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Environment Officials See A Chance To Shape Regulations

Emboldened by President Bush's victory, the nation's top environmental officials are claiming a broad mandate to refashion the regulation of air and water pollution and wildlife protection in ways that will promote energy production and economic development.

"The election was a validation of the philosophy and the agenda," said Mike Leavitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental protections, he said, must be done "in a way that maintains the economic competitiveness of the country."

I can see the Bush administration claiming a general (though slim) sort of validation, since it won 51% of the vote and its allies picked up seats in Congress. But it's absurd to claim that, in a campaign where the President said barely two sentences about his environmental policy, his victory is a validation of that policy. Indeed, most voters had an inaccurately rosy view of what the administration wants to do for the environment.

But perhaps the administration's plans to push forward with its corporate-friendly environmental agenda can be turned to good use. There have been grumblings from ranchers, hunters, and anglers -- a core component of Bush's base in the west -- over environmental issues. They're realizing that Republicans are bent on doing favors for big business, which can hurt smaller natural resource entrepreneurs and undermine the public lands that hunters and anglers depend on. That wasn't enough to turn the mountain states blue this time around, but Brian Schweitzer was able to capitalize on the theme of Republican indifference to local people and their environments to win the governorship of Montana. It fits into a larger populist image that I think could be effective for Democrats if they can cultivate it over the long term (rather than making a ham-handed grab at it the way Al Gore did in 2000).


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