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Giving Bush the benefit of the doubt

I found this interesting article on George Bush's environmental record through the President's soulless campaign blog. The argument is that Democratic criticisms are way out of proportion, and that in fact Bush has been pretty good, environment-wise. The article points out some important things about the long-term trend of improving environmental quality in this country, as well as reminding us of a few unequivocally good environmental moves Bush has made, such as improved diesel and farm vehicle emissions standards. But Easterbrook (the author) goes too far in trying to give some of Bush's bad policies the benefit of the doubt. On the Healthy Forests Initiative, he says:

But hasn't the president imposed an evil new forest policy designed to encourage logging? First, it's not so clear that logging is a bad idea; it's one of the few endlessly sustainable industries. Also, Bush's new forest policy leaves most important decisions to local managers from the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Though they may abuse their new discretion, it's also possible they will use it wisely. For that reason the effect of Bush's forest policy is hard to project — but regardless, something had to be done to reduce the wildfires plaguing the West.

Logging as it's currently practiced is not necessarily endlessly sustainable -- it's possible to do long-term damage to an ecosystem through over-logging. Further, I'm always immediately suspicious of any "but we have to do something justification for any policy. Even if we set aside the non-fire-related impacts of Healthy Forests, it remains quite possible that Healthy Forests will be worse than doing nothing. Roads and logged areas are among the most susceptible areas to damaging fire. It's like shooting a person in a coma because we had to do something to try to revive them. I'm not willing to give Bush an "A" for effort.

Isn't the president engaged in a sinister plan to allow drilling on public lands? New White House rules do make it easier to drill for oil and natural gas on public lands. But you can't demand no oil drilling and also demand no mileage restrictions on SUVs. Until American voters are willing to make a serious commitment to energy conservation — and there is no sign of this — it's hypocritical to insist that oil and gas must be produced out of sight, out of mind.

What environmentalists has Easterbrook been talking to who don't want to demand reductions in fossil fuel use? Indeed, it seems that a tightening of the gas supply due to putting some oil fields off limits would be a nice incentive for conservation. American voters also want low taxes and high levels of government services, and have to be forced into making a tough choice by fiscal realities. The gas market works the same way. Then again, the amount of oil that the US can produce domestically is tiny. Perhaps Americans agree that that small increase in oil isn't worth the environmental destruction.


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