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A vote for the earth: people of faith should keep the environment in mind as they enter the voting booth.

Remember "Tweedledee and Tweedledum"? Four years ago, there was much talk about how the two candidates for president--Messrs. Gore and Bush--differed little on issues of importance, and as a result many disaffected voters turned to Green candidate Ralph Nader. The result of that election--and don't blame Nader--has been one of the most environmentally destructive administrations in history, at one of the most crucial and sensitive periods in terms of humanity's impact on the Earth.

From global warming to deforestation, from toxic mercury emmissions to emasculating the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, the Bush administration has rolled back hard won protections for the environment--all the while protecting the financial well-being of the hard-core polluters and utility industry executives who (coincidentally?) have been among the administration's largest campaign contributors (in 2000, for instance, Bush received $1.9 million from the oil and gas industries).

As the saying goes, there is a difference.

Take greenhouse gases, as an example. Power plants emit 40 percent of the carbon dioxide released in this country' as well as dangerous air pollutants that each year cause tens of thousands of' asthma attacks and more than 30,000 early deaths. Clearly, the need is to strengthen the Clean Air Act, our best tool in the fight for breathable air, and take serious steps to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.

So what did the Bush administration do? Last summer the EPA eased enforcement rules under the act, and in the fall closed investigations of 70 power plants and other industries suspected of violations. New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said the Bush regulations "were taking us down a path of dirty air, more asthma, and more death." (In December, a federal appeals court blocked the Bush rule change, which Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called "a huge [victory] for public Health--a stunning defeat for polluters and an administration that gives them gifts year-round.")

IN HIS 2000 CAMPAIGN, Bush promised to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, his administration disavowed the 1997 Kyoto agreement, which would have imposed mandatory emission cuts, and promoted a "voluntary" program" Guess what? The big polluters decided not to volunteer for the self-restricting program. (I'm afraid that's bad news for those who favor "voluntary" speed limits or "voluntary" embezzlement laws.)

Or take mercury, as another example. Toxic mercury (methyhlmercury) can cause brain damage in children and is especially dangerous during pregnancy. But the Bush administration is proposing regulatory changes that, when fully implemented, would allow the energy industry to emit three times as much mercury pollution.

Or, for another example, look at ... well, pretty much any area of environmental concern. And it's all done with the usual double-speak intended to confuse the public, with anti-environmental actions taken in the name of "business" or "economic development" or even rhetoric about the environment itself: "We had to raze the forest to save it."

When it comes to taking care of the environment, when it comes to public policies that affect the health of the planet, there is a difference between the two parties.

And it matters. The international scientific community, apart from those on the payroll of oil, gas, and other energy companies, has come to a clear consensus that human behavior is contributing to climate change--the only real disagreement is around the questions of how fast the Earth's temperature is likely to rise, and how much damage will be done. (A recent scientific report spoke of the "startling speed" of climate changes that have already occurred, and warned of the possibility" of "large, abrupt, and unwelcome ... climatic events"--with likely catastrophic effects, especially on the world's poor.)

Care for the environment ought to be a central issue in this year's presidential election--and Mother Earth is most certainly not better off than she was four years ago. People of faith would be right to keep that in mind as they enter the voting booth.

Jim Rice is managing editor of Sojourners.
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Title Annotation:Politics
Author:Rice, Jim
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2004
Previous Article:On the road.
Next Article:Sins of emission: no politician seriously believes that Americans are willing to deal with global warming. Is it too late to prove them wrong?

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