Bush Supporters Unhappy With Environmental Policy

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, January 22, 2003 (ENS) - A free market environmental think tank with close ties to the Bush administration is disappointed with the President's environmental policy, but not for reasons often cited by other environmental groups. The Political Economy Research Center (PERC) gives the Bush administration low marks because it has not aggressively moved forward with environmental policies that are based on free market principles.


President George W. Bush (Photo by Paul Morse courtesy The White House)
Environmental policies can work better and be more cost effective, according PERC, when they rely on market based incentives, private initiatives and voluntary action. But the Bush administration has failed to apply these free market principles to its environmental policy, a new report from PERC finds, and has thereby ignored the rights of property owners and the benefits of decentralizing many environmental protections and regulations.

"President [George W.] Bush's administration is moving away from the principles of free market environmentalism, when we thought he would be moving toward it," said Bruce Yandle, PERC senior associate and director of the project. "We are disappointed."


PERC senior associate Bruce Yandle introduces the report card today at the National Press Club. (Two photos by J.R. Pegg)
In its new report, PERC graded the Bush administration for policies related to 16 environmental issues and gave it an overall midterm grade of C-.

The report criticized the Bush administration for its enactment of stricter arsenic standards for drinking water, its signing of a United Nations treaty banning persistent organic pollutants such as DDT, and its support of continued subsidies for fishing and farming interests.

But policies that have received sharp criticism from many environmental groups, including the administration's decision to withdraw U.S. support for the Kyoto Protocol, its changes to the Clean Air Act's New Source Review, and its support for genetically modified crops, were all praised by PERC in the report.

Overall, the Montana based think tank's report finds that President Bush has not seized a range of opportunities to shift the environmental debate and policy to include the free market principles the organization is still convinced the President holds dear.

Free market environmentalism is based on these principles, PERC says.

In 1999, Yandle and PERC Executive Director Terry Anderson were part of a team that advised then Governor Bush on environmental policies in preparation for his presidential campaign. The low grades on this report, Anderson explained, indicate that the President is not following the advice given by that team or the free market environmental policies they support.


PERC Executive Director Terry Anderson
"Much of this report suggests that this administration has emphasized the wrong things," Anderson said, adding that the administration needs to do a better job in communicating with the public about its environmental policies.

"Over and over I see an administration emphasizing what everybody expects from a Republican administration with regulatory rollbacks and the like," Anderson said. "This is frustrating because it really does have some good ideas on incentives, but it doesn't emphasize them."

Public land management is the area where PERC expected the most improvement, Yandle said, but little was accomplished "except rhetorically." The Bush administration received a C- for its policies on public land management.

Lack of action earned a C- for policies impacting grazing on public lands and left Anderson frustrated with the Bush administration's lack of commitment to free market environmentalism.

The administration, Anderson said, has endorsed the concept of willing buyer/willing seller trades of grazing permits, but has not moved forward even though a willing trade is ready to proceed. With private funding, the Grand Canyon Trust and grazing permit holders in Utah have struck a deal to reduce or retire grazing on some 300,000 acres in or around the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.


Cattle grazing on public lands is a contentious issue. (Photo courtesy Colorado State U.)
This would effectively protect the lands from future grazing through market based incentives, something the administration readily supports. But the Bureau of Land Management and the Bush administration are delaying final approval.

"Just tell the ranchers who are raising the red flag that this is one we are doing and that they need to live with it," Anderson said. "It is willing buyer, willing seller. Let it go."

The recent unveiling by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) of a water trading policy, which will allow the trading of pollution credits for watersheds, was "one of the few bright spots," Yandle said. This policy protects water through a system of local control and market trading, he explained, two pillars of free market environmentalism's foundation.

The water trading policy, although supported by a few environmental groups, has been criticized by others as incomplete and in possible violation of the Clean Water Act.

Anderson readily admits that PERC's report is different than some done by environmental groups, even though the grades may look similar.

One example of this is PERC's grade of C for the Bush administration's global climate change policy. Many environmentalists have criticized the administration for its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, but this is the only area of global climate change policy viewed favorably by the PERC report.

"The administration did get high marks for recognizing that the Kyoto Protocol is fatally flawed and would do nothing to address the problems that global warming theories express," said David Riggs, author of the section on global climate change and executive director of GreenWatch at the Capital Research Center.


Most climate scientists have found that Earth's temperature is rising due to an increasing blanket of gases produced by human activities. (Photo courtesy Center for International Climate and Environmental Research)
But Riggs lowered the administration's grade because it is pursuing some voluntary domestic programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"These domestic programs will set the stage for mandatory controls on fossil fuel use, harming the economy and reducing freedom unnecessarily," Riggs said. "The Bush administration skipped over that very important point of whether or not we should control and reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

The worst grades came for the policies on regulation of lead releases, air quality regulation, drinking water and arsenic, ocean fisheries and persistent organic pollution. Regulation of lead releases received an F; the other four all received a D in the report.

On lead release regulation, the report finds that the Bush administration went forward with a rule written by the previous administration that requires companies that use 100 pounds or more of lead a year to report to the EPA about their transfers or releases of this material. According to PERC, the science behind the rule is weak, the health benefits unclear, and the costs to small businesses too high to merit the regulation.

The only air quality regulation that received favorable marks was the Bush administration's reform of the Clean Water Act's New Source Review. Many environmental groups have argued that these reforms will allow for increased air pollution, but according to the PERC report, the reforms "will likely reduce the costs of complying with environmental regulations while, at worst, having no effect on air quality."

Anderson said that despite his disappointment with the first two years, he sees signs that the Bush administration and others are beginning to embrace the merits of free market environmentalism. He cited the recent decision by the Interior Secretary Gale Norton to cut California's annual share of the Colorado River by some 13 percent and the potential that states upstream will be able to sell their excess water supplies.

"The administration could improve its grade by promoting legislation that allows recipients of federal water to sell it to higher valued uses and that requires all beneficiaries to pay the full cost of water they receive," Anderson wrote in the report.

"These are not the ideas of a bunch of kooky economists out in Montana or Clemson or within the beltway," Anderson told ENS. "They are ideas that are being more and more embraced by environmental groups."

To read the report, please see: http://www.perc.org/