George W. Bush and the Environmental Protection
Agency: A Midterm Appraisal
MAURIE J. COHEN
Graduate Program in Environmental Policy Studies
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, New Jersey, USA
During the ﬁrst 2 years of his presidential term, George W. Bush matured as a
political leader and neutralized many of his harshest critics. A glaring exception to
this characterization is the area of environmental policy. The Bush administration
adamantly refused to advance a meaningful strategy to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions and to commit the United States to the Kyoto Protocol. At the same time,
a number of highly public disputes compromised the legitimacy of the U.S. Envi-
ronmental Protection Agency (EPA). This appraisal reviews the Bush adminis-
tration’s performance midway through its ﬁrst term across three pivotal
environmental concerns: air pollution, climate change, and toxics remediation.
Though environmental proponents denounced the U.S. EPA’s provocative policy
positions, there are no indications that this criticism has had much political impact.
The assessment concludes with an examination of the politics behind the Bush
administration’s growing anti-environmentalism and some speculation regarding its
future electoral implications.
Keywords American environmental politics, Bush administration, Clear Skies,
climate change, environmental policy, global warming, Kyoto Protocol, Super-
Although Al Gore had been a proponent of sound environmental policy during most
of his political life, he downplayed this facet of his career during the 2000 presidential
campaign. It is therefore the height of irony that the environment became the
decisive factor in the election’s ﬁnal, disputed result. During the contest’s closing
days, especially in West Virginia where it was too close to call, Gore desperately tried
to repudiate his green credentials. The coal industry’s economic and political inﬂu-
ence, however, looms large in the state and few residents are prepared to acknowl-
edge the environmental costs of mining activities. Despite his persistence, Gore did
not sway a sufﬁcient number of West Virginians and voters in this historically
Democratic state threw their support to George W. Bush. This outcome set the stage
for the bewildering events in Florida.
Received 9 September 2002; accepted 6 May 2003.
An earlier draft of this article was presented at the Ninth International Symposium on
Society and Resource Management, Bloomington, IN, June 2–5, 2002. Special thanks to
Fred Buttel for initially suggesting the preparation of this review.
Address correspondence to Maurie J. Cohen, Graduate Program in Environmental Policy
Studies, New Jersey Institute of Technology, University Heights, Newark, NJ 07102, USA.
Society and Natural Resources, 17:69–88, 2004
Copyright #Taylor & Francis Inc.
ISSN: 0894-1920 print/1521-0723 online
In the Sunshine State, too, the environment was the critical factor in the elec-
tions eventual result. Approximately 15,000 Floridians marked their ballots for
Ralph Nader and the insurgent Green Party. Exit polls indicated that most of these
voters were nominal Democrats who had grown frustrated with the Clinton
administration’s languid environmentalism. As a protest gesture they cast their votes
for Nader. It is highly probable that if the Green Party had not been on the ballot
Gore would have won Florida, and the general election, without a challenge.
Soon after the Supreme Court settled the election controversy, environmental
proponents began to express palpable anxiety about the future. Bush’s ﬁnancial
interests in the oil industry and his weak environmental record as governor of Texas
did not inspire optimism. Nevertheless, the president-elect regularly expressed
fondness for Theodore Roosevelt, arguably the most environmentally progressive
president in the nation’s history. Moreover, the nomination of Christine Todd
Whitman to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was viewed
among most environmental proponents as a shrewd appointment.
During the weeks
preceding the inaugural, these opposing views created ambiguity about the new
administration’s environmental policy intentions.
The midpoint of his term provides a logical juncture for an initial assessment of
the Bush administration’s environmental record.
This appraisal begins with a review
of his ﬁrst several months in ofﬁce, focusing in particular on the activities of the
After a brief period during which the agency announced several envir-
onmentally favorable decisions, the White House reversed course by abandoning the
Kyoto Protocol and proposing to maintain scientiﬁcally unhealthful levels of arsenic
in drinking water. These actions prompted Senator James Jeffords to resign from the
Republican Party, a decision that shifted the Senate from Republican to Democratic
The discussion then examines the impacts of the September 11 terrorist attacks
on the U.S. EPA. Because of its responsibilities monitoring environmental hazards at
Ground Zero and handling new homeland security tasks, the agency during the
aftermath of the disaster was frequently forced to defend itself from harsh recrimi-
There are also indications that the U.S. EPA during this timeframe had to
struggle against a White House intent on using the prevailing national security
situation to undermine environmental protections. To assess this contention, the
analysis considers three policy domains: air pollution, climate change, and toxics
remediation. The assessment concludes with an overall evaluation of President
Bush’s environmental policy performance and a discussion of the politics driving the
In accordance with presidential custom, Bill Clinton announced a number of uni-
lateral actions just prior to vacating ofﬁce. While several disputable pardons
attracted the most attention, he also made a number of environmentally signiﬁcant
decisions. For example, last-minute executive orders increased the protective status
of vulnerable public lands and established tighter limits on air particulates, lead, and
arsenic. He also proposed new rules to reduce haze in national parks, instituted new
standards on pesticide use, dismantled barriers barring public access to envi-
ronmental information, increased the energy efﬁciency requirements of new air
conditioners, and established standards for the storage of nuclear waste.
70 M. J. Cohen
Immediately after taking the oath of ofﬁce, President Bush announced a review
of these initiatives and Andrew Card, the chief-of-staff, issued an order calling for a
60-day moratorium on their implementation (Samet and Burke 2001). This action
conﬁrmed environmental proponents’ fears and suggested that the new adminis-
tration would in short order reverse many of these decisions. Drawing on lessons
from the 1980s, environmentalists sought to use the pending rollbacks to focus
public attention on the likely consequences of a reactionary environmental agenda.
However, several developments during the following weeks left both envi-
ronmentalists and industrialists wondering who had moved into the White House.
First, the U.S. EPA upheld a decision requiring New York City to build a con-
troversial water ﬁltration plant. New York is one of a small number of cities that has
to date managed to maintain drinking water quality without ﬁltration. However,
inadequate land use planning has allowed development to encroach upon several
municipal reservoirs. Despite the tremendous cost of the new facility, Whitman used
the occasion of a favorable court decision to announce that she would not rene-
gotiate the matter and to mandate that a scheme for ﬁltering water be operational by
Second, the U.S. EPA announced that it had completed its review of a Clinton-
era directive to establish stringent standards for diesel fuel and engines. The new
regulations are designed to cut pollution from trucks and buses by 95% and to lower
the sulfur content in diesel fuel by 97%. Despite heavy lobbying by the oil and
trucking industries, the U.S. EPA refused to modify the provisions.
Third, Whitman began to stake out a resolute position on climate change.
Elaborating upon one of President Bush’s campaign statements, she emphasized the
need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in accordance with a multipollutant
approach that would also include sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury. In a
now infamous speech at a G-8 conference of environment ministers, the U.S. EPA
administrator proclaimed that the Bush administration would support an inter-
nationally coordinated response to climate change.
