WASHINGTON – President Bush has moved the nation backward on environmental issues by weakening clean air and water laws, Sen. James Jeffords said in the Democrats' weekly radio response aired Saturday.
"The Bush administration has continued its pattern of sacrificing our environment to the demands of special interests," said Jeffords, outgoing chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
"This year the power industry is getting a nice Christmas gift, the biggest weakening of the Clean Air Act in history," said the Vermont senator, an independent who generally associates himself with the Democrats.
Democrats awarded Jeffords with the chairmanship of the environment committee after he left the Republican Party in June 2001 to become an independent, a move that gave Democrats control of the Senate. He will lose that position in January when Republicans again become the majority party following gains in the midterm election.
He said he feared that attacks on the environment will accelerate in January, when Republicans will control both the House and the Senate.
"Hopefully, moderates in both parties can do what we've done before: stand up to block these anti-environmental initiatives, and instead pursue policies that protect and respect our environment," he said.
Jeffords complained that newly announced regulations on power plant emissions "will gut clean air laws" that he helped formulate with the first President Bush.
The Bush administration on Nov. 22 announced plans to relax air pollution regulations to make it easier for older factories, refineries and power plants to modernize without having to install expensive new anti-pollution equipment.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman said the changes would encourage emission reductions by providing new flexibility to plants and factories when they upgrade equipment, but environmental groups and Democrats said the administration was putting industrial interests above environmental protections.
Jeffords also faulted the administration for delaying implementation of a rule to reduce sewage in waterways, for underfunding Superfund, the program responsible for cleaning out toxic waste sites, and for allowing oil and gas drilling on national lands.
He said secrecy clauses inserted in the just-signed law creating the new Homeland Security Department will make it more difficult for people to get information about dangerous chemicals that may exist near their homes.
Although an Independent, Jeffords was chosen to give Saturday's Democratic radio address by Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate's Democratic leader.
"For him, it's an honor," said Jeffords' spokesman, Eric Smulson. "Senator Jeffords caucuses with the Democrats and aligns with the Democrats for organizational purposes."