This is the outline of a brief lecture on Politics and the Environment delivered by Anthony Benoit to the Adventures in Lifelong Learning group at Three Rivers Community College in October '04

  1. The role of the federal government in environmental protection.
    1. Legislative: The Senate and House of Representatives write and enact statutes that establish:
      1. funding
      2. requirements for regulation
      3. policy
      4. sometimes agency structure
      5. also, Congress provides advice and consent on Presidential appointments
    2. Judicial: The courts determine what laws mean in practice. Case law is a set of previous decisions that shape enforcement and policy.
      1. The role of the courts is established by the Constitution, but only the Supreme Court is named in the Constitution
      2. 97 Federal District Courts and the 12 Courts of Appeal were established by Congress
      3. Connecticut has a Superior Court and a Supreme Court
    3. Executive: Government agencies are typically considered part of the executive branch of government. Some agencies are directly answerable to the president because the director is appointed by the president and perhaps serves on the cabinet. The existence and funding of agencies is done by the legislature.
      1. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created by Richard Nixon in 1970 as a reorganization of various functions previously carried out by the Departments of Agriculture; Health, Education, & Welfare; Interior; and other federal agencies.
        1. The EPA is the federal agency charged with writing and enforcing environmental regulations as well as carrying out research related to the environment and providing compliance assistance
        2. The President has great influence over the EPA and other agencies since he appoints the Administrator (with the advice and consent of the Congress).
        3. Congress has power over the EPA through its funding
      2. The Council on Environmental Quality, CEQ, was established within the Executive Office by the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969 with additional duties added by the Environmental Quality Improvement Act of 1970
        1. The Chair of the Council is appointed by the President and serves as the President’s chief advisor on environmental policy
        2. The CEQ is supposed to present an annual Environmental Quality Report to Congress describing environmental accomplishments and problems and outlines a strategy for environmental protection, including areas needing regulation. (Note: The report has not been issued since 1997.)
        3. The CEQ writes and enforces regulations that implement the NEPA requirement for Environmental Impact Statements
        4. Oversees the environmental policies and procedures of federal agencies
  2. Some presidential actions affecting the environment.
    1. Teddy Roosevelt
      1. Was a great outdoorsman, championing the cause of conservation
      2. In 1903, he created the Pelican Island Bird Reservation in Florida to protect pelicans endangered by over hunting
      3. In 1905, created the Bureau of Forestry (now the National Forest Service) with conservationist Giffort Pinchot as its head; established many forest reserves
      4. Created 18 National Monuments, including Grand Canyon
    2. Dwight D Eisenhower
      1. Set aside the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve
    3. Richard Nixon
      1. Took office in a decade during which public sentiment in favor of environmental protection grew tremendously
      2. Established the EPA
      3. Presided over the enactment of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act and over the development of the Safe Drinking Water Act
    4. Ronald Reagan
      1. Despite a positive environmental record as governor of California, Reagan aggressively rolled back federal environmental safeguards
      2. Appointed James Watt as Secretary of the Interior and Ann Gorsuch as Administrator of EPA;
      3. Watt was outspoken in his rejection of environmental protection; he sought to sell or give away mineral rights on federal lands; he was forced to leave office after making an off-color remark about minorities
      4. Gorsuch tried to eliminate much federal clean air regulation; her efforts were thwarted by Congress
        1. Rita Lavelle, director of the Superfund program under Gorsuch, was jailed for lying to Congress
        2. Gorsuch was forced out after Congress uncovered misconduct within the EPA
      5. Reagan vetoed a strong reauthorization of the Clean Water Act in 1987; Congress overrode the veto.
      6. Reagan fired the entire professional staff of the CEQ in 1981; cut the agencies funding by 80%; tried to eliminate the CEQ in 1983
      7. Said "Trees causes more air pollution than automobiles."
      8. Cut funding for the EPA and for alternative energy programs
      9. Reduced enforcement activities by the EPA by more than two thirds
    5. George HW Bush
      1. Restored the activities of the CEQ
      2. Reauthorized the Clean Air Act, initiating market-based incentives for reducing sulfur oxide precursors to acid rain; his work was seen as a positive step by both industry and environmentalists