Finally, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. EPA did not have to subject
elements of the Clean Air Act to cost-beneﬁt analysis. The decision attracted
attention not only for its outcome, but for its emphatic delivery. Justice Scalia, a
member of the bench not normally regarded for his environmental values, wrote that
the law ‘‘unambiguously bars cost considerations.’’
Key industry groups were enraged by this series of environmental actions. After
all, it was their impression that the Bush administration would accommodate their
interests and support efforts to eliminate objectionable environmental regulations.
Indeed, some corporate ofﬁcials spoke of going to ‘‘war’’ with the White House,
while others expressed a sense of disappointment and bafﬂement (see, for example,
Early evidence that this initial series of decisions was not an accurate reﬂection
of the Bush administration’s environmental policy intentions came with preliminary
release of its ﬁrst draft budget (Council of Economic Advisors 2002). This proposal
called for a 4% reduction in the U.S. EPA’s funding, with similar cuts for other
departments with environmental responsibilities. This news was quickly followed by
a sequence of stunning announcements.
Whitman ﬁrst retracted Clinton’s proposition to make data on possible chemical
plant disasters more accessible. This right-to-know proposal called for increasing
public access to contingency planning documents, corporate risk management plans,
and other information regarding the mitigation of chemical production hazards.
George W. Bush and the EPA: A Midterm Appraisal 71
Subsequent to this decision was the release of a letter from four Republican
Senators asking the White House to explain the U.S. EPA administrator’s forthright
comments on climate change 2 weeks earlier. In his response, President Bush ﬁrst
acknowledged that his campaign statement on the subject had been a ‘‘mistake’’ and
that a cabinet-level review had found that his prior position was incompatible with
domestic energy production goals. He then charged that the Kyoto Protocol was
‘‘fatally ﬂawed’’ because it would be economically harmful to the United States and
it failed to establish mandatory targets for developing countries.
This announcement preempted several initiatives moving through Congress to
limit carbon dioxide emissions from electric utility plants. Additionally, Vice-Pres-
ident Cheney was poised to issue the ﬁnal report of his energy task force, and
clariﬁcation of the White House’s position on climate change cleared the ground for
its release (National Energy Policy Development Group 2001). The supreme effect of
this bombshell on climate change, however, was to undercut Whitman’s credibility
and to make her appear hopelessly outside the policymaking loop.
Later in the month, Whitman made the U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto Pro-
tocol ofﬁcial. The declaration that the Bush administration had no interest in the
treaty was in stark contrast with her statements a few weeks before. Immediately
after making her public remarks, Whitman traveled to Montreal for a hemispheric
conference. Clearly discomforted by the circumstances, she sheepishly emphasized
that the Bush administration remained concerned about climate change and atten-
tive to the ramiﬁcations of its decisions.
During the aftermath of the climate change debacle, senior ofﬁcials sought to
downplay tension between President Bush and Whitman. At the same time, some
accounts sought to portray the U.S. EPA administrator as a victim of her own
overexuberance. However, the record indicates that she had in fact cleared her earlier
stance with the White House and was not cavalierly crafting policy from a few
campaign statements (Berke 2001).
Moreover, within the Bush administration Whitman was not entirely alone
endorsing purposeful action on climate change. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neil
supported efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in his previous capacity as
chairman of Alcoa and equated climate change with a potential nuclear holocaust
(Jehl and Revkin 2001). Secretary of State Colin Powell has also argued in favor of
responsible measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, though it is not clear
whether he played any role in this particular incident.
An even more damaging misstep for the Bush administration was its reversal of
President Clinton’s decision to strengthen the drinking water standard for arsenic, a
chemical regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Arsenic is a naturally
occurring substance and a by-product of mining activity, although its presence in
water varies widely with local geology and hydrology. The prevailing threshold of
50ppb was originally established in 1942, but more recent scientiﬁc research links
arsenic to bladder and lung cancer, as well as to other health problems. The World
Health Organization’s standard is 10 ppb and the limit in most European countries is
20ppb. During the early 1990s, Congress had called upon the U.S. EPA to review the
existing guidelines and the agency had studied the possibility of a revised standard
for 10 years. However, mining and wood products industries and municipal water
boards resisted any changes because of concerns that they would have to install
expensive ﬁltration equipment.
The Bush administration was pilloried over this issue and Whitman was the
target of relentless condemnation for appearing to favor drinking water laced with
72 M. J. Cohen
dangerous poisons. The U.S. EPA administrator became a punching bag for the
most chastening form of civic opprobrium, namely, late-night jokes by television
comedians. To counter these attacks she asked the National Academy of Sciences
(NAS) to review the scientiﬁc literature on arsenic and human health. However, even
before the study panel had taken up its task Whitman began to hint that in the end
she would probably support a standard of at least 10 ppb.
In due course the NAS report provided unequivocal conﬁrmation that arsenic in
drinking water required regulatory tightening beyond the threshold of 50 ppb
(National Research Council 2001a). In fact, the scientists claimed that even 10 ppb
might not be low enough. Unfortunately, the public release of the NAS document
occurred on September 10 and the pandemonium of the following day obliterated
any opportunity that the U.S. EPA might have had to derive beneﬁt from this news.
One month later, in an announcement that was remarkable for its muted delivery,
Whitman indicated that the U.S. EPA concurred with the NAS report and would
endorse a drinking-water standard for arsenic of no higher than 10 ppb.
Based on these three issues—right-to-know, climate change, and arsenic—a
clearer view of the Bush administration’s environmental policy intentions began to
coalesce. Many Republicans hailed the climate change reversal (as well as the
combative way in which it was communicated) as evidence that the White House had
overcome its initial disarray and henceforth would champion a decidedly con-
servative environmental agenda. Indeed, soon after this episode the President’s
steadfast supporters began gleefully to assert that the Bush administration was
destined to surpass the environmental policy precedents set under Ronald Reagan
In contrast, prominent environmental organizations began to abandon their
strategy of pragmatic engagement with the Bush administration and to endorse a
more critical approach. The spokesperson for one leading group said, ‘‘It’s been a
pretty rough ride. [Whitman has] probably suffered one of the most immediate and
embarrassing eviscerations of a new cabinet secretary ever’’ (Henneberger 2001).
Even the Sierra Club began to express disappointment with the White House, while
Friends of the Earth went so far as to call for Whitman to resign.
While questions swirled around about how long Whitman would be able to hang
on, the lead-up to its ﬁrst Earth Day in ofﬁce prompted the Bush administration to
make several conciliatory gestures. First, the U.S. EPA announced that it would
retain two Clinton-era initiatives, one on wetlands protection and another on the
emission of lead from industrial sources. Second, the Bush administration signaled it
would submit for ratiﬁcation an international treaty banning one dozen toxic che-
Finally, on the roiling issue of climate change the White House asked the
NAS to evaluate the current state of scientiﬁc knowledge, a move that suggested the
matter was perhaps still open for further consideration.
