Sentiment regarding "the environment" doesn't seem to be a major factor in voters' minds as they weigh the decision whether to cast their ballots for President Bush or for John Kerry.
But for those of you still undecided about which candidate will do a better job on Iraq, homeland security, and other issues, you may also want to factor in the candidates' records and attitudes on environmental issues.
Bush has been roundly criticized on environmental issues since he took office. But this criticism has largely come from left-leaning environmental activists and their supporters in academia — the vast majority of whom didn't vote for Bush in 2000 and, moreover, probably wouldn't vote for a Republican under any circumstance.
When Bush proposed more stringent regulations for arsenic in drinking water (search) — something the two-term Clinton administration never got around to doing — the environmental community ran a television ad campaign implying that the president was actually going to permit more arsenic in drinking water.
"May I please have some more arsenic in my water, Mommy," asked a child in one of the commercials.
John Kerry, in a recent interview with Grist Magazine, also characterized the more stringent arsenic rules as part of an "unbelievable series of backward measures."
So I pay no attention to what so-called environmentalists say about Bush. Their attacks usually don't present the facts fairly and are designed to politicize issues and polarize voters.
The most notable environmental decision Bush has made so far was his decision to pull the U.S. out of the economic dance-of-death known as the Kyoto protocol (search), the international treaty on global warming. The president and Kerry actually agree on this issue, although Kerry told Grist that he would like to re-open the treaty's negotiating process to fix the treaty's flaws.
The difference between the candidates is that Bush has rightly raised questions about the "science" underlying global warming hysteria and is not at all interested in an international treaty, whereas Kerry would embrace a treaty — an agreement that likely would significantly hamper the U.S. economy — if he could do so without paying a heavy political price.
Bush also gets credit for clamping down on the perpetual regulation machine known as the Environmental Protection Agency (search). The EPA spent the Clinton administration years issuing the most expensive environmental regulations ever — air quality standards costing as much as $100 billion per year that will produce no tangible health or environmental benefits — and scaring the public about chemicals in the environment.
But the EPA's rulemaking process under Bush has been significantly slowed because the administration's own environmental initiatives on air pollution and mercury from power plants (search), for example, are opposed by environmentalists. The resulting gridlock has prevented the issuance of costly, junk science-based rules that produce few-to-no benefits to the public. Short of dismantling the EPA in favor of a more rational approach to the environment — the preferred solution — the president has done the next best thing by bollixing up the EPA rulemaking process.
I don't think he planned it that way, but I won't argue with that success.
As to Kerry, you really only need to know three things about him to see what he'd do on the environment.
First, Kerry has a 96-percent lifetime voting record on environmental issues as determined by the League of Conservation Voters (search). That means that Kerry rubber-stamps every piece of environmental legislation that comes down the pike, regardless of its merits or costs.
Second, in a Kerry administration, I suspect that the decision-making on the environment would be handed over to his wife, Teresa Heinz-Kerry (search), much the same way the health care issue was handed to Hillary Clinton (search) during the early part of the Clinton administration. The environment is a hot-button issue for Teresa, and I doubt he'd turn down the billionaire who made his presidential campaign possible.
What that probably means is that environmental extremists will once again have free reign over the EPA. As head of the $1.2 billion Heinz Foundation, Teresa has given more than $6 million to the Tides Foundation (search) and Tides Center (search) — which, in turn, funds groups like Greenpeace (search), Environmental Working Group (search), Natural Resources Defense Council (search) and the Sierra Club (search) — and millions more to other environmental groups. I would expect Teresa to hand these groups the keys to the EPA, as well.
Finally, when asked by Grist Magazine (search) whether his Harley-Davidson (search) motorcycle was an environmental "vice" because motorcycle tailpipe emissions are "worse than cars," Kerry responded, "I haven't heard that about my Harley. But if it's a vice, it's one I don't think I can quit. Sorry."
Meanwhile, Kerry wants us to take the bus to reduce air pollution. After all, the more of us that do opt for mass transit, the less guilty he can feel about tooling around on his Harley, Teresa's gas-guzzling luxury yacht and her Gulfstream V jet.
It may seem unfortunate that the choices on the environment boil down to regulatory gridlock versus a mindless regulatory frenzy, but that is the reality. I know which I prefer.
Steven Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of "Junk Science Judo: Self-Defense Against Health Scares and Scams" (Cato Institute, 2001).