NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 28, 2004

Environmental activists have accused President Bush of being America's "worst environmental president," yet the empirical evidence suggests the environment is getting cleaner, says Steven F. Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute.

Each year, the AEI and the Pacific Research Institute compile an annual Index of Leading Environmental Indicators. The 2004 Report shows that the environment has consistently improved since the 1980s.

  • Between 1976 and 2002, ambient air pollution decreased significantly; ozone levels declined by 31 percent, sulfur dioxides by 71 percent, carbon monoxide by 75 percent, and nitrogen dioxide by 41 percent.
  • When measuring emissions on a per capita or per dollar of gross domestic product (GDP), the United States experienced emission declines on par with Europe between 1982 and 1998.
  • The percentage of the population served by water supplies with no reported violations of health-based standards increased from 79 percent in 1993 to 94 percent in 2002.
  • Since 1988, so-called toxic releases have declined 60 percent cumulatively, with a 90-percent decline in dioxin since 1970.

Furthermore, the number of new species listed under the Endangered Species Act has declined substantially between 1996 and 2003, likely due to private efforts in species conservation.

The only environmental trend that has not been positive is the management of public lands. Between 90 and 200 million acres of public land are at risk for catastrophic fires. Public parks are experiencing billions of dollars in maintenance backlogs. Yellowstone Park, for example, is contaminated with sewage. Holly Lipke Fretwell of the Property and Environment Research Center recommends allowing states to manage land and the public to lease land and resources.

Source: Steven F. Hayward, et al., "2004 Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, Ninth Edition," American Enterprise Institute, July 2004.

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