The Green Road to the White House

Though it may only be a turn of a calendar page, the new year is a traditional time for review and reflection about past events and predictions about the future. To see where we're going it's helpful to look where we've been in the recent past. First came the deflating of the Internet bubble and the accompanying slowdown of the U.S. economy beginning in 2000. Then came 9-11, followed by war, headline stories about corporate corruption and an aftermath of uncertainty. The past four years have created challenging times for the environmental industry and also the environment due to tighter budgets for pollution control measures and hazardous waste site cleanups. Yet, many now see mending signs in the U.S. economy, which should translate into revived business opportunities in the environmental industry in 2004.

Certainly one event that will take center stage this year is the upcoming presidential election. As we turn our attention to the campaigns of the various candidates, it's obvious that environmental issues are playing a more prominent role in presidential politics than they did in the past. Shaking hands, kissing babies and hugging trees seems to be the new popular campaign strategy. Even though the critics of President George W. Bush lambaste his environmental track record of the past three years, a quick perusal of his reelection Web site shows the environment listed as one of the top seven issues he addresses in depth, along with the economy, compassion, health care, education, homeland security and national security. Likewise, the respective campaign Web sites of the nine Democratic candidates --former Sen. Carol Mosely-Braun (Ill.), retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former Gov. Howard Dean (Vt.), Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), Rep. Dick Gephardt (Mo.), Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) and Rev. Al Sharpton -- all show environmental issues listed as being among their top issues.

Politicians now realize that a growing number of U.S. voters strongly support protecting our nation's air, water and other natural resources. Environmental issues are becoming mainstream issues to voters. For example, the League of Conservation Voters spotlights on its Web site a recent Zogby poll in which people were surveyed about the single best way to address the nation's energy needs. Forty percent of the people polled answered that the United States needs to use energy more efficiently and develop more fuel efficient vehicles, and 37 percent answered that the nation should expand the development of alternative forms of energy like wind and solar power. In contrast, only 16 percent of the respondents said that we need to drill for more oil and gas in the United States to increase our energy supply, and a mere 2 percent answered that we need to get our oil-producing allies in other countries to send us more oil.

Not surprisingly, the Democratic candidates in their bid for the White House are already making sharp attacks on the Bush administration's handling of environmental issues. One hot button issue that has generated much controversy is the recent revision of the New Source Review under the Clean Air Act promoted by President Bush. Addressing this issue at a press conference in November 2003, Dean stated that "As so many other actions taken by the administration, their decision to loosen clean air rules was made not based on science or what is best for our environment. Instead, it was a political decision made to pay back contributors who raised millions of dollars for George Bush."

In respect to water quality policies, several of the Democratic candidates also have some strong differences with the current administration. For example, Kerry's position is that if elected he would renew efforts to reduce stormwater runoff, sewer overflows and pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations. In addition, he pledges to work to restore wetlands and watersheds.

As far as the topic of energy goes, the online news service CNN has put together a handy chart that features brief summaries about the 10 presidential candidates' viewpoints concerning the following issues: drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, alternative fuels, gas mileage requirements and the U.S. energy policy. 

Hopefully, we'll be able to look forward to an election year in which all the candidates will clearly articulate their positions on key environmental issues. This is important because in casting our votes in November, an increasing number of us voters will give great consideration to the presidential candidate whom we think can best deal with the numerous environmental problems our country currently faces.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2004 issue of Environmental Protection.

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