Clear Away the Smoke Surround the Presidential Candidates' Environmental Records

Commentary by H. Sterling Burnett

I dread this election year more than usual because through "false advertising" radical environmentalists have a chance of putting one of their own in the White House.

When Gore was chosen as President Clinton's running mate, his support for radical environmental causes garnered him the nickname "Ozone Al." This was in part due to his book, Earth in the Balance, which argues that the greatest threat to humanity is its disconnection from the natural world, never mind little things like nuclear proliferation, biological terrorism or totalitarian regimes bent on genocide. His solution, institute a "Global Marshall Plan," under which international laws would make protecting the environment the central organizing principle of civilization.

As vice president, Gore pushed Clinton to sign a United Nations Biodiversity treaty, which former President George Bush had rejected because it harmed U. S. national interests. He also convinced Clinton to back Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner's scientifically questionable national clean air regulations. A federal court later threw them out as unconstitutional.

Gore has also led the administration's land-control efforts, including a "livability" agenda that would give the government - which already owns more than 33 percent U.S. land - more than one billion dollars each year to purchase land. He encouraged Clinton to lock up millions of acres of land in national monuments through executive orders, circumventing the normal congressional approval process. And, he backed Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck's regulations setting aside 40 million acres of national forests as roadless, and making watershed protection the highest priority. Forest supervisors and members of Congress have argued that these proposals threaten the health of the forests and violate the forest service's mandate to manage forests, not as wilderness, but for multiple uses including recreation.

Despite this record, environmental groups are placing television ads arguing that Gore has not done enough to protect the environment.

While Gov. Bush has not championed fringe environmental causes, he has a solid record of accomplishment in Texas. During his tenure, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions fell in Texas by more than 17 percent, while rising nationwide. Emissions of volatile organic compounds dropped more than 43 percent in Texas but only 16 percent nationally; and carbon monoxide emissions fell 12 percent in Texas but only 5 percent nationally. And toxic releases fell by 14 percent in Texas from 1995 to 1997, compared to an average of 1.5 percent for all states. During that period Texas reduced the amount of toxic chemicals released by 42 million pounds - more than all of the other states combined.

In addition, Bush signed legislation deregulating the electric industry while requiring the second highest use of "clean" energy (i.e., renewable energy and natural gas) in the country. He also signed a bill creating Texas's first ever environmental education program. Thus, only politics could explain the League of Conservation Voter's claim that Bush's "tenure as governor . . . is marked by, . . . worsening air quality and a . . . philosophy that, if applied nationally, would jeopardize three decades of national environmental progress."

The evidence suggest that the doom-and-gloom pronouncements about Gov. Bush and the attempts to downplay Al Gore's environmental record have more to do with electing Gore president than any real concern for environmental quality. Our electorate deserves better than this misrepresentation.