Tour de Farce




President Bush got a little sweaty Friday while shoveling dirt and defending his environmental record in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. In addition to tidying-up trails and restoring native plants, Bush took the opportunity to crow about his administration’s commitment to National Parks. The California stint is part of a mini-environmental tour, during which Bush will stop in four Western states (California, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington) to tout his environmental accomplishments and aspirations.

The tour appropriately kicked off last week by a burnt hillside in Summerhaven, Arizona, an area devastated by the June Aspen fire. Bush used this visit to build support for HR1904, the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which the Senate Agriculture Committee approved in July. Put simply, the act rests on the premise that the best way to ensure the health of our forests is to cut them down. The New York Times writes:

“On its face, the plan seems innocent enough. It would increase the Forest Service’s fire-prevention budget and presumably the service’s ability to stop fires before they happen by aggressively thinning overgrown forests and deliberately setting controlled fires to prevent even bigger blazes. The problem with the plan is that it is hopelessly, perhaps deliberately, vague. It does not specifically require that the money be spent where it would obviously do the most good, at the urbanized edges of the forests, where homeowners and their property are most at risk. Indeed, its mandate is so broad that it practically invites commercial logging on millions of acres in remote areas of the national forests, where fires pose little or no threat to people or property but where the trees are the biggest and the opportunities for profit are the largest.”

The tour comes on the heels of Bush’s recent selection of Utah Governor Mike Leavitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Bush’s emphasis on environmental issues this month has opened him up to attacks from opponents. Of the Healthy Forests Initiative Senator Joseph Lieberman (R-CT) said, “Unlike our first president, George Bush just can’t come clean about his plan to cut down trees. He’s using the real need to clear brush and small trees from our forests as an excuse for a timber industry giveaway. Arizonans should make no mistake: this is logging industry greed masquerading as environmental need.”

It’s also a case of logging industry personnel masquerading as government officials. As part of his speech in Arizona, Bush commended Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman for the “fabulous job” she’s done to protect America’s forests. Nevermind that as a lawyer, Veneman represented the Sierra Nevada Access Multiple-Use & Stewardship Coalition, an association of logging, mining, and off-road vehicle interests pushing to roll back protections for wilderness and wildlife.

Governor Howard Dean of Vermont echoed Lieberman, saying “When it comes to the environment, no amount of glitz can disguise the administration’s dismal record of championing corporate interests over sound science and environmental stewardship.”

Bush’s visit to the Santa Monica Mountains was a brief respite from two days of fruitful fundraising — Bush raised $2 million in less than 24 hours from supportive Californians. Posing among the chaparral shrubs, Bush pledged to make good on his campaign promise to reduce the $4.9 billion maintenance backlog crippling the National Parks. According to Gale Norton, the administration has already reduced the backlog by $2.9 billion, but the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) sites $370 million as the more accurate figure. Thomas C. Kiernan, NPCA president, released the following statement:

“It’s a shame the president’s national park visit today to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is little more than a photo opportunity, offering spin over substance, instead of real progress for our national parks. Although the president pledged to eliminate the maintenance and resource-protection backlog of the national parks, the administration has supplied little new funding, mostly shuffling existing park dollars already stretched too thin. As a result, Department of Interior estimates show that although several projects have been completed, the overall backlog remains essentially unchanged. Yet the president and the administration still claim to be on track to meet the backlog pledge. Visiting any park or talking with any Park Service ranger will yield a different conclusion.”

Later this month, Bush plans to visit the Deschutes National Forest in Bend, Oregon, to further build support for his Healthy Forests Initiative. After that, he’ll swing by Seattle to talk about Salmon, 33,000 of which died in Oregon’s Klamath Basin in 2002, in part due to his administration’s water policy.

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