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Sierra Club Targets Bush in New Ads on Environment

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Sierra Club will broadcast television and radio commercials in New Hampshire this week harshly criticizing the environmental record of Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

“We want to make sure that the people of New Hampshire know about George Bush’s poor record in solving air pollution problems in his home state,” said Daniel J. Weiss, political director for the national environmental organization. “Since Bush has ignored people in Texas asking him to solve this problem, he may be sensitive to what people in New Hampshire have to say about it.”

Weiss said the Sierra Club will spend tens of thousands of dollars to broadcast the ads, which are scheduled to air just in time for Bush’s first debate appearance on Thursday in New Hampshire.

The ads are a first for the Sierra Club, which has never directly criticized a presidential candidate in a television commercial. While not ruling out the possibility of ads examining other presidential contenders, Weiss said they weren’t being considered right now.

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Bush Singled Out as ‘the Worst’

“Bush is clearly the worst,” he said. “We hope this is a tremendous lever to get Bush to clean up Texas.”

The ads, prepared by Haddow Communications in Takoma Park, Md., depict various polluting facilities and contain footage of an 11-year-old asthmatic boy wearing a breathing assistance device and standing outside a hazardous-waste facility near Dallas.

The commercial claims: “Texas leads the nation in air and toxic pollution.” It concludes by urging viewers to “Call George W. Bush. Tell him it’s time to clear the air for families.” A phone number for the Texas statehouse is featured.

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The advertisement does not mention the presidential race or refer to Bush as a candidate. Weiss said that was designed to allow the Sierra Club to avoid using its political funds for the commercial.

“They are called issue-advocacy ads, which highlight somebody’s record and urge people to do something about it,” he said. “To satisfy the courts, [they] do not mention the magic words ‘support, oppose, vote for or against. Then it’s a political ad.”

Campaign Says Bush Should Be Praised

Bush campaign officials responded that Texas’ pollution problems should not be a reflection on the governor because the conditions have improved since he took office in 1994.

Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said that the Sierra Club “should actually be praising Gov. Bush for his record on the environment. He is the first Texas governor to call in . . . companies and ask them to voluntarily reduce their emissions. Under Gov. Bush, air pollution from Texas industries has decreased 10%.”

Weiss disputed that figure.

Recent studies have called attention to environmental concerns in Texas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported in October that Houston surpassed Los Angeles as the country’s smoggiest city, and four other Texas cities are on the verge of violating federal health standards for air quality. And, according to the Sierra Club, EPA data indicate that Texas has the nation’s highest level of carcinogenic and toxic air emissions and is the third worst for water pollution.

Tucker said Bush submitted a plan to the EPA in recent weeks to tackle the Houston air quality problems.

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