- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2001


President Bush, in a move to reach out to his environmental critics that has angered his supporters, said yesterday that he will sign a global treaty worked out under the United Nations that calls for banning 12 toxic chemicals.
Mr. Bush, who has come under heavy critical fire from liberal environmental groups for his administratons decisions to overturn the previous Clinton administrations 11th-hour regulations on environmental policy, said he will ask the Senate to ratify the Clinton-era treaty that calls for a phase-out of the 12 chemicals that include PCBs, dioxins and DDT.
But Mr. Bushs announcement yesterday at a White House ceremony that he supports the treaty was seen by some of his conservative environmental supporters as a defensive political effort to appease his liberal critics who have begun a national TV ad campaign against his administrations recent decisions.
"This treaty is an extremely dangerous move to demonize the use of chemicals around the world. These are chemicals that are largely not used anymore and every chemical in the world is at risk of going on this list," said Fred L. Smith Jr., president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a Bush environmental adviser.
Mr. Smith said that yesterdays decision was in part due to fierce to the administrations efforts to revoke Clinton administration actions that proposed stricter standards on the allowable amount of arsenic in water and carbon dioxide emissions. Mr. Bush and his top aides have come under growing criticism from some of his own environmental allies who say that some of his actions have become public relations disasters.
"They were on the right side of their earlier decisions but they have not had an understanding of how to explain their positons to the public at large," Mr. Smith said.
"Theyve gotten blasted by the liberal media across the board and then they panic. This treaty sounds like a very defensive move," he said.
In an attempt to overturn some of the Clinton administrations environmental policies, the Bush administration has revoked or delayed a number of rules and regulations that President Clinton made in the final weeks of his tenure in office. But when it moved to stay a Clinton rule on lowering the parts per billion of arsenic traces in water and killed further regulation of power plant carbon dioxide emissions, both decisions did not play well in the public arena.
Days after announcing its decision on the arsenic ruling, the administration abandoned its position in the face of intense public criticism and said that it was going to study the problem and would come up with a new and lower standard within nine months.
The White House has been forced to shift into damage control in the past week, attempting to better explain its policy changes, but some of its advisers say those attempts have been badly executed. Arsenic occurs naturally in the soil and very tiny amounts are allowable in drinking water and getting rid of most or all of it is a very costly process costs that many municipalities cannot afford for little, if any, tangible public health benefits.
"They should have never said arsenic. They should have said affordable water," Mr. Smith said.
But that argument was not made very effectively, say administration supporters, and Mr. Bush has been paying a political price for what is essentially poor communication.
"His policy in the last few days has rang some bells and pressed some buzzers. It doesnt sound good," said independent pollster John Zogby.
"We can debate how much arsenic is safe, but moms dont want to hear about any arsenic in drinking water," Mr. Zogby said.
Mr. Zogby said that Mr. Bushs election support was weak among suburbanites, parents, independents and "especially among mothers. These groups are particularly sensitive about the environment."
"You dont want to see one part per billion. It did not sound good. He needs successes, not damage control. This sounds like damage control," he said.
"Its caused some concern because his numbers have gone down among these centrist groups, particularly when he needed to have his numbers go up," Mr. Zogby said.
"It does sound like they are on the run because of the criticism they have been getting. They have not done a good job of communicating why the arsenic rule was not tightened," said Richard Stroup, an environmental analyst at the Political Economy Research Center in Bozeman, Mont.
"What people see is corporate America killing Americans with arsenic. The administration is in some ways making good decisions on the environment but they do not have the propensity to spin the way the Clinton administration did," Mr. Stroup said.
Mr. Bush won predictable praise from his liberal critics yesterday for his announcement on the chemical treaty.
"This is a victory for public health," said Rep. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee.
But Mr. Bushs supporters on environmental policy said they were dismayed by his announcement.
"Until recently, I would give the administration an A but now I would drop it to a B plus because of todays decision," Mr. Smith said.

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