration has proposed keep with its approach toward federal lands and natural resources: More state and local control, and fewer restrictions on logging, mining, and oil and gas exploration.

Under Bush's proposal, Tongass and Chugach national forests in Alaska would be exempt from the Roadless Rule outright. Governors elsewhere could petition for roadless area protection in the forests in their states.

Most of the affected acreage is in Western states, where logging, ranching and drilling are major economic forces, and their governors were hostile to Clinton's protections. Environmentalists and timber interests alike say these governors likely would not seek the protection the Roadless Rule provides.

The rule is not final. The Interior Department is taking public comment until Nov. 14.

Other examples of the administration's industry-friendly bent abound. The day before Thanksgiving in 2002, the administration proposed tweaking the National Forest Management Act of 1976.

The act requires the U.S. Forest Service to maintain enough habitat to keep animal species "viable." This viability clause curtailed logging to protect the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest.

Under the proposed change, still under review, forest managers no longer would have to maintain viability; they just have to try.

Last year, Congress passed the president's Healthy Forest Act, which was sold as a way to thin overgrown and damaged forests to guard against forest fires.

The act provided $760-million this year for clearing brush and deadwood from federal lands that border Western communities, but it also streamlines the permitting process for timber companies to log large, mature trees in wild areas far from homes.