Bush begins to overturn Clinton’s recent environmental protections and pledges

Upon taking office, the new administration said it would soon begin a controversial scheme to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling and President George W. Bush issued an order blocking some of the last-minute executive orders and rules laid down by Bill Clinton.

As promised in the Republican pre-election manifesto (see related story), on 22 January, the Bush administration announced its intention to open up the 30,000 square mile (79,000 sq km) Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, citing California’s electricity crisis (see related story) as evidence that the US needs more fuel. President Bush, himself a former Texas oilman, is resolutely in favour of the proposal and is preparing a new energy plan to which drilling on the coastal plain of the refuge is key.

“Moving quickly on a national energy policy is important,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. “We’ll push ahead to develop 8% of the Arctic National Wildlife Refugee.” The proposal will decrease US dependency on imported fuel, containing vast quantities of crude and natural gas.

The Belgium-sized refuge was not been declared a National Monument by Bill Clinton in the last days of his presidency, as the White House had said that the area was already protected by federal law which would require Congress to approve any plans for drilling. However, Clinton, the Canadian government, environmentalists and tribal groups are against any drilling in the refuge, home to caribou, polar bears and other rare wildlife.

New head of the Department of the Interior, Gale Norton, has promised a close review of the environmental implications of arctic drilling and said that drilling in the refuge would only affect 2,000 acres.

In a separate move on 20 January, shortly after taking office, George W. Bush directed the heads of all federal government departments and regulatory agencies to postpone publishing any new or pending regulations in the Federal Register “in order to ensure that the President’s appointees have the opportunity to review” them. All new rules must be published for a minimum amount of time in the register before becoming law. This could mean that some of Clinton’s last actions, which principally concerned environmental protection, could be scrapped. The action which Republicans most want to overturn is Clinton’s decision to protect 59 million acres of pristine forests from commercial activities (see related story). Other regulatory actions subject to being overturned include Clinton’s recent flurry of declarations of many new National Monuments (see related story). New Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman (see related story) has also expressed some misgivings about some of the regulations put in place by Clinton and Carol Browner, her predecessor. “I expect some will be repealed, some will be amended, some will be kept,” Fleischer said, referring to Clinton’s orders.

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