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Bush energy advisers won't push Alaskan oil, Whitman says

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's energy advisers won't recommend drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Bush's environmental protection chief said Sunday.

Environmental Protection Agency chief Christie Whitman said the controversial proposal won't be part of a report due next month from an energy task force led by Vice President Dick Cheney.

"As far as our report goes, we didn't specifically say, 'You must drill in ANWAR.' We didn't recommend that to the president," Whitman told CBS' "Face the Nation." "But we will be recommending a range of choices, because our energy situation is very severe."

That proposal and other Bush administration decisions have come under heavy fire from environmentalists. Bush advisers fanned out across the talk-show circuit Sunday -- Earth Day -- to defend the administration's environmental record.

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Whitman's comments follow a report by Time magazine that Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, has recommended that the president back off his push for drilling in the reserve. She said the plan to explore for oil in the Alaskan wilderness faces heavy opposition from Congress, which would have to authorize such a move.

But Interior Secretary Gale Norton told CNN on Sunday that plans to open the Arctic wilderness to exploration were still on the table. Norton said Rove "still believes that it is something that we should push forward with." She said the administration was also considering opening lands to gas and oil drilling that President Clinton had designated as national monuments.

"It's still something that we think ought to be explored as part of the way that we balance our environmental issues and our energy issues," she said.

Since taking office in January, Bush has suspended Clinton administration regulations to cut arsenic levels in drinking water and reversed a campaign pledge to cut carbon dioxide emissions. He also has abandoned the Kyoto Protocol on reducing carbon emissions, which have been linked to global climate change.

"President Bush campaigned as a sensible centrist, but on the environment he's been governing far to the right and outside the mainstream of where most Americans are," Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, told CBS. "When you get loose about the amount of arsenic in water, which we're worried causes cancer -- when you say you're going to drill in one of the most beautiful places the good Lord has given us in America, the Arctic refuge -- that's not sensible centrism."

And former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta told CNN, "Their first approach is really almost to take a chainsaw to the environmental protections that the administration had erected."

Bush agreed to keep strict restrictions on lead, kept a Clinton rule expanding wetlands protection and backed a treaty banning a dozen harmful chemicals found mostly in poorer countries. But environmental advocates dismissed the decisions as public relations moves in advance of Earth Day.

Before he left office, Clinton enacted regulations that called for lowering the arsenic standard from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion. Bush set that aside, but Whitman said the administration would have a new rule in place by 2006, when the earlier rule was to take effect.

"What good do we do when we drive it to a number when we don't have a program in place to help the small and mid-sized water companies?" Whitman said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "They go belly-up or walk away from their clients that they're serving."



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RELATED SITES:
Earth Day Network
George W. Bush on Environment
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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