YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Nation

Earth Day Shadows for Bush

Politics: Led by Gore, environmentalists are attacking president's policies on eve of celebration.


WASHINGTON — As President Bush leads the nation today in celebrating Earth Day's 32nd anniversary, environmentalists are unleashing a harsh and coordinated attack headed by former Vice President Al Gore on his energy and environmental policies.

The erstwhile White House rivals have scheduled dueling public appearances to mark the day--Bush in New York's Adirondack Mountains and Gore at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

But more than a replay of the last presidential campaign, today's developments could serve as a harbinger of the next one, regardless of whether Gore runs again.

And while today's rhetoric will focus on the environment, the political back-and-forth also seems to illustrate the growing willingness of Democrats and other detractors to attack a war commander's handling of an array of issues, including the Middle East and the war in Afghanistan.

Almost every action Bush has taken on the environment has drawn scathing attacks, from the now-stalled proposal to explore for gas and oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the secretive manner in which Vice President Dick Cheney developed a national energy policy.

And with many senior posts in key agencies, such as the Interior Department, occupied by onetime industry executives, ties between the Bush administration and big business have also emerged as a point of contention. Recently released Energy Department records reveal, for instance, that industry executives enjoyed far greater access to senior government officials drafting the energy plan than environmental groups did.

Neither Gore nor the environmental groups is holding fire.

For example, rather than waiting until after Bush's remarks today to issue their reactions--the time-honored Washington tradition--they acted preemptively.

By Friday afternoon, numerous groups had delivered condemnations of the president's policies--pegged to his New York speech today. The Natural Resources Defense Council, which has played a central role in publicizing the inner workings of Cheney's energy task force, ran a Sunday newspaper ad with this headline: "On Earth Day, President Bush will probably plant a tree. . . . It's the other 364 days we're worried about."

After much criticism about the development of its national energy policy, the Bush administration has stepped up its emphasis on conservation.

At Saranac Lake in upstate New York this morning, Bush will discuss the nation's progress on the environment, but he intends to tout his "Clean Skies" initiative, which he said last week would "improve air quality by dramatically cutting power emissions from power plants."

The president characterized his initiative as the best option for reducing pollution from aging, coal-fired power plants. It would set a nationwide cap on sulfur dioxide emissions but allow older, dirtier plants to buy "credits" from newer, cleaner plants.

Environmental groups say the cap is too high and have denounced the initiative as nothing more than a "smoke screen" for what they called a "polluter-friendly" plan.

In Nashville, Gore is scheduled to deliver a critique of Bush's policies on the environment--an issue with which the former vice president is closely identified. He is the author of "Earth in the Balance," a 1992 best-selling book on environmental issues.

Previewing his speech in an opinion article in the New York Times on Sunday, Gore contended Bush's policies "are completely dominated by a group of current and former oil and chemical company executives" determined to resist efforts to clean up the environment.

The former vice president and onetime senator from Tennessee has not revealed whether he will again seek the Democratic presidential nomination. But his increasing outspokenness--he delivered an address at the state Democratic convention in Florida last weekend--is fueling speculation he wants a rematch against Bush in 2004.

In the op-ed article, Gore called for "real, forward-thinking leadership and a renewed focus on the environment" and asserted that Bush's "Clean Skies" initiative "actually increases air pollution levels by allowing more toxic mercury, nitrogen oxide and sulfur emissions than does current law."

Gore concluded: "Put simply, this administration has consistently sold out America's future in return for short-term political gains."

Los Angeles Times Articles