- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2000

Texas Gov. George W. Bush yesterday charged into Vice President Al Gore's back yard and announced his first environmental initiative: to quicken the cleanup and redevelopment of polluted industrial sites known as brownfields.

Mr. Bush also challenged his presidential rival's positions outlined in his environmental manifesto, "Earth in the Balance," which criticizes the internal-combustion engine as a major polluter.

"I think the vice president is probably going to have to explain what he meant by some of the things in his book, to share with us the philosophy behind some of the standards in the book," Mr. Bush said.

It was Mr. Bush's first foray into an issue normally dominated by Mr. Gore, the self-proclaimed political father of the environmental movement. However, Republicans are hoping to use Mr. Gore's book and his own words to focus on some of his more controversial ideas.

Mr. Bush outlined his six-point plan to speed brownfield cleanups at the site of a former steel plant in Aliquippa, Pa., which has been cleaned up and redeveloped into a $120 million gypsum plant that will open in May.

Mr. Bush said that under his plan, state and local governments would work with private industry to develop new environmental standards, rather than battling them in the courtroom.

"The government cannot sue its way to clean air and clean water," Mr. Bush said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Gore said Mr. Bush was welcomed into the environmental debate on the issue of brownfields, but she said Mr. Bush would not be able to compete with Mr. Gore's record.

"I think there is a clear choice on this issue," said Kathleen Begala, Mr. Gore's communications director.

"Al Gore has led the effort to clean up brownfields and Superfund sites. Under this administration, grants have been made to clean up 300 brownfields, so Mr. Bush is late to this quest," Miss Begala said.

Political strategists say getting the environmental issue out front early in the campaign is a good move for Mr. Bush.

"What this does is issue a preemptive strike on an issue that could be troublesome to Bush, given Houston's record on clean air," said John Zogby, president of Zogby Group International, a polling firm.

After Mr. Bush signed cleanup legislation in 1995, more than 400 brownfield sites in Texas have been cleaned, adding $200 million to local property-tax rolls.

"At the same time, it allows Bush to go after Al Gore on an issue he claims as his own, but can deal with in Republican terms, such as less government regulation and less spending," Mr. Zogby said.

Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute, said Mr. Bush's announcement was "the opening salvo of what promises to be an issue that will occupy a tremendous amount of time between now and November."

"He has certainly put his finger on a serious problem and has entered the environmental debate, which given the nature of the Gore candidacy and Gore's identity with environmental issues, Bush is not going to be able to avoid anyway," Mr. Cohen said.

While the Clinton administration has been supportive of developing brownfields and has awarded grants, Mr. Cohen said it has consistently opposed any effort to overhaul tough regulations that discourage developers from entering a cleanup.

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