Then, as Congressional negotiations on President Bush’s ﬁrst tax cut were
drawing to a close, the American political establishment received the kind of historic
jolt that only occurs once in a generation. Senator James Jeffords of Vermont
shocked his colleagues and the rest of the country by resigning from the Republican
Party and declaring himself an Independent. This announcement was monumental
because it shifted control of the chamber from Republican to Democratic control for
the ﬁrst time since 1995.
The iconoclast senator ﬁrst provoked President Bush by refusing to support his
proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut. The White House then retaliated by reneging on a deal
with Jeffords to fund special education programs across the country and tried to
George W. Bush and the EPA: A Midterm Appraisal 73
intimidate the senator by threatening to derail a bill funding a subsidy program for
New England milk producers. The coup de graˆ ce, however, came when President
Bush failed to invite Jeffords to the White House for a ceremony honoring a Ver-
mont schoolteacher. In the words of one political strategist, Jeffords had been
‘‘constantly dissed, ignored, embarrassed, not treated with the kind of respect you
would accord a Senator, let alone a Republican’’ (Bruni 2001).
Senate committee chairs have sweeping authority to select which pieces of leg-
islation to consider, when debate will be scheduled, and how proceedings will move
forward. Jeffords’s decision shifted all of these assignments from Republican to
Democratic hands and elevated Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) to majority leader.
Had Republicans retained Senate control during this interval they would have been
able to assist President Bush by supporting his conservative legislative agenda.
Instead, the Senate’s 15 committees operated during the next 18 months as defensive
shields to block objectionable measures.
September 11 and Its Aftermath at the U.S. EPA
Following the September 11 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center (WTC)
and the Pentagon, the world for the U.S. EPA, as for all other government agencies
in the United States, was turned upside down. Immediate environmental concerns
focused on possible health effects caused by the burning of hazardous materials at
Ground Zero, and the U.S. EPA carried out intensive monitoring activities from the
very beginning (see also Cohen 2003). During the immediate aftermath of the WTC
collapse there was confusion as to whether the original design plan called for
asbestos in the towers’ construction. While professional engineering associations
contended that the buildings had been among the ﬁrst high-rise structures to use
ceramic ﬁreprooﬁng, the U.S. EPA measured elevated asbestos level in the air.
Amid this chaos there was also anxiety about other hazardous materials, and the
U.S. EPA set up decontamination stations and carried out debris sampling. Elec-
trical ﬁxtures in the WTC contained polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and some
experts thought that extreme heat could convert them into dioxins. A competing
theory suggested that the intensity of the ﬁres would incinerate any potentially
harmful substances. There was also fear about lead because lead paint was still legal
when the WTC was constructed during the late 1960s and early 1970s. In response to
these concerns, the U.S. EPA implemented an extensive street-cleaning project to
reduce the volume of material fallout.
The U.S. EPA also became closely involved in homeland security activities
across the country. In particular, the agency established new protective protocols at
nuclear power plants, waste storage depots, and reservoirs. Another source of
apprehension was the nation’s chemical plants. However, Whitman showed no
inclination to claim any extraordinary authority over these facilities, preferring
instead to emphasize the industry’s high level of capability and vigilance.
As the immediate crisis atmosphere subsided, the U.S. EPA came under ﬁerce
criticism for its response to September 11, particularly for how it handled the
complex problem of monitoring indoor air quality in lower Manhattan. Local
residents and workers complained bitterly that the agency failed to provide timely
information about ultraﬁne particles of asbestos, lead, mercury, ﬁberglass, and glass.
A public hearing nearly 6 months after the WTC collapse turned into a scramble for
political advantage as state and city ofﬁcials used the opportunity to bash the U.S.
EPA. To diffuse tensions, Whitman offered to clean the exteriors of more than 200
74 M. J. Cohen
buildings to prevent microscopic-sized materials from blowing inside ofﬁces and
Although the various cleanup and monitoring projects and the deployment of
new security systems around the country were important tasks, the U.S. EPA is
likely to face more formidable challenges during the post-September 11 era. The
agency is now immersed in the precarious politics of having to defend its core
functions during a period when other priorities are foremost. For instance, the new
preoccupation with national security and military preparedness has emboldened the
Defense Department to seek exemptions from several environmental laws, including
the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the
National Environmental Policy Act (Seelye 2002a). One consequence of this new
reality is that environmental arguments will no longer be given easy access to the
moral high ground in public debate and the U.S. EPA will need to work much harder
to make itself heard.
Christie Whitman repeatedly stated that air quality is the issue on which she would
like to leave her lasting mark as U.S. EPA administrator.
With regard to stationary
sources, the most prominent issues were the Clean Air Act’s so-called ‘‘new source
review’’ provisions, the lawsuits ﬁled by the Justice Department against several
dozen electric utility plants, and the reduction of air pollution in national parks. The
Bush administration also promoted a more comprehensive air quality initiative
known as Clear Skies; however, the regulation of mobile sources of air pollution
focused exclusively on diesel emissions from trucks and buses. Notably absent from
this air management portfolio was any meaningful action to improve automotive
fuel efﬁciency, and this section also discusses some dimensions of this issue.
New Source Review
During the Bush administration’s ﬁrst 2 years in ofﬁce, advocates of a supply-driven
energy policy exercised a great deal of inﬂuence, and the White House con-
sistently endorsed the expansion of electricity generating capacity without con-
sidering its impacts on air quality. One especially contentious area of the debate
centered on a provision of the Clean Air Act exempting many of the oldest and
dirtiest power plants in the country from stringent emissions standards under the
presumption that owners would in due course replace these outmoded facilities.
However, electric utility companies have kept these aging power plants on line
and, in many instances, have made substantial investments to extend their lives
and to increase their size. These upgrades have been illegal in the strict sense, but
the U.S. EPA has customarily allowed companies to proceed under the suppo-
sition that they were merely engaging in ‘‘routine maintenance.’’ The Clinton
administration refocused attention on this practice and began to require power
plants to invest in pollution control equipment when they made extensive facility
Electric utility companies complained that strict interpretation of these ‘‘new
source review’’ provisions precluded them from performing necessary maintenance
and making efﬁciency improvements. After President Bush’s inaugural and the onset
of the 2001 California energy crisis their concerns began to receive a more favorable
George W. Bush and the EPA: A Midterm Appraisal 75
hearing. For instance, Vice-President Cheney’s energy task force proposed relaxing
new source review as a quick way to increase electricity production. In response,
President Bush ordered the U.S. EPA to study new source review and to advance
proposals for its modiﬁcation.
