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The perfect storm hits America.

ACF Campaigns Director John Connor recently visited the United States and as well as surviving Hurricane Isabel, came face to face with the challenges confronting environmentalists in America.

THE AMERICAN environmental movement is caught in a perfect storm. A storm formed from combined ill winds from the White House, Congress, the courts and from financial backers. This storm is battering almost all of America's environmental achievements over the last 30 years.

Yet, as in all such disasters there are inspiring stories of communities coming together. Moving on from past differences, such as those over the Nader/Gore presidential candidacies, and forging new bonds. There is renewed collaboration within the environmental movement and with other social groups. There is also greater investment in building support within Latino, African-American, faith-based, hunter/angler and labour communities.

The first clouds of the perfect storm gathered in the bureaucracy of Government.

The President elected separately from the Congress or Parliament, makes political appointments to head the various arms of the administration--known as 'politicals'.

According to the Washington Post, 'Bush's policy toward environmental appointments can best be described as hiring coyotes to guard the chicken coop' (1).

The coyotes include:

* Gale Norton, a former lawyer for states arguing against the Endangered Species Act and a protegee of Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, is now in the position of head of the Department of Interior, the agency responsible for land management, fisheries, forestry and endangered species law enforcement.

* James L. Connaughton, a former lobbyist for power companies and for corporations fighting rules governing the cleanup of toxic sites. He is now the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

* William G. Myers III, former lawyer for ranching and mining industries. He is now solicitor general of the Interior Department. He's the man in charge of enforcing environmental laws.

* J. Steven Griles, former lobbyist for coal, oil and gas industries, is deputy secretary for the Interior Department.

* Mark Rey, a former lobbyist for the timber industry, is now the top forestry official at the Department of Agriculture (which includes the US Forest Service);

'Every administration rewards its friends,' writes Michael Shnayerson in the hardly radical Vanity Fair, 'but never has there been such a wholesale giveaway of government agencies to the very industries they're meant to oversee.' (2) It's the ultimate victory for the 'wise use' movement, natural resource users with an anti-national parks and self-regulation agenda. Now they no longer need their grassroots and pseudo-grassroots campaigns, they're in with Bush!

The policy and environmental outcomes have been severe but, unlike the anti-environmental initiatives of past administrations, have been delivered with unprecedented and heavily green-washed spin. With the aid of pollster Frank Luntz, a whole new language is being invented (3).

For example:

* 'New Environmentalism' is, according to Gale Norton, a, "recognition that ... we have in many ways reached the limits of what we can do through government regulation and mandates." Matching language in Australia, the resulting deregulation of industries and focus on voluntary measures is dressed up in 'partnership' language.

* A 'Clean Skies' initiative will lead to three times more mercury from power plants and much longer time frames for already planned reductions of other pollutants under the US Clean Air Act.

* A 'Healthy Forests' plan which has led to logging in wilderness areas, removing old growth trees in the name of hazard reduction.

The American EPA recently ruled that greenhouse pollution doesn't come within its jurisdiction. 20 per cent of wetlands have been removed from the Clean Waters Act and the administration his effectively washed its hands on the 40 per cent of rivers still unsafe for swimming and fishing. The Department of Interior folded on a court case and interpreted the settlement to mean that 220 million acres of public land across the West of America can no longer be considered for wilderness protection. On and on it goes.

These actions have been alarming to not only environmental organisations but also have warning bells ringing within Republican circles as well. The mainstream Republicans for Environmental Protection recently rated the Bush administration in eight areas of environmental concern. Six of the eight grades were Ds. A seventh, on energy policy, was an F. Farm policy got the highest grade: B-.

So what of the checks and balances that supposedly exist on the Executive arm of Government, the Courts and the Congress?

The 2002 congressional election delivered control of the Senate to the Republicans giving them control of both houses. With the notable exception of preventing, to date, drilling of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, this Congress has mostly aided and abetted the agenda of the Bush administration.

Congressional elections coinciding with the 2004 Presidential election are not viewed with much hope of changing the control of either house. The concern is that more environmentally--friendly representatives from both parties are up for re-election than unfriendly ones.

The right of the President to fill judicial vacancies has meant the appointment of more and more conservative judges likely to back Bush plans. These lifetime appointments have to be approved by Congress and this has been one of the very few areas where some in the movement feel that the Democrats have seriously rallied together for the environment. In most cases this has led to greater accountability, but has mainly simply delayed appointments. Recently however, one US Court of Appeal nominee targeted for greater scrutiny withdrew because of the delays caused by opposition on the part of a coalition of environment and labour groups.

This is not to say the judiciary has become completely compliant and there have been some recent successful court cases. For example, one court decision recently prevented the navy from causing harmful seismic pollution in the seas. However concern is growing about the long-term impact of these lifetime appointments.

Compounding the loss of these checks and balances has been the impact on resources for non-government organisations as economic recession and stockmarket slumps have dried up significant areas of funding. For example, in 2003, the Turner Foundation, formerly a significant donor to many environmental groups, shut up shop giving nothing whatsoever.

With serious question marks over proposed charities legislation here in Australia, it was extraordinary to see the impact of arcane and bureaucratic charities laws in the US. In the main, these laws haven't hindered groups but they have definitely benefited the armies of lawyers and bureaucrats who feed off their complexity.

In many international forums Australia and the US have a special relationship, which if properly coordinated could be an enormous force for good in spreading democratic and sustainability values. Unfortunately this partnership is currently a mostly destructive one for multilateral environment agreements such as Kyoto, Biosafety and even the Convention on Biological Diversity, where Australia is attempting to block invasive species decisi0ns.

With the collapse of global trade negotiations in Cancun, the negotiations between Australia and United States for a Free Trade Agreement assume even greater significance. Read more about the free trade Agreement at www.acfonline.org.au

I have come away from this trip believing even more strongly in the need for ACF to continue to paint a vision of a sustainable Australia and to speak clearly to individuals about the role they can play in building such a society. There is much to be learnt from the organisations and ideas struggling to be heard in America but there is much we can contribute as well.

John Connor is ACFs Campaigns Director

(1) Peter Carlson. 9/9/03, pC8 reviewing two recent articles on Bush's environmental record "Sale of the Wild", Michael Shnayerson, Vanity Fair. September 2003 and "The Ungreening of America", Osha Gray Davidson, Mother Jones, Sept-Oct 2003.

(2) Op cit p.330

(3) The Republican guidebook on how to spin the environment was written by one of their longtime pollsters, Frank Luntz. A leaked version of his guide and how it is being used to put rhetoric over action is available at www.luntzspeak.com
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Title Annotation:American environmental movement
Author:Connor, John
Publication:Habitat Australia
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Words:1326
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