- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Everybody in Washington frets about Vice President Dick Cheney's health, but what about his boss? President Bush is beginning to look a little too green for his own good. He may be in need of ideological defibrillation.

Over the past several weeks, the Bush administration has staked out environmental positions that would make Al Gore and his tree-hugging pals proud. Start with the Clinton-Gore White House's last-minute executive orders on federal monuments. President Bush gave hope to conservatives, especially out West, when he delayed his predecessors' eleventh-hour rule-making. But after a few weeks in office, the new administration decided not to rescind the stealthy declaration of nearly two dozen national monuments covering five million acres of public lands.

Clinton-Gore pushed the land grabs through by bypassing most of the state and local officials in the areas affected. Scholars point out that it would ultimately take an act of Congress to reverse the designations. Nevertheless, Bush squandered a golden opportunity to show leadership, demonstrate his commitment to devolution, and take a bold stand against his predecessors' abuse of federal power.

Bush's defenders inside Washington say that giving in on the monuments is a matter of “strategy” and political “sophistication.” Conservatives outside the Beltway, however, aren't buying that. The editorial page of The Oklahoman, which endorsed Bush, recently wrote: “It's understood the administration has its plate full with tax cuts, education reform and overhauling the military, but unchecked land confiscation by the federal government, dramatically limiting the taxpayers' uses of those lands, is a big issue in this part of the country. And (it's) one of the ways many Americans in the Western states, which voted overwhelmingly for President Bush, thought the new administration would make a break with the Clinton past.”

Out with the old, in with the … old.

The Bush team also let stand another Clinton-Gore executive order clamping down on sulfur particles in diesel fuel. EPA chief Christie Todd Whitman parroted former agency head Carol Browner's line that the regulation will prevent “8,300 premature deaths.” But Browner relied on notoriously exaggerated and misleading health data, supplied by radical groups with direct interests in environmental litigation.

There's no question that particulate matter may pose serious health hazards to vulnerable populations who suffer from asthma, bronchitis or pneumonia. But science has yet to establish any direct linkage between small-particle exposure and increased mortality rates — a fact that the EPA's own science advisory board noted. Meanwhile, the sulfur rules will raise the price of new diesel vehicles by $1,200 to $1,900, and the price of gas by between 5 and 50 cents a gallon.

Conservative economists rightly reminded us during the Clinton-Gore years that zero pollution is unattainable and unwise in a world of limited resources. Great progress in reducing air pollution has been made since passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970, but adding new layers of regulation promises diminishing returns. The price of purging those last molecules of pollution from the air grows exponentially over time.

Bush's costly dalliance with the Clinton-Gore team's junk science legacy is alarming. As reported by conservative columnist Robert Novak and others, the Bush administration's energy package initially included an antipollution proposal that would dramatically expand the Clean Air Act by imposing new limits on four pollutants, including carbon dioxide. That approach was championed by global warming scaremonger Al Gore. Cracking down on carbon-based fuels and coal-burning power plants is at the crux of the Kyoto Protocol, an Al Gore hobbyhorse.

On Tuesday, Vice President Cheney announced a retreat from the carbon dioxide reduction plan — but President Bush's lips have yet to utter unequivocal opposition to the Kyoto Protocol.

This treaty would bind the United States to drastic cuts in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Yet, the world's biggest polluters — developing nations like China and India — would be exempt. These emissions reductions are also based on extremely dubious science. Bush said so himself during the campaign. Only this much is guaranteed: higher fuel taxes, less energy and more blackouts.

Bush's supporters blame liberal members of the administration, led by Whitman and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, for the White House's radical environmental flirtation with global warming. But let's remember who hired these eco-zealots. It wasn't Al Gore.

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