After numerous delays, the U.S. EPA released in summer 2002 the outcome of
its new source review study panel. The long-anticipated decision called for the
clariﬁcation of what the Clean Air Act deﬁnes as ‘‘routine maintenance.’’ Though
not fully conclusive, both sides of the debate interpreted this announcement as the
cornerstone of what would eventually be a more accommodating interpretation, one
that would allow old power plants to expand without having to upgrade their pol-
lution control equipment. This incremental action bought the White House a year’s
time, an interval during which one could expect a fading (or diverting) of public
attention that would allow the change to be slipped through without much vocal
opposition. In this instance, however, Congressional response to the new source
review decision was swift, with Senator James Jeffords calling for a subpoena to
obtain U.S. EPA documents regarding internal agency discussions on the matter.
Law Suits Against Electric Utility Companies
The Bush administration’s efforts to amend new source review became entangled
with federal legal action against several Midwestern and Southern electric utility
companies. In 1999, the Justice Department, in partnership with the attorneys
general from the northeastern states, ﬁled lawsuits against nine corporations for
violating the Clean Air Act. Wind and weather patterns transport emissions from
these ﬁrms’ power plants eastward where they contaminate the regional airshed.
Managers of these facilities have consistently argued that the northeastern states
have no legal authority to force them to make pollution reductions.
After the election, environmental proponents and the relevant state attorneys
general pressured the Bush administration to proceed with these lawsuits. The actions
present complex questions regarding states’ legal standing, and the proponents would
face insurmountable ﬁnancial barriers taking the cases forward on their own.
For nearly a year the Bush administration was silent on how (or if) it would
pursue the cases. The inﬂuential position of energy supply advocates in the White
House suggested that the Justice Department would drop them. Many observers
were therefore surprised when Attorney General John Ashcroft announced early in
2002 that the federal government would retain its status as plaintiff. Whitman,
however, sought to soften the impact of this move the next day by extending
the deadline for Midwestern power plants to reduce their annual nitrogen oxide
Air Pollution in National Parks
One strategy for reducing air pollution in the United States has been to invoke the
issue of deteriorated air quality and scenic viewscapes in national parks. There is a
quirkiness in this approach because these lands, as a general rule, have few per-
manent human residents and are generally situated far from major emission sources.
By any reasonable measure the public health risks of polluted air in national parks
pale by comparison to those in large urban areas. Nevertheless, the Clean Air Act
contains speciﬁc provisions for improving air quality in these federal properties, and
this legal angle, in combination with the iconic value of such places, has created
leverage for progress.
76 M. J. Cohen
The Clinton administration initiated a last-minute rule change requiring certain
industrial facilities to upgrade their pollution control technology by 2013 as a means
of improving air quality in 156 national parks. More speciﬁcally, the states would be
empowered to impose new limits on older coal-burning power plants, oil reﬁneries,
industrial boilers, iron and steel foundries, and similar facilities that impair
panoramic vistas. Following 5 months of internal deliberation, Whitman announced
that the U.S. EPA would move forward on the Clinton initiative.
A more comprehensive plan by the Bush administration to overhaul the Clean Air
Act is likely to supplant these more piecemeal endeavors. Early in 2002 the White
House ﬁrst delineated in outline form its so-called Clear Skies proposal calling for
power plants to reduce their emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen
oxides by an ambitious 70% by 2018. This initial draft contained few details on how
this objective would be achieved, and it took the White House more than 6 months
to formulate a more comprehensive legislative proposal. Although still lacking sys-
tematic analysis of how it would meet its goals, the Bush administration asserted that
its Clear Skies program offered a more effective approach for improving air quality
than the existing Clean Air Act. The backbone of Clear Skies is a market-based
system of emissions trading (so-called ‘‘cap and trade’’) similar to the scheme that
presently operates for sulfur dioxide. Electric utility companies that are able to
reduce their emissions at relatively low cost could sell their unused quotas to other
ﬁrms. According to its champions, such a plan promises to achieve emissions
reductions in the most efﬁcient way.
Environmental proponents’ criticism of the Clear Skies plan springs from a
number of concerns. First, several groups denounced the initiative as hopelessly
incomplete because it does not include carbon dioxide. Second, there was skepticism
about the plan’s provision calling for cost-beneﬁt analyses in conjunction with studies
of the public health implications of air pollution. Third, environmentalists com-
plained that by establishing a deadline nearly two decades into the future the Bush
administration was proposing an overly generous schedule. Fourth, environmental
organizations pointed out that air pollution is a regional problem and efforts to
address it with a national trading scheme would lead to the geographic concentration
of polluting facilities. Finally, critics argued that the Clear Skies plan would be
unnecessary if the U.S. EPA vigilantly enforced the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.
Interestingly, the U.S. EPA originally advanced a more rigorous Clear Skies
proposal, but the White House rejected it in favor of the less ambitious alternative.
The agency’s earlier draft recommended, for instance, a more stringent annual sulfur
dioxide emission reduction target of 3 million tons (instead of the 2 million tons
contained in the legislative proposal) and a deadline that was 10 years shorter.
However, the Department of Energy charged that these goals would be too difﬁcult
to achieve and would involve excessive costs. U.S. EPA ofﬁcials then found them-
selves in the peculiar position of having to distance themselves from their own plan
and to convey the public impression that they in fact favored the weaker option
New Diesel Regulations
Current efforts to regulate ground-level ozone and particulate matter from diesel
trucks and buses date back to 1997. In response to growing scientiﬁc evidence alleging
George W. Bush and the EPA: A Midterm Appraisal 77
connections between vehicle exhaust and respiratory impairment, the Clinton
administration modiﬁed the threshold for ground-level ozone from 120ppb per hour
to 80ppb for an 8-hour period and reduced the particulate standard from 10 to 2.5 mm.
The trucking industry greeted this initiative with a lawsuit to block imple-
mentation. After several preliminary judicial decisions the Court of Appeals for the
DC Circuit issued in 1999 a controversial decision premised upon a largely dis-
regarded legal notion known as the ‘‘delegation argument.’’ This theory contends
that it is illegal for Congress to assign authority to an administrative agency such as
the U.S. EPA. According to this reasoning, if the legislative branch wanted to reduce
vehicle emissions it needed to formulate the standard itself. This decision could have
had profound implications because it called into question the legality of virtually all
The Supreme Court ultimately overturned the lower court’s decision, although
the justices remanded the case to resolve several procedural issues pertaining to how
the U.S. EPA formulated its rule. In March 2001 the appellate court eventually
found that the agency did not act arbitrarily in developing these regulations.
Although the U.S. EPA prevailed in the end, the plaintiffs very effectively exploited
their legal prerogatives and postponed progress on this issue for 5 years.
A noteworthy exception to the Bush administration’s air pollution policies has
been the way that the U.S. EPA has handled the regulation of diesel engines. In the
ﬁrst instance, following the favorable Supreme Court ruling on superﬁne particu-
lates, the agency pledged to have in place a new rule by 2004 reducing emissions from
diesel-powered trucks and buses by 90%. This announcement was followed by a
move in summer 2002, over the opposition of Congressional Republicans and
industry lobbyists, to impose penalties on diesel manufacturers of up to $12,000 for
every engine produced that does not meet federal emission standards.
