Sierra Club exec laments loss of federal land - Claima Teddy Roosevelt's 'legacy of a common national destiny' will be lost

Monday, May 3, 2004

By KATHIE DURBIN , Columbian staff writer

PORTLAND, ORE- For Carl Pope, one statistic speaks volumes about President George W. Bush's environmental record:

In just over three years, the executive director of the Sierra Club says, the Bush administration has stripped protection from 234 million acres of federal land more than all the 230 million acres protected by President Theodore Roosevelt when he ushered in a century of American land conservation in the early 20th century.

That total, Pope says, includes wilderness study areas, lands designated as critical habitat for endangered species and national forest roadless areas. All have lost protection and are now open to development as a result of action by this administration, he says.

Pope's new book, "Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress," was released last month on Earth Day, just in time, he hopes, to galvanize voters this election year. He wrote the book with Paul Rauber, a senior editor at Sierra magazine.

Pope launched his national book tour Sunday night at Powell's City of Books in Portland.

It's not greed alone that has motivated this administration to roll back protections for clean water, clean air, threatened species and public land, Pope said.

"The people who are driving this want to undo Teddy Roosevelt's legacy, the legacy of a common national destiny," he said in an interview.

"Something of this magnitude can only be accomplished by people in the grip of an ideological fervor," he writes in an early chapter. "This is what the American people do not know: The Bush administration is full of officials who believe from the bottom of their hearts, not just their wallets that weaker laws on clean air, less funding to clean up toxic waste dumps, and national parks and forests run for private profit are actually good for the country."

Bush himself did not enter the presidency with a well-defined political philosophy, Pope said. But he surrounded himself with ideologues who believe that protecting the environment is not the government's role. "They think that that is morally corrosive, that life is mean and nasty and that only the mean and nasty survive."

Pope disagrees with those who see parallels between this administration's environmental record and that of the Reagan administration. "Ronald Reagan was fundamentally an optimist. He wanted the world to be a better place. These people are not optimists. They have a very dark, Darwinian view of the world."

In the book, he profiles what he calls "The Wrecking Crew" key members of the administration who have helped shape Bush's environmental policy, including Vice President Dick Cheney, who convened industry leaders to help craft the administration's energy policy; political adviser Karl Rove, who inserted himself in the controversy over appropriation of water in Oregon's Klamath Basin; and Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who advised Bush to give his initiatives such innocuous names as the Healthy Forests Initiative and the Clear Skies Initiative.

"Luntz's role was to ensure that the language Bush used was soothing, reassuring, and entirely disconnected from the reality of his policies," Pope writes. "Bush would say one thing resolutely, stoutly, and constantly and then do the opposite."

Luntz and Rove "understood that Americans were reluctant to believe that their president really would allow more poison in the lakes, fewer birds in the air," he writes. "Especially after September 11, 2001, when all Americans were looking to Bush to keep their families safe from terrorism, few imagined that the administration was willing, even eager, to expose their families to risk here at home."

Pope details the administration's early effort to weaken federal limits on arsenic in drinking water, and the public outcry that forced it to backtrack; its refusal to acknowledge the overwhelming body of scientific evidence documenting that climate change is occurring on a global scale; and its decision to review the Environmental Protection Agency's enforcement actions against dirty power plants, a move that prompted several high-level EPA officials to resign.

Those who have been following these issues closely may find few surprises in the litany of administrative decisions that Pope chronicles and footnotes in a 36-page list of sources. He said his goal in writing the book was to empower American citizens by helping them "connect the dots."

"These are not just politicians rewarding donors," he said. "They are trying to remake American society."



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