George W. Bush Administration and Environment Essay

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While it is far too early to judge the legacy of a sitting president, many have called George W. Bush the weakest environmental president in history; even Republicans have criticized President Bush for his environmental record. In addition, much of the public does not support Bush’s environmental initiatives. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll taken in 2004 found those who disapprove of Bush’s environmental record had risen to 45 percent. Another 2004 poll found 65 percent of Americans did not believe the Bush administration would make environmental progress in the next term.

In keeping with the governing philosophy of the administration, several controversial policies of the administration have sought to reconcile environmental protection with issues of economic growth. Specifically, the Bush administration has pushed to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil and gas development, asserting the minimal risk that modern extraction represents to native wildlife and stressing the problem of dependence on foreign oil. Critics suggest that the artic ecosystem is especially fragile and that the limited reserves in ANWR represent a limited benefit for the risk. The administration has also advanced a forest fire control policy for National Forests, the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (or Healthy Forests Initiative), which seeks to thin forest stands through contracts to private timber companies. Critics maintain that these efforts at “thinning” represent unwarranted subsidized access for loggers to pristine forest areas that do not represent a serious fire hazard.

The administration also has withdrawn United States support, committed under the previous administration, for the Kyoto Protocol, an international attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The administration argues that, as currently written, Kyoto exempts large countries like China and India from immediate action, producing an unfair trade advantage for these growing industrial powers. Critics maintain that lack of leadership on this crucial problem further marginalizes the United States in key issues of global governance.

The Bush administration has also sought to exempt the Department of Defense, one of the nation’s worst polluters, from critical environmental laws. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released their report of Bush’s first term in 2004, citing over 150 destructive policy actions in just the previous year. They claimed the worst offenses to be the amount of toxic releases from industrial facilities, worsened mercury contamination, sewage contamination, and air pollution. Equally controversial, on the inauguration day of his first term, President Bush mandated that all federal agencies halt pending regulations established by the Clinton administration, including at least a dozen regulations dealing with the environment.

President Bush has also made a number of controversial decisions in filling key environmental positions. These include the posting of a former timber lobbyist to Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment with the Department of Agriculture; a former lobbyist for power companies and major electricity users to the post of Chairman for the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ); an attorney who formerly represented mining interests to Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management; and an attorney who previously represented clients in cases against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding chemical and air pollution to the helm of the administration’s overhaul of the Clean Air Act, governing industrial plants pollution controls.

The Bush administration defends their record. They cite continued progress in regard to access to clean water, cleanup of hazardous wastes, land conservation and stewardship, increased aid and cooperation for conservation efforts, improving air quality, and addressing global climate change.

A nondiesel road rule is aimed at reducing air pollution from diesel-powered bulldozers, tractors, boats, and other off-road engines.

Nevertheless, the administration’s strategies for managing their environmental image point to continued problems. Critics point to euphemistic names for policies that slacken regulatory authority in ways that make them more appealing, such as “Healthy Forests Initiative.” The final evaluation of the administration’s environmental record will be judged in the future, but current controversy remains pronounced.


  1. Robert Devine, Bush versus the Environment (Anchor Books, 2004);
  2. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Crimes against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals are Hijacking our Democracy (HarperCollins, 2004).

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