Republican Party manifesto offers little consolation to environmentalists and much to business

Despite pledges to clean up Superfund sites and Brownfields, the Republican Party manifesto, finalised on 1 August, offers little to reassure already-weary environmentalists that the party is not in the pocket of big business.

“As an avid outdoorsman, I know all our prosperity as a nation will mean little if we leave future generations a world of polluted air, toxic waste, and vanished wilderness and forests.” George W. Bush’s apparent pro-environmental stance should reassure environmentalists rather than be a cause for worry. But the US’ foremost environmental group, the Sierra Club, and others, are worried about many of the proposals in the new manifesto, which are believed to be market-based decisions. “We believe the government’s main role should be to provide market based incentives to innovate and develop the new technologies for Americans to meet – and exceed – environmental standards”, the manifesto states. But Sierra Club spokesperson, Allen Mattison, told edie that: “Given Bush and Cheney’s past positions and outlined proposals, the platform looks like bad news.”

Scorn is heaped on the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the industrialised nations. “ Complex and contentious issues like global warming call for a far more realistic approach than that of the Kyoto Conference. Its deliberations were not based on the best science; its proposed agreements would be ineffective and unfair inasmuch as they do not apply to the developing world,” states the manifesto which would also “reject the extremist call for the United Nations to create a ‘Stewardship Council,’ modelled on the Security Council, to oversee the global environment.”

In a further pledge to strengthen the power of the US Government against what are referred to as “international bureaucrats” and likely to anger environmentalists, the Republicans will also “take action against any trading partner that uses pseudo-science to block importation of U.S. bioengineered crops.”

The energy sector has elements which will please and anger the environmental lobby, and the manifesto points to Bush’s record as governor of Texas, such as a 28% increase in state funding for natural resources in the last five years. Clean coal technology, and tax credits for renewable energy sources including wind, biomass, ethanol and solar are supported.

But proposals such as drilling for oil on federal lands, especially on the coastal plain of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, have attracted strong condemnation from environmental groups, which oppose development there. Other environmental hot potatoes are the Republicans opposition to dam breaching to help endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest (see related story) and “the quick approval and completion of a permanent high level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.” Even the Republican’s own Nevada politicians such as Senate candidate John Ensign oppose the latter pledge.

Green campaigners and certain press regard Bush’s appointment of Dick Cheney as his running mate as a clear demonstration of his lack of commitment to the environment. Cheney was one of only eight members of Congress to oppose the Clean Water Act, and the Los Angeles Times has exposed the Wyoming congressman’s “100% voting record against the environment.”

A further charge of hypocrisy has been levelled at the Republicans for their stance on air pollution, where once again the manifesto trumpets the presidential hopeful’s record. “Under Governor Bush’s leadership, Texas reduced industrial pollution in Texas by 11 percent, became the third state in the nation to require mandatory emission reductions from power plants, and remains first in the nation in reducing toxics,” it says. But the Sierra Club doesn’t believe the hype. “Governor Bush has let polluters off the hook. Texas beats the rest of the nation in toxic air emissions – his excuse that there has been an 11% reduction is the nation-wide trend anyway and at the same time as trumpeting lower emissions his lobbyists are trying to weaken the enforcement provisions which are there,” Mattison said.

The manifesto reinforces the Republican wish to protect private property rights through opposition to federal protections for wild lands. “Environmental stewardship has best advanced where property is privately held,” the document says. “Conversely, the world’s worst cases of environmental degradation have occurred in places where most property is under government control. For reasons both constitutional and environmental, therefore, we will safeguard private property rights by enforcing the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment and by providing just compensation whenever private property is needed to achieve a compelling public purpose.” Consequently the manifesto oppose the use of presidential executive orders to set aside lands as national monuments, as President Bill Clinton has done many times in the past eight years.

One of the moves, which most angers the Sierra Club is the Republican’s pledge to logging companies. “We recognize the vital role the timber industry plays in our economy, particularly in homebuilding, and we support its efforts to improve the health of the country’s forests. Because so many people in rural America rely on public forests for their livelihood, a Republican administration will promote sustainable forest management, using the best science in place of the no-growth policies that have devastated communities in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska,” the document reads.

The Endangered Species Act, cherished by environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, would be altered under a Republican administration. The manifesto describes it as “ sometimes counter-productive toward its truly important goal of protecting rare species, 75% of which are located on private land,” and advises “incentive-based cooperation among federal, state, local, and tribal governments, and private citizens.” Changes to the act are justified in the manifesto because “Its punitive approach actually encourages landowners to remove habitat to avoid federal intervention”, and thus “serves as a disincentive for private landowners to do more to restore habitat and become private stewards of wildlife.”

Mattison told edie that he was against Republican proposals. “The Endangered Species Act is a groundbreaking way to save national wildlife. It has helped to stabilise populations of grizzly bears and save the bald eagle, the American symbol, from extinction. We do not think the act should be weakened at all.”

It’s not all bad news for environmentalists though. Bush’s commitment to cleaning up brownfield and highly polluted Superfund sites is not in doubt. “Under Governor Bush, the number of (Texas) brownfield sites restored to productive use climbed from zero to 451, not only improving the environment but restoring more than $200 million in property value to local tax rolls, most of it in poor communities,” the manifesto says.

“We will use Superfund resources to actually clean up places where people live and labor, rather than waste it on costly litigation. The old approach of mandate, regulate, and litigate has sent potential developers away from brownfield neighborhoods. The result: no new businesses, no new jobs – only dirty and dangerous sites,” it pledges.

In the week of the Republican convention though, warnings about the party’s stance on environmental issues may be falling on deaf ears: Bush has significantly improved his poll ratings, which have widened his lead over his Democrat opponent, Al Gore, who is endorsed by environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club.

The Democrat Party’s environmental plans will be covered during their forthcoming conference.

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