No Apologies for Bush's Environmental Record

Commentary by H. Sterling Burnett

With Texas Governor George W. Bush being the Republican presidential front-runner, his record has come under heightened press scrutiny. This is natural since Bush's record as governor could indicate the types of policies he might pursue as president.

Add to this the fact that Vice-President Al Gore is the Democratic presidential front-runner and it is unsurprising that Bush's environmental record is under particularly close scrutiny. After all, Gore is closely associated with environmental causes. He has written a book warning of an impending environmental crisis, was chosen as President Clinton's running mate largely to shore up the environmental vote in 1992 - Clinton had a horrible environmental record as governor of Arkansas - and environmental groups regularly tout his leadership on environmental issues.

Vice-President Gore and the Sierra Club have blasted Gov. Bush's environmental record. They argue that Gov. Bush has done nothing to clean up Texas, which ranks number one on the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). Unfortunately, the press has expended little effort to investigate these claims. In reality, Bush has reason to be proud of his environmental record. That Texas ranks number one on the TRI is not surprising since it has the country's second highest population, the second largest land area - which contributes to its having the highest energy use and some of the longest commute times nationally - and the third highest state Gross Domestic Product.

However, Bush's environmental record should be judged on the basis of improvements when compared to the environmental problems he inherited from previous administrations and against the records of other states and the nation. When Bush became governor, he inherited a state with dirty air, impending water shortages and no environmental education program. Bush helped change all of this.

Texas utilities emit the fourth highest total of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and the second highest total of nitrogen oxides (NOx) when compared to utilities in other states. But this tells only part of the story. When compared to the rest of the nation's utilities, Texas plants have some of the best combustion controls, the most scrubbers and utilize primarily low sulfur coal. Accordingly, per unit of energy used, Texas has the 17th lowest state emission rate for SO2 and the 14th lowest emission rate for NOx. By comparison, energy use in Vice-President Al Gore's home state of Tennessee is inefficient and dirty. Per unit of energy, Tennessee has the fifth highest emission rate in the nation for SO2 and the second highest emission rate for NOx.

In addition, Texas compares favorably to the rest of the nation regarding the reduction of EPA monitored criteria pollutants. From 1995-1997 sulfur dioxide emissions in Texas fell by 17.1 percent compared to an increase of 11.2 percent nationally; nitrogen oxide emissions fell 23.6 percent in Texas while rising 8.2 percent nationally; emissions of volatile organic compounds fell by 43.2 percent in Texas but only 16 percent nationally; and carbon monoxide emissions fell 12 percent in Texas but only 5.1 percent nationally. Only in the emission of particulate matter, did Texas fail to exceed national averages for emission reductions - Texas emissions fell 11.9 percent compared to a 21.2 percent average national decline. And, in order to reduce air pollution still further, Governor Bush recently signed legislation making Texas the first state in the nation to require that older power plants reduce emissions - these plants had been "grandfathered in" or exempted from emission restrictions under the 1970 Clean Air Act.

Among Governor Bush's other environmental accomplishments, he signed legislation that benefits consumers by deregulating the electric industry while requiring the second highest use of "clean" energy (i.e., renewable energy and natural gas) in the country. In addition, he signed a bill that creates Texas's first ever, environmental education program. The legislation, sponsored by State Representative Warren Chisum, creates the Texas Environmental Education Project Fund, a public-private partnership that raises funds to carry out environmental education projects statewide.

And, with Texas's future water supply in doubt due to regular droughts and population growth, Bush signed a bill establishing a comprehensive plan to coordinate the competing uses of the state's limited water supply. This plan balances the freshwater needs of wildlife, urban dwellers and rural water users.

Texas, like every state, has its share of environmental problems. In response, Gov. Bush has pioneered an approach that treats property owners and the private sector as allies in the effort to solve environmental problems. The successes of these programs speak for themselves. Under Gov. Bush's leadership, the environment has improved and the economy has grown at a faster rate in Texas than in the rest of the nation. While many politicians talk the talk about growing the economy while protecting the environment, Gov. Bush walks the walk.