Bush and his minions trade campaign dollars for American's lungsIf you already are convinced that George W. Bush is the ultimate anti-environmental president, you know half the story. Bruce Barcott has given us the complete story on how Bush has subverted the Clean Air Act and put the lungs and lives of thousands of Americans at risk.
Writing in the April 4 issue of The New York Times Magazine, Barcott offers exhaustive reportage on the creative larceny that allowed Bush and his minions to undo the clean air legacy that began with President Richard Nixon, who signed it into law in 1970.
Barcott, who is a contributing editor of Outside magazine, describes in painstaking detail how the president subverted a law that has bedrock, bipartisan support. The writer describes "a two-track strategy" in which the president would publicly propose legislation that looked good while privately undermining enforcement of the Clean Air Act. "One key element of the strategy was putting the right people in under-the-radar positions," Barcott writes.
Barcott's article is not a fast read. It lacks the drama or magnetism of Richard Clarke's book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror. But Barcott's reporting is essential to understanding the deeply revolutionary and subversive agenda of the Bush administration. Shielded by the president's "What, me worry?" grin, a determined and knowledgeable group of bureaucrats shaped a new approach to clean air. Essential to the task was the cheerful, benign visage of Christie Todd Whitman, former New Jersey governor who became administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Whitman eventually understood the meaning of what she was fronting. In a memo to Vice President Dick Cheney, she wrote: "We will pay a terrible political price if we undercut or walk away from the enforcement cases; it will be hard to refute the charge that we are deciding not to enforce the Clean Air Act."
This revisionist scheme was prompted by massive campaign giving by executives who represented the nation's major air polluting firms. The dollars began to flow in earnest when these industry executives realized they could realize their fondest dream: Rollback of the Clean Air Act.
The health hazards of dirty air are well documented. Barcott notes: "During the late 80's and 90's, medical researchers found that long-term exposure to fine particulates caused asthma attacks in children and raised the risk of chronic bronchitis in adults."
To average Americans it is mind boggling that a group of executives and a compliant government would willfully back off on enforcement of clean air standards. But that is exactly the picture that emerges from this documentation. President George W. Bush traded campaign dollars for the long-term health of Americans. It is a devil's bargain.