A bad time to be the environment?

Ben Prochazka, the Western states field organizer for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, doesn’t hold back when discussing the current presidential administration.

“Our basic message is that the Bush administration has the potential to be the worst in history in terms of protecting the environment,” he says.

As evidence, he points to Bush administration actions such as voicing opposition to the Kyoto Protocol (an agreement by countries to lower greenhouse gas emissions and, as a result, curb global warming) and the recent rollbacks of the Clean Air Act to allow power plant expansion.

“I would consider [Bush’s actions] an attempt to undermine every single environmental policy that exists,” Prochazka says.

Strong words. Words that Christopher Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, thinks are lacking in truth. The CEI calls itself “a non-profit public policy organization dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government.”

“It’s hysterical,” Horner says. “Because anything that’s done by a Republican, or when anything bad happens, is viewed through a prism of, ‘Let’s make money off of it.’”

Newspapers have been full of articles and editorials about what Bush has been doing policy-wise to harm the environment, especially lately.

On Nov. 22, the administration—without fanfare on a Friday afternoon—relaxed parts of the Clean Air Act that limit emissions and mandate when power plants must boost pollution control efforts. It will allow power plants to expand more easily without taking certain pollution control measures. The action drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, including GOP New York Gov. George Pataki, who threatened to sue.

After the announcement, PIRG released a report projecting how the rollbacks could increase pollution at Nevada’s power plants. For example, at the Mohave Generating Station near Laughlin, PIRG estimates it could mean a yearly increase of up to 3,995 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions and 6,190 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions.

Prochazka says the reason for these rollbacks is simple: appeasing Bush’s election backers, the energy companies. He points out that a second wave of rollbacks is on the way.

PIRG’s dislike of Bush is evident. In July, the group published an 83-page report titled “American’s Environment at Risk: The Local Impacts of the Bush Administration’s Anti-Environmental Policies.”

And the environmental attacks continue, says Prochazka. In another quiet announcement—this one on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving—the U.S. Forest Service released a proposed land and resource management planning rule, which will, according to the Forest Service news release, “eliminate most of the procedural requirements and redundancies in the planning process” of forest management issues.

In other words, says Prochazka, it will make it easier for businesses to develop and harvest timber in the nation’s 155 national forests.

These claims that Bush is putting the environment at risk are just hysterical nonsense, says Horner.

“Bush isn’t rolling back anything,” Horner says. He claims that the rollbacks were planned under the Clinton administration. And he says that estimations of future pollution, like the ones PIRG did for Nevada’s power plants, can’t be trusted.

“These are guesses,” he says. “These are models. You can model any outcome you want. Some people tell you that every year, the environment’s getting worse. That’s simply not supported. In fact, every environmental indicator has improved.”