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  Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy
On The Senate Floor
"The Greenwashing Of The Bush Anti-Environmental Record
On The President’s Earth Day Visits To Maine And Florida"
Monday, April 26, 2004

Last Thursday I came to the floor to mark Earth Day and to highlight the laser-like focus of the Bush Administration in rolling back 30 years of environmental protections.  When you look at their record it is breathtaking – literally. 

Three years into office, the Bush Administration has taken well over 300 actions to weaken – or gut – environmental protections to clean the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat.  They have taken huge steps to hand over our public lands to timber, oil and gas companies for more drilling and logging. 

With this record, it is no wonder that the Bush Administration continues to use every page of its public relations playbook to downplay the effects of these rollbacks.

One of their favorite tactics is announcing environmental rollbacks on Fridays or around holidays when they think the American public will not be paying attention. The Administration has announced at least 40 environmental rollbacks alone on Fridays and another 20 on holidays. 

When you look at this list of just a few of those Friday actions you can see why the Administration wanted to sneak them out when they think the American public isn’t watching. 

These rollbacks demonstrate just how far this Administration has gone in waging its environmental assault – gutting the Clean Air Act, ramping up logging in some of most spectacular national forests, dumping more mining waste on public lands and more sewage sludge on private lands. 

Another favorite tactic is either ignoring or changing the science to suit their political needs.

One of the most blatant examples of this was the White House scrubbing of an annual EPA air report to avoid mentioning evidence of climate change. 

Just recently the New York Times reported on the creative White House fact-spinning of the Administration’s proposed retreat from strong mercury controls on power plants.

Of course, we all recognize that their favorite tactic is just giving one of their environmental assaults a green name and hoping the American public believes it.  “Clear Skies” and “Healthy Forests” are just about as accurate as “No Child Left Behind.”

The Administration has used all of these tactics when it comes to misleading the public about wetlands protections.  Last January, on a Friday, the Administration announced one of its most sweeping rollbacks to take away protections under the Clean Water Act for 20 million acres of wetlands.

The policy created such a groundswell of opposition from hunters, anglers, environmental groups and others that the President finally withdrew the proposed rulemaking last December.  Unfortunately, what the Administration did not tell the public is that they were not revoking the underlying instructions to federal agencies to follow the same policy that leaves 20 million acres of wetlands at risk. 

That is why I found it so interesting that the President would start his election year attempts to greenwash his Administration’s anti-environmental record by talking about wetlands.

He did get some very nice photo ops walking around the salt marshes and wetlands of Maine, but when you look between the lines of his Earth Day announcement you see that it just doesn’t hold water.

While the President was touting his plan to restore 1 million acres of wetlands, he made no mention of his policy to revoke protection for 20 million acres. 

He didn’t tell the folks in Maine that he proposed to the cut the funding next year for one of the programs – the Wetlands Reserve Program -  that is supposed to help meet his 1 million acre target.

He didn’t tell the folks in Maine that his Administration has not fully funded this program since Congress expanded it in the last Farm Bill.

Yes, as he said in Maine, the President did indeed sign the Farm Bill.  That is part of his job, but it is quite a leap for the Administration to now promote that as one of their environmental accomplishments. 

In fact, the Administration has done everything it can to shortchange the conservation programs that are so important not only to Maine and Florida but to every state.  He not only proposed cuts to the WRP, but to other programs that help farmers and landowners conserve the resources on their land. 

When the President went down to Florida the next day, he also forgot to mention a few key facts – like the fact that the Army Corps has allowed more than 3,800 acres of wetlands to be drained or filled in the Everglades. 

The Bush Administration has stood by and watched as the Army Corps continues to sign off on development permits that are destroying the Everglades.

It also argued against Clean Water Act regulation of water being pumped from urban Broward County into the Everglades.

A glance through the 300-plus rollbacks under Bush brings up even more policies that are hurting the environment of Maine and Florida.  The Administration’s retreat from aggressive mercury controls on power plants is just the most recent missile in his all out environmental assault.

Again, the President did get some nice photo ops in Maine and Florida, but his record on the environment is too mired in reversals and rollbacks for any greenwash to last for long. 

Greenwash – like whitewash – doesn’t stick.

Despite all their public relations maneuvering, the public recognizes the enormous and long-term affect of these Bush policies on our environment and our health. 

They will mean more pollution in our rivers and streams, more toxics in our air and less natural resources to pass on to the next generation.

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