    6. Bill Clinton
      1. Proposed eliminating or restructuring the CEQ (no action taken)
      2. Restricted road building and other extraction activities on federal lands
      3. Increased the amount of federal land designated as wilderness area
      4. Banned snowmobiles in Yellowstone
  3. Bush’s environmental record.
    1. 2000 campaign was at least partially neutral, perhaps even productive, in its environmental positions; Bush proposed to:
      1. Replace "command and control" enforcement with market mechanisms
      2. Decentralize some environmental decision-making
      3. Relax some environmental restrictions in favor of businesses
    2. In practice, many of his actions have been strongly anti-environment
      1. Named former oil industry executive Dick Cheney as his running mate; Cheney’s secret meeting with oil companies formed the basis for the White House’s energy policy and have been widely criticized by environmentalists
      2. Pulled the US out of the Kyoto Treaty to reduce greenhouse gases pending further scientific study
      3. Bush has been accused, by the Union of Concerned Scientists and others, of using research funding to promote his political views
        1. For example, in 2002, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton rejected a scientific report from the USGS showing that oil development in ANWR would hurt caribou; she ordered a new report saying that drilling wouldn’t hurt wildlife
      4. Established an energy policy that called for more oil exploration and development but little alternative energy research or deployment
      5. Rescinded the protections of public lands established under Clinton’s executive orders, allowing roads and logging in previously protected lands; removed state government authority to restrict federally sanctioned mineral extraction
      6. Sought to open ANWR and other national or state reserves to oil development despite strong opposition from environmentalists and environmental scientists; estimates put the oil supply in ANWR at about 200 days of current consumption
      7. Bush’s "Clear Skies" initiative reduced environmental enforcement under the Clean Air Act by changing the definitions and classifications
        1. The CAA allows old dirty power plants to continue producing on the assumption that they will eventually be upgraded or replaced; the replacement plants must meet stringent New Source Performance Standards
        2. Under Bush, the EPA has permitted significant repair and refurbishment of dirty plants without requiring the stricter performance standards; thousands of sources are affected including
        3. Prior to the initiative, the EPA regulated mercury as the deadly toxin it is, requiring Maximum Achievable Control Technology greatly reducing mercury emissions
        4. Under the initiative, mercury was reclassified so that cost of control can be used as an argument against installing control measures; mercury emission credits and can be bought and sold, as can credits for NOx and SOx
      8. The Bush administration proposed reclassification under the Clean Water Act as well
        1. Smaller bodies of water not permanently connected to navigable waterways would become exempt from federal protection
        2. About 60% of water bodies might be reclassified, including extremely sensitive seasonal pools such as vernal pools and prairie potholes
      9. Lifted the ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone
      10. The League of Conservation Voters have graded the Bush Whitehouse "F"
  4. Kerry’s record and environmental positions
    1. In Congress
      1. According to the League of Conservation Voters, Kerry voted in favor of the environment 96 percent of the time
      2. Voted in favor of the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship bill, which didn’t pass, but which would have implemented caps on greenhouse gases similar to those under the Kyoto treaty
    2. Campaign promises are notoriously unreliable as a guide to a President’s behavior, but Kerry proposes:
      1. To rely on sound science to inform policy (not to distort science to fit policy)
      2. Restore protections under the Clean Air Act
        1. Mercury emissions
        2. Greenhouse gases
        3. Acid rain precursors
      3. Clean Water Act
        1. "Restore America’s Waters" campaign
        2. Allow states to use the full protections available under the Act
      4. Public lands
        1. Proposes a "Conservation Covenant" to protect public land
        2. Increase funding for the National Park Service by $600 million
      5. Energy
        1. Promote energy conservation
        2. Develop alternative energy technology that may reduce US dependence on foreign oil and provide jobs and exports for the US

For more info:

http://www.epa.gov/ The US EPA

http://www.georgewbush.com/ Bush’s official reelection site

http://www.johnkerry.com/index.html Kerry’s official election site

http://www.lcv.org/ The League of Conservation Voters

http://www.repamerica.org/ Republicans for Environmental Protection

http://www.ucsusa.org/ The Union of Concerned Scientists