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Bush Promises to ‘Read Lips’ on Environment

Times Staff Writer

Armed with more than 700 recommendations on issues ranging from acid rain and global warming to air pollution and wildlife protection, a group of environmental leaders met with President-elect George Bush Wednesday and predicted that there would be a “night-and-day difference” between his presidency and the Reagan Administration on environmental issues.

“I said, ‘Mr. Bush, read my lips: Protect the environment.’ And he replied, ‘I will, I will,’ ” said Jay D. Hair, president of the National Wildlife Federation, one of five leaders who met with Bush and top staff aides at the White House for 45 minutes to discuss a host of environmental problems.

The recommendations presented to Bush were part of an unprecedented, year-long effort by 18 organizations representing more than 7 million members to produce a “Blueprint for the Environment” for the next President. It represented the first time that so many environmental organizations had come together and hammered out an agreement on federal policies.

Gasoline Tax Urged

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Many of the suggestions were controversial, such as a 25-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline to reduce “global warming” problems linked to the burning of fossil fuels and proposals calling for new environmental programs totaling about $5 billion.

Other recommendations were more visionary, calling on Bush to lead an international assault on worldwide environmental concerns, such as the destruction of tropical rain forests, depletion of the ozone layer, wildlife endangerment and growing urban air pollution.

“We pointed to a picture of Teddy Roosevelt (former President and strong conservationist) on the wall and said Bush had a unique opportunity to be a global Teddy Roosevelt, to set an example for the entire world,” Hair said. “And he seemed to like the idea. He smiled.”

Among the other groups who helped produce the report were the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, The Wilderness Society, Zero Population Growth and the Oceanic Society. Bush aides who attended the meeting included C. Boyden Gray, the President-elect’s counselor; transition co-chairman Robert Teeter, and transition aide Bob Grady.

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Despite the good feelings, the President-elect made no specific commitments on the groups’ recommendations, saying that he would study them and keep an open mind, said Tina Hobson, who represents Renew America, a conservation group. Although he has previously expressed opposition to an increase in the gasoline tax, Bush “did not rule anything out,” she added.

Expects to Please

At the same time, the President-elect said that environmental groups would be “surprised and pleased” by his appointments to key posts, such as secretary of the Interior, the energy secretary and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He invited members of the organizations to submit names for these posts and pledged that his appointees would meet with environmental activists before they are sworn into office.

On Wednesday, several new names of potential nominees surfaced, according to environmental leaders. Among them were former Michigan Gov. William G. Milliken as secretary of the Interior, reportedly being supported by William D. Ruckelshaus, Bush’s top environmental adviser. Others were Warren A. Morton, former Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives, to head the EPA, who is being sponsored by Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), and former Rep. Tom Loeffler (R-N.M.) for energy secretary.

Several of the environmental leaders who unveiled the two-volume blueprint acknowledged that Bush had been criticized during the presidential campaign as being hostile to environmental concerns and for being a member of the Reagan Administration’s “environmental wrecking crew.”

However, they noted that the President-elect had run for office as an environmentalist and said that there was no reason at this time to believe that he would abandon his campaign commitments. Above all, they claimed that the new Administration would put a higher priority on the environment than the Reagan Administration, which they said had “cut off” environmentalists from discussions of national policy.

“He (Bush) is our President now. . . . We think we ought to give our new President a chance to honor these promises,” said Thomas B. Stoel Jr., an official with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “At this time, we are optimistic he will listen to our suggestions.”

In their report, environmentalists called on the Bush Administration to order the EPA to phase out U.S. use of chlorofluorocarbons, the main ozone-depleting chemical, and to seek worldwide agreements to end use of such chemicals. They urged quick passage in Congress of a new Clean Air Act and recommended that Bush increase federal support for development of solar power and other “renewable” energy sources to reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.

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