Environment Ranks Low on Bush List of Priorities

WASHINGTON, DC, January 29, 2002 (ENS) - The environment was rarely mentioned tonight in the first State of the Union address given by President George W. Bush. The address, which comes at the end of the President's first year in office, was focused on the war on terrorism. He told assembled Senators and Representatives, "We will win this war; we'll protect our homeland; and we will revive our economy."

The majority of the speech dealt with the war on terrorism in the wake of the September 11 terrorist plane strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The environment was notable by its absence.

An exception came first by implication in the President's description of the terrorists America must fight. "The depth of their hatred is equaled by the madness of the destruction they design," he said. "We have found diagrams of American nuclear power plants and public water facilities, detailed instructions for making chemical weapons, surveillance maps of American cities, and thorough descriptions of landmarks in America and throughout the world."


President Bush directs discussions of the State of the Union speech with senior White House staff members Andy Card and Dr. Condoleezza Rice in the Oval Office Thursday, January 24. (White House photo by Eric Draper)
The President touched on a hot button environmental issue when he explained what America needs to overcome the recession he acknowledged exists today. "Good jobs also depend on reliable and affordable energy," he said. "This Congress must act to encourage conservation, promote technology, build infrastructure, and it must act to increase energy production at home so America is less dependent on foreign oil.

And finally, after pledging to run a deficit "that will be small and short-term," promising to extend unemployment benefits and provide direct assistance for health care coverage, and vowing support for better schools and retirement security, President Bush mentioned the environment directly.

"Members," he said, "you and I will work together in the months ahead on other issues: productive farm policy, a cleaner environment, broader home ownership, especially among minorities, and ways to encourage the good work of charities and faith-based groups. I ask you to join me on these important domestic issues in the same spirit of cooperation we've applied to our war against terrorism."


House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)
In the Democrats' response to the State of the Union address, Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives largely supported the President, presenting a united front against terrorism.

He mentioned the environment only once, in connection with a secure energy supply. "We want to roll up our sleeves and work with our President to end America's dependence on foreign oil while preserving our environment - so we don't see gas prices jump every year," Gephardt said.

It was left to the environmental nongovernment community to criticize the President's position on energy and the environment. Speaking as head of the Green Group, which includes the CEOs of 20 leading conservation organizations, Wilderness Society president William Meadows said, "The President has led us well in the war against terrorism, and now is the time to provide equally effective leadership in a war against oil dependence."


William Meadows of the Wilderness Society (Photo courtesy Wilderness Society)
"Oil pollutes our air, creates global warming, and biases our foreign policy threats because the Persian Gulf harbors two-thirds of the world's supply. We should take a man-on-the-moon approach to tapping the sun and other renewable sources," he said.

Opposing the often stated Bush administration policy to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration, which the President did not mention in his address, Meadows said, "10 times as many jobs would be created across the country if we were to embark on an initiative that emphasized greater energy efficiency and investments in renewable energy sources."

League of Conservation Voters president Deb Callahan applauded the President's recognition that Congress should act to encourage conservation, promote technology, and increase energy production here at home as a way to renew our economy and strengthen our security. "Unfortunately," she said, "the House passed energy plan the president urged the Senate to approve would do neither of those things."

Callahan urged the Senate to "embrace a national energy policy that would create jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and ensure a clean environment through renewable energy and energy efficiency."

The called the energy bill passed by the House a "tired, flawed" piece of legislation that would "mortgage our environmental health, sap our economic might, and sacrifice our most special wild places - like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Senate should indeed pass a national energy policy but one that taps into the best of America's energy future, rather than the worst of our energy past," she said.