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Archive for Sunday, April 23, 2006

Earth Day met with political ‘gridlock’

April 23, 2006

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— Saturday was Earth Day, a time every year when Americans celebrate the environment and debate changes in the way to protect it. Yet on Earth Day 2006, the real news may have been what hasn't changed.

Despite relentless rhetoric from environmentalists and industry that the Bush administration has shifted the balance from tight regulation toward a more business-friendly approach, in reality, the president and his supporters have been unable to significantly rewrite America's landmark environmental laws, even though Republicans have controlled all branches of government for more than five years.

Neither side plays it up. But environmentalists have blocked the president's most far-reaching efforts in the Senate, in court and with public opinion. They can't get anything passed, but not much has gotten past them, experts say.

"We're at a stalemate. It's like two male rams battling each other," said Sheldon Kamieniecki, a professor of political science at the University of Southern California.

"It's gridlock on the environment."

Bush has succeeded in some areas since taking office in 2001.

He passed a "Healthy Forests" act in 2003 to increase thinning of federal forests to reduce fire danger. His Environmental Protection Agency approved rules to cut soot from new diesel engines by 95 percent over the next decade. He also boosted funding for hydrogen research and farmland preservation; overturned rules from the Clinton administration that banned logging on 58 million acres of roadless areas in national forests, and increased oil and gas drilling on federal lands across the West.

John Benedict carries bags of debris he picked up along a section of the Rail Trail in New Paltz, N.Y., on Saturday, April 22, 2006, as part of the New Paltz Clean Sweep.

John Benedict carries bags of debris he picked up along a section of the Rail Trail in New Paltz, N.Y., on Saturday, April 22, 2006, as part of the New Paltz Clean Sweep.

But he has failed in a host of areas that had been higher priorities. Among them:

l Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A key goal since he first ran for president, Bush has seen ANWR drilling fail repeatedly in Congress, most recently in December when two moderate Republican senators joined 42 Democrats to filibuster a defense bill that would have included drilling.

¢ "Clear Skies." Bush's most high-profile air pollution initiative, introduced in 2002, would allow power plants and other facilities to set up a market-based system of trading pollution credits. Environmentalists say current laws are stronger, and that the bill needs to include carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

¢ Endangered Species Act. When Bush ran in 2000, the Republican platform described the act as "punitive" and "sometimes counter-productive." It called for changes that would offer more incentives to farmers, ranchers and other landowners, including payment when use of their land is curbed to save wildlife.

¢ Offshore oil drilling. Bush's Interior Department has tried for five years to renew leases for 37 undrilled ocean areas of Southern California.

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