Automotive Fuel Eﬃciency
Visibly absent from the Bush administration’s air pollution program has been any
serious consideration of automobile emissions. The chief mechanism for improving
automotive fuel efﬁciency in recent decades has been a cumbersome system known as
Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards. Car manufacturers are
required to achieve a fuel economy target that is a weighted average of each
company’s total ﬂeet sales. Of particular signiﬁcance is the fact that the federal
government calculates CAFE standards separately for cars and light trucks, with the
latter category including sport utility vehicles (SUVs), minivans, and pickups.
current CAFE standards of 27.5 miles per gallon for cars and 20.7 miles per gallon for
light trucks have been essentially unchanged since 1989. With consumers purchasing
larger numbers of SUVs and minivans instead of more fuel-efﬁcient passenger cars,
the overall efﬁciency of new vehicles has actually declined over the past decade.
Further complicating the problem are allegations that CAFE standards have
been a failure because greater efﬁciency leads to increases in miles traveled. There are
also indications that this system has encouraged consumers to upgrade the size and
power of their vehicles. Moreover, opponents of CAFE standards point out that this
approach invariably leads to compromises in safety because the regulations prompt
manufacturers to design lighter and smaller vehicles as the chief means of improving
Partly due to these reasons, the automobile industry has actively resisted
increases in CAFE standards. Its rhetoric has typically emphasized the need to defer
78 M. J. Cohen
to consumer preferences rather than to produce vehicles preﬁgured by government
regulations. Throughout the 1990s the Republican-controlled Congress was highly
sympathetic to this position and went so far as to prohibit federal agencies from
studying automotive fuel efﬁciency.
Nevertheless, even before September 11, Congress seemed to be guided by a new
sensibility regarding the desirability of raising CAFE standards, particularly for the
light truck category. The terrorist attacks then added momentum to the campaign by
casting fuel economy as an important element of national security. Despite its
proven success, conservation remains a decidedly unpopular course of political
action in the United States. A massive advertising campaign by automobile manu-
facturers and organized labor ultimately encouraged Congress to retreat to its cus-
tomary position on CAFE standards.
For its part, the Bush administration initially demurred on CAFE standards,
preferring instead to await publication of a pending NAS report.
summer 2001, this study indicated that it was feasible to expect technological
improvements that would enhance fuel economy by 40% over the next 10 to 15 years
(National Research Council 2001c). The White House then used this projection to
sidestep the matter of regulatory mandates and to reframe the debate on automotive
fuel efﬁciency in terms of technological inventiveness.
Such thinking prompted the Bush administration to scrap the Partnership for a
New Generation of Vehicles, a program aimed at launching by 2004 a series of mass-
produced cars capable of achieving eighty miles per gallon. The Bush administration
replaced this project with one focused instead on hydrogen fuel cells.
technology no doubt holds great potential, environmental proponents harbor
skepticism about President Bush’s commitment to this course of action. There is
unease that research programs to supplant the internal combustion engine are a
smokescreen to diffuse more immediate pressure to raise CAFE standards. The fear
is that loose promises of prospective progress on the technological front will stiﬂe
discussion about improved fuel economy in the short term.
During June 2001 the NAS released its anticipated climate change report. The Bush
administration had earlier requested this review, in part to deﬂect criticism sur-
rounding its decision to renounce the Kyoto Protocol. The White House had also
stressed that NAS input was necessary to formulate an alternative proposal for the
Bonn round of international negotiations scheduled for the following month. While
the report did not open any new scientiﬁc ground, it was noteworthy for the candid
terms with which it described the problem—a view that even ‘‘skeptical’’ members on
the panel endorsed. The climate scientists wrote, ‘‘Greenhouse gases are accumu-
lating in the earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air
temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise’’ (Seelye and Revkin 2001;
National Research Council 2001c).
Despite the report’s apparent clarity, public response took its conventional
form. On one hand, environmental proponents condemned the Bush administration
for failing to act in the face of unambiguous evidence. On the other hand, con-
servative Republicans and industry loyalists claimed that concerted action on climate
change was still premature and that the United States should not take action that
could cause economic harm or impinge upon national sovereignty.
George W. Bush and the EPA: A Midterm Appraisal 79
Responsibility for responding publicly to the NAS report did not fall to Whit-
man this time, but to Condoleeza Rice, the national security advisor. The Bush
administration’s reaction here is signiﬁcant because it was at this juncture that senior
ofﬁcials began to distance themselves from previous contentions that the science
underlying climate change was ﬂawed. However problematic this dismissive view
may have been in scientiﬁc circles, it made a go-slow approach politically plausible.
The NAS’s deﬁnitive statement, coupled with the fact that the White House had
itself solicited the report, invalidated this prior line of reasoning. If the Bush
administration intended to endorse a more proactive climate policy at a future point
in time, Rice’s stature and personal authority could provide a credible platform on
which to build it. Such a move also signaled that the issue, rather than being rele-
gated to the U.S. EPA, was being handled at the highest levels.
The NAS report also induced a tactical shift by several climate change oppo-
nents. In the Senate, for example, instead of continuing to dispute the credibility of
the science, the purported inadequacies of the Kyoto Protocol came to occupy center
stage. More speciﬁcally, key Senate adversaries of the accord began to criticize its
fairness and the extent to which the United States was subject to an inequitable
burden. At the same time, they continued to stress the need to devise an agreement
that would impose obligations on large developing countries.
Public release of the report was also striking for its timing and it seemed to
foreshadow, at least for a short interval, the possibility of yet another policy reversal.
Issued 1 week before President Bush was due to embark on his ﬁrst ofﬁcial trip to
Europe, the incongruity between the scientiﬁc counsel the White House was receiving
and its lack of action on the issue was now unavoidable. However, rather than use
this occasion to alter course, President Bush simply pledged to propel the United
States into a leadership position on climate science and to encourage the develop-
ment of more energy efﬁcient technologies.
The Bush administration found itself isolated during the Bonn round of climate
change negotiations. Following 2 weeks of deliberations, 178 countries voted to
redouble their commitment to the Kyoto Protocol despite the U.S. decision to
withdraw. While the White House was nonplussed, the prospect of growing diplo-
matic tension made an impression on the Congress. The Senate Foreign Relations
Committee passed a nonbinding motion calling upon the Bush administration to
prepare a greenhouse gas reduction plan and to reengage itself in international
discussions. Careful crafting ensured unanimous passage of the resolution, and it
even attracted the support of Chuck Hagel (R-NE).
However, the summer recess,
followed by the September 11 terrorist attacks, diffused momentum on the issue.
Finally, during February 2002, after nearly a year of delay, the Bush adminis-
tration began to release in partial form its greenhouse gas reduction program. In
advance of a planned presidential trip to Asia, the White House came under pressure
from Japan to demonstrate serious interest in climate change. The Japanese gov-
ernment was at the time facing a sharp domestic attack for bowing to foreign
demands to hold ﬁrm on the Kyoto Protocol.
