- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

One entrenched idea is beginning to weaken: The public does not consider President Bush the archenemy of the environment, according to a Gallup poll released yesterday.
"The environmental movement and sympathetic politicians have painted the administration as anti-environmental. Given the administration's refusal to reverse course, there was reason to expect that its opponents would generate a backlash against its environmental policies similar to the one that hit the early Reagan administration," noted Gallup environmental analyst Riley Dunlap.
But there's "little evidence of a comparable backlash … despite intense efforts by environmentalists and political supporters," he continued.
The poll of 1,003 adults conducted March 3-5 reported that 53 percent said Mr. Bush had maintained environment-protection policies, up from 48 percent in 2001. The fraction of Americans saying the administration has weakened these policies is almost unchanged it stands at 35 percent, up just a point from 2001.
Sierra Club spokesman Allen Mattison is not impressed.
"Gallup took this poll when the U.S. was at war, when Americans were rallying behind their commander in chief," he said yesterday. "They're not going to tell a pollster something negative. The timing of the poll has dictated the results."
Mr. Mattison said the Bush administration continues to leave public comment out of its environmental equation, spends too much time "settling lawsuits" rather than upholding environmental law and "sides with industry rather than public health."
He said the Sierra Club was "relieved" that a potential environmental disaster caused by Iraqi oil fires was averted by U.S. military efforts. The hazard was heavily forecast by the United Nations and many pundits in late March.
Meanwhile, the entire environmental debate has changed, according to Mark Pfeifle, spokesman for Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton. He said he is not surprised that public-approval numbers are rising.
"Thirty years ago, there were rivers which caught fire and the bald eagle was dying out. Now that they don't have such issues to cite, some environmental groups are lashing out at anything," Mr. Pfeifle said.
Some groups concentrate on "fund raising and press releases," Mr. Pfeifle said, while others focus on simple but sound results. He said his agency is one of the latter.
"We're focusing on citizen conservation at the local level. We're looking to save one acre at a time," Mr. Pfeifle said. "That doesn't always make big headlines. But it's a success, and part of our effort to promote good stewardship."
The Gallup survey also reported that 37 percent of respondents said the U.S. government is doing "the right amount" of environmental protection, up from 30 percent in 2000 and 26 percent in 1992. The percentage saying it's "too little" of an effort fell to 51 percent in 2003 down from 58 percent in 2000 and 68 percent in 1992.
Gallup also found that most of the public are not rabid tree-huggers: 80 percent said they were not active in an environmental group, 69 percent have not voted for political candidates based on their environmental policy and 58 percent have not contributed money to an environmental group.
In addition, a Newsweek poll of 1,000 adults released April 14 revealed public-opinion numbers about Bush administration policies. The survey found that 47 percent approved of the its environmental policies, 34 percent disapproved and 19 percent "did not know."

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