Bush Vows ‘Zero Tolerance’ of Environmental Polluters
Trying anew to shake off stereotypes about Republican indifference to the environment, George Bush on Wednesday spelled out a strong, idealized, ambitious--and sure to be controversial--plan to “lead the world to a new recognition of the importance of the environment.”
On the shore of Lake Erie near Detroit, Bush recalled the events of summer: filthy medical wastes washing up on beaches, “frighteningly high” levels of ozone and unnerving reports of global warming--the greenhouse effect.
“Nineteen eighty-eight is the year the Earth spoke back,” Bush said.
The vice president, who is trying to chart a course independent of the Reagan Administration, said he would be an activist President in tackling toxic polluters.
“Zero tolerance,” he warned.
Bush pronounced himself “an environmentalist--always have been . . . . That’s not inconsistent with being a businessman, nor is it with being a conservative.”
And he said he would make pollution, the greenhouse effect and acid rain matters not just of national but of high international concern. Within one year of taking office as President, he promised, he would convene a global conference on the environment.
“Those who think we’re powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect are forgetting about the White House effect. As President, I intend to do something about it,” Bush said.
The vice president’s lengthy remarks to reporters and an invited audience of about 100 supporters were designed to show a greater environmental sensitivity than might be expected from the No. 2 official in the Reagan Administration. But the program he announced contained some red flags for environmentalists.
The vice president, for example, reiterated his call for increased reliance on nuclear power and said it should be considered a pro-environmental position. He called nuclear power generation a “critical answer to this problem” of global warming, believed to be caused largely by combustion of fossil fuels.
Safe and Neutral Ground
Additionally, Bush sought safe and neutral ground on some of the most turbulent environmental struggles of the day, battles that conservationists contend will be lost for lack of a champion in the White House. For instance:
--On pesticides, Bush said he would favor rules ensuring that the costs to farmers are “rationally balanced” against public health benefits.
--On protecting wildlife habitats on federal lands, Bush said he would seek to satisfy both preservation of the national heritage and the need for jobs and resource development.
--On wetland preservation, Bush said his goal would be “no net loss of wetlands.” But he said he would have to rely on the cooperation of state governments and business interests to help bring this about.
--And, when it came to one of the touchiest environmental issues--how to allocate the costs of conservation among business, taxpayers and consumers--Bush was vaguest of all.
Supports Trust Fund Idea
Yes, he said, he agreed with a controversial report by a presidential commission that America should establish a “self-perpetuating trust fund” to expand and improve national parks. But, no, he would not commit himself to the $1-billion cost. In fact, Bush and his aides would not say how much money should be allocated or who would pay.
“Actually, he was pretty careful to find initiatives that do not add to the federal deficit,” one adviser explained. “He’ll do things as the deficit allows.”
Bush repeated his call to action on acid rain, one of his boldest breaks to date with the policies of the Administration. “The time for study alone has passed,” he said.
However, in his speech and in detailed background materials, the vice president refused to state how fast he would act or whom he would ask to foot the bill. “George Bush will work with the Congress on the exact amounts and the exact methodology,” the campaign said in a statement.
Sanctions on L.A. Cited
Bush added that he wanted to ban all ocean dumping of waste by 1991 and said that recent federal sanctions against Los Angeles because of its smog “show dramatically the need to press ahead the battle for clean air.”
The address retraced and expanded on remarks Bush had made last May in Seattle. That address, his first big environmental speech, had been a disappointment to the campaign, receiving very spotty news attention because of a logistical problem that left reporters no time to file stories before night-time deadlines.
This time, Bush planned to focus on the topic for three days. He is to go today to Boston Harbor to call attention to pollution in the home state of Democratic nominee Michael S. Dukakis. Still more environmental events were planned for Friday.
“Before it’s over, Mr. Dukakis is going to be a lot more vulnerable on the environment,” Bush press aide Mark Goodin said.
If so, this could help even things out, for Bush has found himself under strong attack on the subject of the environment.
Indeed, Dukakis was quick to reply Wednesday to Bush’s environmental proposals.
“Talk about an election-year conversion,” the Massachusetts governor snorted at a press conference in Boston. “He and the Administration he’s been part of have done everything they could to eliminate environmental programs.”
Joining Dukakis at the press conference was Sen. George J. Mitchell (D-Me.), chairman of a Senate environmental protection subcommittee, who added: “Where has Vice President Bush been for the last seven years? . . . The record of the Reagan-Bush Administration on water pollution, indeed on environmental questions in general, has been an unmitigated disaster.”
As he sometimes does, Bush sought to break up the seriousness of the campaign with a moment of lightness. On Wednesday, this occurred at the Michigan State Fair, when the vice president toured the midway.
Throwing at ‘Bozo’
With cameras crowded around, he threw more than a dozen pitches at the “Make Bozo Splash” stand, attempting to hit a target and dunk a clown in a tank of water.
“Come on, pops! Come on, old man! Come on, toss your Geritol bottle up here!” the clown taunted jokingly, as Bush missed time and again. “You couldn’t hit the broad side of the White House.”
Finally, Bush, former Yale University first baseman, landed a ball close to the center of the target and the clown dunked himself.
As Dan Quayle began the second week of his GOP vice presidential campaign, the subject turned to potato chips. Page 22.