The White House continued to insist that it was premature to embark on
initiatives to curtail carbon dioxide. Instead, it would be preferable to rely on a
gradual approach to ﬁrst stabilize emissions early in the next decade. The aim of the
proposal would not be to drive carbon dioxide below a target level as stipulated by
the Kyoto Protocol, but to reduce the rate of greenhouse gas production (so-called
emissions intensity) relative to economic output by 18% by 2012. The program
would not be compulsory, but the federal government would make $5 billion in tax
80 M. J. Cohen
credits available to induce companies to participate. The plan’s principle innovation,
however, calls for expanding a voluntary requirement for companies to report their
greenhouse gas emissions to a federal registry modeled after the Toxic Release
Inventory. Firms that were forthcoming then might receive credit for improvements
in the event the U.S. EPA launched an emissions trading system in the future.
For many observers this proposal was little different from the 1992 UN Fra-
mework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This earlier agreement was
predicated upon voluntarism and after 3 years many national governments dismissed
it as a failure. It was this recognition that prompted the move to negotiate the
binding targets contained in the Kyoto Protocol. Across the political spectrum there
is broad agreement that the Bush administration’s proposition will repeat this pat-
tern. Indeed, the White House has already conceded that if its preferred approach
proves to be insufﬁcient by 2012, it would then be appropriate to consider obligatory
measures. However, even if President Bush secured reelection, his second term would
expire before climate change again became salient.
The Bush administration has had to perform some deft leaps to maintain its
solitary position on climate change. One of the more peculiar twists came during
summer 2002 when the federal government, as a party to the UNFCCC, released one
of its required periodic assessments (U.S. Department of State 2002). The document
concluded that human activities were responsible for climate change and that the
United States would suffer irrevocable environmental damage in coming decades.
The report estimated that temperatures across the country would rise by an average
of 5 to 9 degrees over the next century and these conditions would intensify droughts
and lead to the loss of several sensitive ecosystems. Additionally, at the national
level, climate change would amplify air pollution problems and extreme weather, as
well as magnify disease vectors. On the more positive side, enhanced agricultural
productivity, owing to longer growing seasons and the expansion of forest cover,
could economically offset these impacts.
Despite these generally portentous conclusions, the Bush administration con-
tinued to assert that climate change did not merit special action and that the Kyoto
Protocol was a ‘‘fatally ﬂawed’’ agreement. Instead of mitigating the effects of rising
sea levels, species loss, and so forth, the White House’s advice was that the United
States and other countries should adapt to the inevitable changes.
During the late 1970s the improper disposal of toxic chemicals ﬁrst came to the
attention of the American public. Graphic television footage from the Love Canal
neighborhood of Niagara Falls, NY, showed residents coping with mysterious
substances seeping down the walls of their basements and struggling to understand
the implications on family health. It quickly became apparent that Love Canal was
not unique and that industrial ﬁrms had been casually dumping hazardous materials
at thousands of locations for several decades.
One response to this catastrophe was enactment of the Comprehensive Envir-
onmental Response, Liability, and Cleanup Act (CERCLA), more commonly
known as Superfund. Originally passed in 1980, the legislation serves as the basis for
stabilizing and restoring contaminated sites around the country. The vast program
suffers from an ignominious reputation due to the unenviable problem it addresses.
More important though in establishing Superfund’s unfortunate public relations
position is the difﬁculty the U.S. EPA had during the 1980s getting the ﬁrst
George W. Bush and the EPA: A Midterm Appraisal 81
generation of cleanups off the ground. Foremost was (and is) the technical com-
plexity of treating seriously contaminated soil and water and conducting epide-
miological studies to assess potential health risks. A systematic effort by the Reagan
administration to disable Superfund also contributed to the slow pace of the pro-
gram’s startup. The difﬁculty of establishing legal responsibility for decades-old
chemicals further compounded these scientiﬁc and political obstacles and led to a
litany of expensive and time-consuming lawsuits.
Superfund distinguishes between two types of contaminated sites—those for
which it is possible to hold an existing entity liable and those for which the U.S. EPA
cannot establish legal responsibility. In the 70% of cases where the agency is able to
identify a potentially responsible party (PRP) it becomes the PRP’s obligation to
remediate the property or, if cooperation is not forthcoming, the U.S. EPA can carry
out the work and bill the PRP. Cleanup of the remaining 30% of sites, so-called
orphans, is often more complicated. To cover the costs of these properties, Congress
in the original Superfund legislation imposed a special tax on chemical and oil
companies, a mechanism that was partly motivated by a commitment to the ‘‘pol-
luter pays’’ principle. These taxes, totaling approximately $1 billion annually, were
then used to ﬁnance a trust fund to pay for the restoration of orphan sites.
Since 1995 deep partisan ﬁssures have stalled reauthorization of the special tax,
and to compensate for the shortfall Congress has apportioned money from the
general treasury. By the end of FY2002 the trust fund contained less than $30
million, down from its peak in FY1996 of $3.8 billion. Nevertheless, the Bush
administration is strongly opposed to renewing the special tax and has instead
sought to economize by reducing the number of Superfund sites receiving money.
In putting its intentions for Superfund into play, the Bush administration has
tried to stress that over the last two decades the program has successfully resolved
contamination problems at many smaller sites. These circumstances suggest a need
to reevaluate how money is being appropriated and to turn attention toward the
speciﬁc requirements of larger facilities. While Superfund has indeed remediated
more than 800 properties, many environmental proponents interpret this restruc-
turing as a thinly veiled plan to realign the program away from predominately
Democratic Eastern and Midwestern states in favor of Western states that command
Republican majorities (Hernandez 2002).
During summer 2002 the Bush administration ﬁred its ﬁrst salvo in the Super-
fund battle. In a routine budget report to Congress the U.S. EPA Inspector General
indicated that the agency was planning to withdraw funding for remediation work at
33 sites. Publication of this news set off a ﬁrestorm of protest in these communities
and mobilized Congressional Democrats to reverse the decision. At several of the
sites slated to lose funding active mitigation was only just getting under way after
long delays. Within 2 weeks the U.S. EPA was scrambling to restore money at nearly
a dozen locations where cleanups were in process (Whitman 2002).
Despite Whitman’s efforts to deemphasize the problem, the precarious ﬁnancial
status of Superfund is becoming clearly apparent and program managers are ﬁnding
themselves forced to develop inventive schemes to compensate for insufﬁcient federal
funding. For instance, the U.S. EPA entered into a highly unusual arrangement in
Florida at one of the sites earmarked for defunding. Residents living near a
Superfund site in Port Salerno had become concerned that the installation of piped
drinking water to 150 homes would be deferred and the state’s environment
department agreed to pay $1.4 million to complete the project. The state paid the
10% of the cost for which it was obligated, as well as the 90% that Superfund was
82 M. J. Cohen
due to contribute. In exchange, Florida’s environment department will carry a credit
with the U.S. EPA that it can apply to a future project.
