With a decline in water quality documented in many US rivers, lakes and streams, the LCV asked the leading Republican and Democratic candidates, Bush, John McCain, Bill Bradley and Al Gore, where they stand on the issue.

Texas Governor Bush has not yet addressed the issue of water pollution during his campaign, and failed to return LCV’s presidential environmental questionnaire. However, LCV says Bush’s record in Texas suggests that water quality protection will not be one of his top priorities if elected president.

The Texas Center for Policy Studies says overall water quality in Texas’ classified reservoirs has declined since 1992. The state now ranks third in the US for surface water discharges and the US EPA has classified 27% of Texas’s rivers as unsafe to swim in.

“Of the current presidential contenders, George W. Bush is the only candidate who chose not to return LCV’s environmental questionnaire,” an LCV spokesperson told edie. “Candidates often receive numerous questionnaires during a campaign. In deciding which questionnaires to complete and return, they clearly signal the importance of various issues in their campaign. By not returning the environmental questionnaire, Gov. Bush made clear that he is not making the environment a priority issue in his campaign.”

“By ignoring the questionnaire, Bush forfeited an opportunity to recast his environmental record in a more favourable light. Under his leadership, environmental quality in Texas has become worse instead of getting better. This is a fact he would rather ignore than address. When candidates fail to address an issue the public cares about, the public must then turn to other sources to get information. The truth is, Gov. Bush’s environmental record is so abysmal, it would be difficult for even him to cast it in a positive light.”

More than 40% of US waterways are threatened by non-point sources of pollution, such as runoff from agricultural land, factory farms, parking lots and city streets. The LCV says that more than 60% of the US’ water pollution problems can be linked to these sources.

Environmentalists are calling for the strengthening of the Clean Water Act and the introduction of a legally-binding non-point source pollution programme. They argue that state-implemented programmes have failed to control polluted runoff. However, opponents of a mandatory programme say flexible incentives to curb polluted runoff would be more effective.

Arizona Senator John McCain is the only Republican candidate who

has said he will address the issue of polluted runoff if elected president, according to the LCV.

In answering the LCV presidential environmental questionnaire, McCain appeared to support a more flexible approach to controlling water pollution. He told LCV that the nation would never meet its clean water goals until the non-point source pollution problem is addressed: “As president, I would seek the most appropriate reasonable and cost-effective remedies to the ‘runoff’ water pollution problem. I would work for a programme that can gain the cooperation of the agricultural community and other land-based activities. Such consensus building offers the best hope of accomplishing our twin goals of a healthy environment and a thriving agricultural sector.”

On the Democratic side, Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley have both spoken on the issue of polluted runoff. Gore advocates strengthening the Clean Water Act and significantly increasing investments in clean water programmes, while Bradley supports looking at a range of solutions for cleaning up runoff.

In answering his LCV questionnaire, Gore appeared to favour a federally run programme, pointing out that as vice president he initiated a Clean Water Action Plan that included money to help fund non-point source pollution controls and encourage farmers and ranchers to control polluted runoff. He said the US must “strengthen the Clean Water Act and significantly increase our investments in clean water if we are to fully … achieve fishable and swimmable waters nationwide.”

Bradley, like McCain, seemed to support a more flexible approach to controlling non-point source pollution. When responding to his LCV Questionnaire, Bradley said “voluntary action has significantly reduced non-point sources of pollution,” and said the US needs “to look at a wide range of solutions for cleaning up runoff.”

“It’s clear that, as president, Bush would set back decades of efforts to clean up US waterways,” LCV Political Director Betsy Loyless said. “On the other hand, while their plans lack specifics, Bradley, Gore and McCain have all acknowledged that polluted runoff is a serious problem. It is now our job to encourage all four candidates to address this issue in more detail.”

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