An innovative partnership canceled
Did Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham really think the public would fall for the trick he played on January 9th at the Detroit Auto Show? With great fanfare, in front of a display of futuristic cars, he announced a supposedly new plan to promote hydrogen fuel cells. The real purpose of this event, however, was to cancel Clinton and Gore’s ambitious government-industry Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles. The partnership aimed to improve gas mileage in cars being produced in the next few years — not a Bush priority — plus, Al Gore was very proud of it. Fuel cells do have exciting potential to reduce gas consumption . . . ten to twenty years from now. Meanwhile, U.S. consumers will purchase 150 million traditional, low-mileage, gas-fueled cars in the next ten years. —E.C.
“Simplifying” those pesky regulations
As a Mississippi congressman, Mike Parker repeatedly sponsored bills to weaken the Clean Water Act. So, naturally, President Bush appointed him to head the Army Corps of Engineers, which helps enforce the law. It only took until January for the Corps to announce that it would roll back wetlands rules imposed under Clinton. Wetlands aren’t just nuisance swamps — they provide crucial animal habitat, prevent flooding by absorbing excess rainwater and filter farm runoff such as pesticides. In making the announcement, a Corps spokesman said the revisions “will do a better job of protecting aquatic ecosystems while simplifying some administrative burdens for the regulated public.” But the new rules simply facilitate increased development on wetlands, including home-building and surface-mining projects. — E.C.
Consulting industry, not the public
At a time when fish populations are plummeting, President Bush’s Commission on Ocean Policy is crammed with representatives of the economic interests that exploit the oceans. The group includes oil-industry supporters, shipping experts and U.S. Navy officers, but not one environmentalist. “It’s like a continuation of Vice President Cheney’s energy-policy task force,” says Beth Millemann, national-policy coordinator of Clean Ocean Action. “They seem to view the ocean as an irritating obstacle between the oil companies and the oil reserves.” In November, at the commission’s first public hearing, oil-industry executives argued that Congress should take away states’ veto power over drilling proposals. Millemann predicts that the commission “will come out with a report that they’ll portray as some kind of balanced, deep-thinking approach to the oceans, but it will likely say, ‘Drill, baby, drill!” The feds are pressing for more offshore drilling. —M.K.
Approved: Biggest mine in the U.S.
Last March, Interior Secretary Gale Norton announced that she would gut a rule that would have helped prevent mining damage to water and wildlife. Then, the day after Christmas, the Forest Service quietly approved a massive new silver and copper mine under Montana’s Cabinet Mountains wilderness area, despite concerns that the mine, which will be the largest of its kind in North America, could destroy nearby rivers and lakes. Now, Norton and environmentalists are at odds over how to update the 1872 Mining Act, which opened up the West to miners. The government’s own data shows that acid-leaking gold mines and other sites have polluted forty percent of watersheds in the West. Still, activists don’t think Norton will require miners to clean up their operations. Lexi Schultz of the Mineral Policy Center says Norton has to “stop treating the public’s resources like a free lunch for her mining friends.” Miners don’t have to clean up after themselves. —M.K.