by Danielle Knight
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
Bush administration continues its drive to dismantle domestic environmental protections under cover of its public preoccupation with terrorism and anthrax, advocacy groups warn.
Most of the government's targets are regulations -- on hard-rock mining, for example -- drawn up during the administration of President Bill Clinton, whom George W. Bush replaced in January.
Late last month, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton reversed regulations that would have imposed stricter environmental standards on mining operations. She argued they were unjustifiably restrictive. The rules would have given federal officials new authority to block mines deemed likely to cause "substantial irreparable harm" to water resources.
"By rolling back the new groundwater protections, Secretary Norton is putting all of the streams, springs and wetlands back into jeopardy from future mining," says Tom Myers, director of Great Basin Mine Watch, an advocacy group in Nevada.
The administration also has signalled a retreat from a rule that would protect some 24 million hectares of national forest from logging, mining, and other extractive activities. Environmental groups claim these areas are crucial for protecting watersheds that supply drinking water and are important places for recreation, fishing, and hunting.
In several lawsuits that have been filed against the plan by industry and state governments, the Justice Department has not defended the rule in court, conservation advocates complain.
Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, says the Clinton administration spent years developing the policy in close consultation with the public. The Forest Service, he says, held more than 600 public hearings nationwide and received more than one million comments.
"Despite the tremendous public support for protecting wild forests," says Pope, "President Bush is considering weakening the historic conservation plan and reopening our last wild forests to logging and other destructive activities."
The administration also is proposing policy changes that would make it easier for developers and homebuilders to eliminate wetlands.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the protection of wetlands, argues the new rules would allow more flexibility. Environmentalists have condemned the move and say they were excluded from talks held by the Justice Department with industry groups that have sued to overturn other wetland preservation rules.
In addition, conservationists charge that since Sept. 11, the administration has used national security concerns to argue against legislative proposals that aim to protect the environment.
Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a study against a Senate plan to cut U.S. electric power plant air emissions, saying the bill could jeopardize national security and harm the economy. The bill, introduced by Senator Jim Jeffords, would require 75-90 percent reductions in four major pollutants -- carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, and mercury -- that contribute to global warming and acid rain.
Jeff Holmstead, assistant EPA administrator, says the plan would endanger security by causing power shortages because coal-burning plants that emit pollution would be forced to close.
"We believe the emission reductions and timing in the bill will be too costly for consumers and will endanger national security," he says, adding that the agency strongly opposes including carbon dioxide in any pollution reduction bill.
Environmentalists say the study overlooks findings from an EPA report issued last year. This concluded that leaving out carbon dioxide would ultimately increase the costs of addressing global warming.
According to the EPA's previous analysis, a four-pollutant approach would save more than seven billion dollars annually when compared to a strategy that pursued only the three pollutants and regulated carbon dioxide at a later date, says Jeremy Symons, climate change and wildlife program manager for the National Wildlife Federation.
"A three-pollutant proposal would be a short-sighted, Band-Aid solution to power plant pollution that will cost Americans more in the long run while missing the opportunity to begin solving serious environmental issues like global warming," says Symons.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, environmentalists also worry that oil industry efforts to seek federal help to increase security at various facilities could end up trumping environmental protection provisions.
On Nov. 5, Bracewell and Patterson, a Washington-based firm that represents several energy companies, submitted a report to the White House Office on Homeland Security on security at the nation's various energy facilities and pipelines.
Besides recommending tax credits and other financing to help the industry improve security, the report suggests the creation of "security impact statements" that would ostensibly override environmental impact statements that sometimes result in pollution controls and other mitigation measures.
Debbie Boger, a senior Washington representative with the Sierra Club, called the recommendation "outrageous."
"The oil industry is taking advantage of this tragedy to challenge environmental laws it has always fought," she says.
The solution, environmentalists argue, is to move away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy toward a more diverse energy economy that incorporates renewable energy technologies -- such as wind, solar and biomass. Besides reducing U.S. dependence on imported oil, renewable energy infrastructure is not as dangerous as an oil pipeline or nuclear power plant if targeted by terrorists, adds Boger.
November 21, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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