While it is premature to speak of enduring political impact, it is appropriate to use
the midpoint of the Bush administration’s ﬁrst term to assess its environmental
policy record and to examine the politics driving decision making. A frequent point
of observation is that during the campaign the Bush camp adopted moderate posi-
tions on most consequential issues and rarely emphasized environmental themes. In
contrast, his major opponent was fearful of being labeled an environmental extremist
and was largely silent on the speciﬁc initiatives he would endorse. In hindsight, it
appears as if there was a tacit agreement between the candidates to keep the
environment off the table during the campaign as neither Bush nor Gore would have
derived much competitive advantage from it.
Under these circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that it took the Bush
administration some time to establish its environmental priorities. Before the White
House could set a course it was blindsided by Whitman’s lightening move to push for
aggressive action on climate change. In short order though, it became clear that
discipline and loyalty were the new coins of the realm. A contrite Whitman did
penance for the climate change episode, but she never recovered her ability to
exercise sole discretion on major environmental decisions. This subordination of her
role was conspicuous not only with respect to the policy issues discussed in the
previous sections; it also extended to other parts of the U.S. EPA’s regulatory scope
and includes, for example, wetlands protection, energy extraction, and oversight of
the mining industry.
After his ﬁrst few tentative weeks, President Bush cast off his centrist campaign
rhetoric and across a range of programmatic areas began to endorse a stridently
conservative policy program. The audaciousness with which he put this strategy into
play in terms of the environment is virtually without precedent (see, for example,
Dunlap 2003; McCright and Dunlap 2003). All prior indications were that President
Bush’s personal environmental sensibilities trended more toward ambivalence than
antipathy and that upon taking ofﬁce he would not deliberately disregard sound
policy recommendations. Nevertheless, the White House pushed the U.S. EPA to
embrace a strongly reactionary agenda and to stake out purposefully divisive posi-
tions that appeal to conservative ideologues. For instance, it is difﬁcult to ﬁnd any
political logic in the U.S. EPA initial position on arsenic. At the same time, the Bush
administration’s ham-handed handling of climate change is shocking to observers
familiar with the customary conduct of foreign relations. The White House’s deci-
sion to stick its ﬁnger in the eye of the international community, and to forsake the
accord root and branch, is evidence of deep contempt for multilateral commitments
and expert appraisal. The subsequent political clash between the United States and
several European countries over war against Iraq revealed that this stance was not an
anomaly limited to the environmental domain, but rather was part of an explicit
foreign policy strategy.
Throughout 2002, while the Democrats were the majority party in the Senate,
the Bush administration appeared to modulate some of its vitriol and moved toward
a less outwardly antagonistic posture on a number of issues. While this may have
been true on a superﬁcial level, across the full range of the federal bureaucracy the
White House charged political appointees with the task of disabling key elements of
George W. Bush and the EPA: A Midterm Appraisal 83
the country’s environmental policy infrastructure and this work continued during
the Senate interregnum. The midterm elections again gave Republicans control of the
upper chamber and eliminated most legislative resistance to these initiatives.
Questions remain though as to what is politically driving the Bush administra-
tion to pursue this provocative line of action and what are its implications in the lead
up to the 2004 presidential election. There are surely major problems in how the U.S.
EPA currently conducts its affairs, and it is no longer debatable that organizational
renewal is long overdue. At the macro level the agency is handicapped by an
increasingly outmoded regulatory philosophy, a lack of programmatic coherence,
and a poorly articulated sense of organizational mission. It is notable that the Bush
administration has recognized the need to reconﬁgure some of the U.S. EPA’s core
functions, but it is using the language of constructive reform to camouﬂage a wish
list of initiatives ginned up by lobbyists and trade association representatives. While
many of the world’s most advanced countries have made earnest strides over the past
decade to embrace sustainable development, the United States is steadily moving
backward in time. This growing policy gap promotes speculation as to whether
the Bush administration is unaware of these developments or it is simply indifferent
The obvious ancillary issue ﬂowing from this discussion then becomes whether
President Bush will pay a price for riding roughshod over presumed public sensi-
bilities. While opinion polls over the past 30 years have consistently exposed an
abiding sense of environmental concern among Americans, this resolve tends to be
amorphous and rarely ﬁgures prominently in voting decisions. Nevertheless, when
this latent environmental interest is unleashed it often has profound political
implications. For instance, the Reagan administration’s attempts to dismantle reg-
ulatory statutes met stiff resistance and enabled the environmental movement to
make unanticipated political gains. The so-called ‘‘Contract with America’’ that
conservative Republicans championed during the mid-1990s contained provisions
for massive regulatory rollbacks, but this offensive encountered similar opposition.
During the early weeks of 2003, President Bush’s approval rating fell below 60%
for the ﬁrst time since September 11, 2001. An apparent explanation for this decline
is expanding unease about how the White House is handling key domestic policy
issues, foremost among them unemployment and the continued slackened economy.
The aftermath of American military intervention into Iraq has created deepening
anxiety about the long-term consequences of this action. Against this background,
any public misgivings that may exist with respect to environmental policy outcomes
are relatively minor considerations. However, growing public disillusionment on this
score could conceivably augment movement already set in train by other sources of
Of related importance is the evenly divided composition of the American elec-
torate, a phenomenon that has given independent voters a pivotal position in
national elections. Most political experts emphasize that within this group it is more
speciﬁcally suburban women that now have the power to decide close contests.
Opinion polls point to the relatively strong environmental sensibilities of this voting
group, especially as expressed in terms of protecting public health, preserving open
space, and maintaining the ‘‘livability’’ of local communities. While these women
demonstrate a general aversion to government intervention, they typically recognize
the need for public action to stem environmental deterioration. Some observers may
rightfully cast doubt on the depth of these commitments, but there continues to exist
across the country’s suburban expanses palpable fear about toxic chemicals and
84 M. J. Cohen
other environmental hazards. In the event that the Democratic Party is able to ﬁeld a
credible candidate in the 2004 election, President Bush’s reelection prospects will
hinge heavily on his ability to draw suburban woman in the Northeast—the majority
of whom identify with the Republican Party’s moderate wing—into his camp.
Environmental proponents may be heartened, at least to some extent, by the fact
that support from this particular constituency will not be forthcoming if the White
House and the U.S. EPA continue to pursue an agenda that deliberately disregards
1. In Whitman’s home state of New Jersey, there was deep ambivalence about her nomi-
nation. Her environmental credentials were not especially strong and as governor she pursued
several provocative measures, including massively reducing the budget of the Department of
Environmental Protection. During her second term, Whitman reversed course to some extent
and did champion initiatives to protect coastal resources and to establish a $1 billion fund to
preserve open space.
2. There is a sizable literature that examines presidential performance in the area of envir-
onmental policy. See, for example, Kraft and Vig (1984), Vig (2000), and Shanley (1992).
