By BILL STRAUB
Scripps Howard News Service
April 24, 2005
Making a quick stop in Knoxville, Tenn., en route to his Texas ranch on Friday - a scheduled appearance at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was canceled due to weather concerns - Bush said the country has "a duty and an obligation to protect our environment" and urged Congress to embrace his "Clear Skies Initiative" aimed at further improving air quality.
"One of the interesting things about our nation is that since 1970, the air is cleaner and the water is more pure and we're using the land better - and our economy has grown a lot," Bush told a small group mustered in a hangar at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base. "My point is it's possible to have economic growth and jobs and opportunity and, at the same time, be wise stewards of the land."
Clear Skies is intended to cut air pollution by 70 percent using what the president characterized as "a commonsense approach to dealing with this important issue." It mandates pollution cuts from 1,300 power plants and requires a pollution-control investment of about $52 billion in equipment, operations and maintenance.
But the legislation also provides polluters with more time to meet goals than originally slated, leaving some environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters to maintain the Bush initiatives don't go far enough. A Senate committee rejected the proposal last month, but the White House is still seeking action.
There are other objections. The Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, has issued a rule that would permit some power plants to continue emitting unhealthy levels of mercury into the air. The league has responded with a fund-raising campaign: Plant Trees - Stop Bush.
Environmental groups also have raised objections to administration plans to permit oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and generally have reacted negatively to the president's agenda.
"The administration is still pursuing a policy that excludes massive numbers of wetlands from protection under the Clean Water Act," said Sierra Club Washington representative Navis Bermudez. "America would be better off if the administration abandoned this policy and simply protected those wetlands that have been covered under the Clean Water Act for the last 30 years."
A statement from the Natural Resources Defense Council said, "This administration, in catering to industries that put America's health and natural heritage at risk, threatens to do more damage to our environmental protections than any other in U.S. history."
But Bush said in Tennessee that his administration is working to restore 3 million acres of wetlands over a five-year period, and that 90 percent of the nation's water has met stringent health standards "because we're strictly enforcing the law."
"We didn't create the Earth, but we have an obligation to protect it," he said.