The Worst Environmental President in U.S. History
[Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is senior attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council and author of 'Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy.' He wrote this commentary for the Orlando Sentinel. ]
For 20 years as an environmental activist, I've been careful about being bipartisan; there's no such thing as Democratic or Republican children and it would be tragic if the environment becomes the province of one political party.
But you can't speak honestly about the environment without speaking critically about this president. George W. Bush is the worst environmental president in American history. In three-and-a-half years, this White House has promoted more than 400 major environmental rollbacks intended to eviscerate 35 years of environmental law.
The White House uses crafty stealth tactics to mask its radical agenda from the American people -- including Orwellian rhetoric; when it turns our national forests over to the timber industry, the administraion calls it the "Healthy Forests Act;" and when it dismantles our clean air laws, it is called "Clear Skies." Most insidiously, the administration put polluters in charge of the agencies that are supposed to protect Americans from pollution -- a famously rapacious timber industry lobbyist now runs the forest service. Our public lands are administered by a mining-industry lobbyist who believes that public lands are unconstitutional. A utility lobbyist runs the EPA's air division.
To run Superfund, President Bush appointed a woman whose last job was advising polluters how to evade Superfund, and he named a Monsanto lobbyist as second in command of the EPA. The pattern holds throughout the myriad regulatory agencies in the Departments of Agriculture, Interior, Justice and the EPA, where industry lobbyists now run the very agencies charged with regulating their industries. These individuals have not entered public service for the public interest, but specifically to subvert the very laws they are now charged with enforcing. Under their management, Superfund has gone bankrupt, America's waterways have gotten more polluted for the first time since 1970, the Dead Zone in Lake Erie is growing again, and acid rain is increasing.
Three weeks ago, the EPA announced that in 19 states, including Florida, all freshwater fish are now unsafe to eat regularly due to mercury contamination. In 48 states, at least some water bodies are similarly contaminated. The mercury comes mostly from 1,100 antiquated coal-burning power plants that could remove it cheaply and easily. One of every six American women carries so much mercury in her womb that her children are at risk for a grim inventory of diseases -- autism, blindness, brain damage, heart, lung and liver disease. My own mercury levels, tested recently, are so high -- just from eating fish -- that I've been told by a national authority on mercury contamination that children born to a woman with similar concentrations would suffer permanent IQ losses of over five points. Today, 630,000 American children are born every year having been exposed to dangerous levels of mercury in their mothers' wombs.
Recognizing its grave threat to our nation's health, president Bill Clinton reclassified mercury as a hazardous pollutant under the Clean Air Act, triggering a requirement that those plants remove 90 percent of their mercury discharges within three-and-a-half years -- an effort that would have cleaned up America's water bodies and cost a miniscule 1 percent of plant revenues.
But this industry donated more than $100 million to this President and the Republican Party since 2000; and to return the favor, eight weeks ago, the White House announced it would scrap the Clinton EPA regulations and substituted instead regulations, written by utility lobbyists, that include loopholes designed to allow the industry to never have to clean up its mercury.
The White House has ordered the Justice Department and EPA to drop dozens of lawsuits against deadly pollution by coal-burning utilities and giant industrial hog farms. Similarly, the White House has revised the Clean Air Act to allow coal-burning plants to discharge asthma-causing ozone and particulates that were supposed to have been removed 15 years ago. That decision, according to the EPA, kills 24,000 Americans -- up to eight times the number killed by the World Trade Center attacks -- every year. It has opened millions of acres of public lands and national forests to destructive developers and smashed the Clean Water Act as a favor to mountaintop mining conglomerates who will now flatten an area of the Appalachians the size of Delaware.
While waging an ineffective war against foreign terrorists, the administration has allowed its industry cronies to poison America's air and waterways and to plunder our public lands. If a foreign nation committed these crimes, we would consider it an act of war, yet the White House is allowing these assaults on our national security by its corporate contributors, which include the worst polluters in America.
Robert F. Kennedy, The Orlando Sentinel