Since Christine Todd Whitman stepped down as head of the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003, there hasn't been much high-level public dissent on environmental policy in the Bush Administration. Career scientists and bureaucrats have gone public with fierce criticisms, but the policymakers have been unified in efforts that most environmentalists roundly condemn.
But now, President Bush's pitch for a positive plot line in his otherwise dismal environmental record is causing a rift at the highest levels.
Bush's plan is to conserve vast swaths of the ocean, prohibiting mining, oil and gas drilling and other development.
Its champion, as the Washington Post reports today, is First Lady Laura Bush. Its foe: none other than Vice President Dick Cheney.
Cheney, whose back-room energy policy meetings let him cozy up with energy company executives and shut out environmentalists, is a notorious foe of environmental initiatives, with the exception of certain wetlands protections (he's an avid hunter, and hunters know that waterfowl depend on wetlands).
Laura Bush, if she's successful, could do more to burnish her own legacy as much as her husband's. It's Ladybird Johnson and all those highway wildflowers, after all, that we recall when we think of the Johnson Administration's environmental legacy.
The positive side of Bush's environmental legacy includes the regulation of diesel engines, which substantially cut pollution, and the protection, in 2006, of a 140,000-square-mile Marine National Monument around the most remote of the Hawaiian Islands. (The negative side includes a list that's really too long to list: At the top is the failure to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but also on the list is the rolling back of certain Clean Air Act regulations on coal-fired power plants and, most recently, of quietly rewriting rules so as to favor industry over environmental or consumer concerns.)
The two remaining marine conservation areas (initially, Bush had explored protecting four large areas, including two closer to U.S. shores in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Southeastern U.S. coast) are in the central and western Pacific Ocean, including the 6.8-mile deep Mariana Trench, the deepest ocean canyon in the world.
In recent years, a raft of research has documented the severe problems plaguing our oceans. Overfishing, pollution, acidification and warming are conspiring to upend ecosystems and render vast stretches of water nearly lifeless, relative to past conditions. One common protection strategy scientists repeatedly recommend is to preserve marine reserves, to prohibit exploitative fishing, mining and energy development.
Good luck, Laura.
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