3. This discussion reviews the Bush administration’s environmental record largely in
terms of initiatives taken by the U.S. EPA. For both historical and political reasons the
United States lacks a single institutional body with thoroughgoing environmental policy
responsibility. A more comprehensive analysis of how the Bush administration has handled
the environment would necessarily include the full range of federal agencies that cover nat-
ural resource management, food safety, mining, nuclear hazards, and so forth.
4. The nominations of several controversial figures to secondary and tertiary environ-
mental positions were less visible. For example, President Bush appointed John Graham as dir-
ector of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the Office of Management and
Budget, Linda Fisher to become deputy U.S. EPA administrator, and James Connaughton
to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The nomination of Donald
Schredgardus, who served during most of the 1990s as Ohio’s chief environmental official,
was withdrawn after Senate Democrats invoked a procedural move to stall his confirmation.
5. Following this difficult series of incidents, rumors began to circulate that Whitman’s
enthusiasm for the job was beginning to wane and that she had begun to consider other pro-
fessional options. Media reports aired her name as an opponent to challenge Senator Robert
Torrecilli (D-NJ), who was the target of a lengthy ethics investigation. Senator Torrecelli ulti-
mately withdrew his candidacy the following year. Whitman, at least for a time, did little to
damp down this speculation. Another potential factor responsible for this ambivalence was
her declining stature among Bush administration colleagues. Secretary of State Colin
Powell famously described Whitman as the administration’s ‘‘wind dummy,’’ a military refer-
ence that likened her to an object thrown from a plane to get a rough measure of wind speed
6. In December 2000, after 2 years of deliberation, officials finalized this accord to reduce
substantially the use of 12 persistent organic pollutants. Included on the list are PCBs, dioxins,
DDT, and several pesticides linked to birth defects. After signing the treaty in May 2001 the
Bush administration waited nearly a year before submitting it for ratification. However, the
draft the White House sent to the Senate did not include previously negotiated provisions
about phasing out other chemicals in the future, and President Bush offered no guidance
on how to meet these objectives. In explaining the difference between the two treaty render-
ings, Whitman acknowledged, ‘‘It got so complicated to find language that was comprehensive
enough and yet didn’t tie our hands or would be something that could be accepted by the rest
of the world community.’’ Interestingly, an earlier draft of the treaty that the U.S. EPA pre-
pared for Senate ratification did include explicit procedures for discontinuing the use of other
chemicals in the future, but this wording was apparently expunged from the final version
(Associated Press 2002).
7. The outcome of the 2002 midterm election reversed once more the political alignment
of the Senate and again gave majority control of this legislative body to the Republican Party.
George W. Bush and the EPA: A Midterm Appraisal 85
8. One consequence of the controversies surrounding the U.S. EPA role in the post-
September 11 cleanup was the resignation of Robert Martin, the U.S. EPA ombudsman.
This position is responsible for investigating allegations of impropriety against the agency
and for ensuring compliance with legislative intent. Congress created Martin’s position in 1984
after U.S. EPA officials during the Reagan administration were forced to resign because of
irregularities in how they administered Superfund. Several months earlier, Whitman
announced her intention to relocate Martin from the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency
Response to the Office of the Inspector General. Such a move would have left him largely
powerless to pursue allegations of agency misconduct and stripped him of his autonomy. One
explanation for this reassignment is that it was in response to an inquiry that Martin launched
into (ultimately unproven) allegations that Whitman’s husband stood to benefit financially
from several Superfund projects. The conflict between Martin and Whitman came to a head in
spring 2002 after the two sparred in an unusually public disagreement over the U.S. EPA’s air
monitoring program in lower Manhattan.
9. In May 2003, Whitman announced her decision to resign as administrator of the U.S.
EPA. At the time this article was going to press the Senate had just confirmed Utah Governor
Michael Leavitt to serve as her successor.
10. Congress created the light truck classification in 1975 as part of the original CAFE
legislation. The intent at the time was for this vehicle category to comprise a limited
number of work vehicles (i.e., pick-up trucks). Automobile manufacturers eventually recog-
nized that they could exploit the light truck classification to produce less efficient (though
more profitable) vehicles, and this loophole created the impetus for SUVs.
11. The 2002 Congressional debate on CAFE standards was an episode of bizarre thea-
ter. At one point Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) stood before a photograph of a one-seat auto-
mobile and said, ‘‘I don’t want Americans to have to drive this car.’’ Senator Christopher
Bond (R-MO) hinted that under more rigorous standards golf carts would become the domi-
nant form of transportation (Rosenbaum 2002). Among leading Republicans, an exception on
CAFE standards is Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who has introduced a bill calling for a 50%
improvement in automotive fuel economy by 2016. The proposed legislation would also allow
car manufacturers to participate in a greenhouse gas trading scheme with other industries
12. The final NAS report presented a less optimistic picture of the potential for fuel econ-
omy improvements than the draft version reviewed by a 9-member panel just 3 weeks earlier.
Additionally, issues pertaining to the safety of lighter weight vehicles received much more con-
sideration in the final report than they did in the earlier draft (National Research Council
2001b; Bradsher 2001).
13. In addition to its emphasis on hydrogen fuel cells, the Bush administration has
advanced a scheme to allow automobile manufacturers to trade fuel economy credits and
an incentive system to provide consumers with tax credits on the purchase of more energy effi-
cient models (Hakim 2002a). Conspicuously missing from the Bush administration’s auto-
motive emissions program is a strategy that many economists endorse to replace the CAFE
standards with a substantial increase in gasoline taxes. Such a policy would provide consumers
with a direct incentive to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles and to drive less. Furthermore,
Congress could couple this proposition with a proportional reduction of the income tax.
14. The House of Representatives passed a similar resolution earlier in the year calling on
the Bush administration to take constructive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to
play a part in deliberations to reach an international agreement.
15. The U.S. EPA posted this report on its web site without any prior notice, and it was
not until after media reports drew attention to it that the agency issued any formal statement.
Whitman claimed that the relevant staff members did not obtain proper approval for the
document’s release and publicly reprimanded them for not following appropriate procedures
16. Against this effort to scale back Superfund, a notable development is Whitman’s
decision to reaffirm a Clinton administration order requiring General Electric to carry out
a $460 million project to dredge polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from the Hudson River.
The U.S. EPA banned the chemical in 1977, but by then GE’s manufacturing facilities
north of Albany had discharged more than a million pounds of the material into the river.
17. It is indeterminate how widespread this kind of creative financing will become. A
limiting factor may be the extent to which state governments have the financial ability to
86 M. J. Cohen
step forward in this way. There are also concerns that this accounting technique conflicts with
federal budgeting rules. Nevertheless, local political pressure will likely generate other inven-
tive approaches to keep projects from lapsing (Cushman 2002).
18. It bears noting that Southern suburbanites cast their ballots for President Bush in the
2000 election in much greater numbers than did suburban voters elsewhere in the country. Pre-
sident Bush’s support during the election was particularly weak among moderate Republicans
in the metropolitan regions of the Northeast.
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George W. Bush and the EPA: A Midterm Appraisal 87
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