Naked City

Not Keen on Green

In more ways than one, Gov. George W. Bush can be seen as the Gingerbread Man of the GOP. He started off the election season dodging debates, and has since developed a reputation for being unavailable to reporters on the campaign trail. In the past two weeks, it appears the Republican front-runner has also dodged the powerful League of Conservation Voters (LCV). In January, the league, a national, bipartisan environmental advocacy group, took Bush to task on his environmental record as governor. Although it will come as little surprise to Texas conservationists that Bush faces sharp criticism when it comes to his record on protecting Texas' environment, the fact remains that the candidate missed an opportunity to take a stand by not filling out a questionnaire sent to his office by the LCV.

By contrast, Sen. John McCain -- as well as the dueling Dems, Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley -- all turned in answers to the questionnaire. The questions ranged from how to deal with public lands acquisition and wilderness protection -- the source of raging debates across much of the West, where federal lands are viewed as being up for grabs -- to what to do about nuclear waste and how to protect the world's oceans. Candidates were also queried about such international issues as overpopulation and threats to endangered plants and animals.

When the league released its assessment of the presidential candidates on Jan. 13, LCV president Deb Callahan said, "The saying 'Everything is bigger in Texas' unfortunately applies to the state's environmental problems under Gov. Bush."

"To boil it all down," said Callahan, "if Bush applied his 'Texas knows best' standard to the rest of the nation, 30 years of environmental progress could be jeopardized in just four years. We believe that Bush represents the biggest threat to the environment of any leading major-party presidential candidate."

As befits McCain's mixed environmental record, Bush's biggest Republican challenger ranked a lifetime environmental voting average of just 20%, according to the LCV, but he drew positive reviews from the group for positioning himself as the conservative candidate most willing to embrace environmental values. So although his record doesn't stand out as a model of eco-awareness, the Arizona senator seems to have helped himself simply by responding to the questionnaire. One imagines Bush could have done himself a similar favor.

Scott McClellan, a press officer with the Bush campaign, isn't clear on why his boss failed to answer the LCV's questions, but offers that Bush has "talked about some [environmental] issues on the campaign trail." However, a quick survey of Bush's campaign Web site (http://www.georgewbush.com) revealed a scarcity of information concerning the candidate's positions vis-à-vis the environment.

Of particular note for national environmental groups has been Bush's opposition to the breaching of dams in the Pacific Northwest, a move some believe will help save endangered salmon, and his opposition to the Gore-engineered Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty designed to help reduce global warming. Local environmental groups, meanwhile, have bemoaned the lack of funding for state parks under Bush's governorship, and the deterioration in air quality under Bush. Such issues are also addressed by the LCV report. McClellan counters that Bush has not gotten the credit he deserves. The LCV "ought to be praising his effort to reduce emissions rather than polluting his environmental record," McClellan says.

On the Democratic side, Bradley ranked higher than Gore in the LCV's survey, with an 84% lifetime voting average compared to Gore's 64%.

Nonetheless, LCV president Callahan called Gore "the most knowledgeable candidate on issues pertaining to environmental protection." Bush's other Republican opponents -- Gary Bauer, Alan Keyes and Steve Forbes -- did not answer the questionnaire. For a full list of questions and presidential profiles from the LCV, go to http://www.lcv.org/presidential.

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