Fouling Our Own Nest
      by Bob Herbert

Do you remember the character Pig-Pen in the "Peanuts"
cartoons? He was always covered with dirt and grime. He was
cute, but he was a walking sludge heap, filthy and proud of
it. He once told Charlie Brown, "I have affixed to me the
dirt and dust of countless ages. Who am I to disturb history?"

For me, Pig-Pen's attitude embodies President Bush's approach
to the environment. We've been trashing, soiling, even destroying
the wonders of nature for countless ages. Why stop now? Who is
Mr. Bush to step in and curb this venerable orgy of pollution, this
grand tradition of fouling our own nest?

Oh, the skies may once have been clear and the waters sparkling
and clean. But you can't have that and progress, too. Can you?

This week we learned that the Bush administration plans to cut
funding for the cleanup of 33 toxic waste sites in 18 states.
As The Times's Katharine Seelye reported, this means
"that work is likely to grind to a halt on some of
the most seriously polluted sites in the country."

The cuts were ordered because the Superfund toxic waste
cleanup program is running out of money. Rather than showing
the leadership necessary to replenish the fund, the president plans
to reduce its payouts by cleaning up fewer sites. Pig-Pen would
have been proud.

This is not a minor matter. The sites targeted by the Superfund
program are horribly polluted, in many cases with cancer-causing
substances. Millions of Americans live within a few miles of these sites.

The Superfund decision is the kind of environmental move we've
come to expect from the Bush administration. Mother Nature has
been known to tremble at the sound of the president's approaching
footsteps. He's an environmental disaster zone.

In February a top enforcement official at the Environmental
Protection Agency, Eric Schaeffer, quit because of Bush
administration policies that he said undermined the agency's
efforts to crack down on industrial polluters. Mr. Schaeffer
said he felt he was "fighting a White House that seems
determined to weaken the rules we are trying to enforce."

That, of course, is exactly what this White House is doing.
Within weeks of Mr. Schaeffer's resignation came official word
that the administration was relaxing the air quality regulations that
applied to older coal-fired power plants, a step backward that
delighted the administration's industrial pals.

During this same period, the president broke his campaign
promise to regulate the industrial emissions of carbon dioxide,
a move that, among other things, would have helped in the fight
to slow the increase in global warming. Mr. Bush has also turned
his back on the Kyoto Protocol, which would require industrial
nations to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and other
greenhouse gases.

The president was even disdainful of his own administration's
report on global warming, which acknowledged that the U.S.
would experience far-reaching and, in some cases, devastating
environmental consequences as a result of the climate change.

The president's views on global warming seem aligned with
those of the muddle-headed conservative groups in Texas that
have been forcing rewrites in textbooks to fit their political and
spiritual agendas. In one environmental science textbook,
the following was added:

"In the past, the earth has been much warmer than it is now,
and fossils of sea creatures show us that the sea level was
much higher than it is today. So does it really matter if the
world gets warmer?"

Senator Joseph Lieberman, not exactly a left-winger on the
environment or anything else, gave a speech in California in
February in which he assailed the president's lack of leadership on
global warming and other environmental issues. He characterized
the president's energy policy as "mired in crude oil" and said Mr.
Bush had been "AWOL in the war against environmental pollution."

Several states, fed up with Mr. Bush's capitulation to industry on
these matters, have moved on their own to protect the environment
and develop more progressive energy policies.

Simply stated, the president has behaved irresponsibly toward the
environment and shows no sign of changing his ways. You could
laugh at Pig-Pen. He was just a comic strip character. But Mr. Bush
is no joke. His trashing of the environment is a deadly serious matter.

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