Bush aides defend environmental record
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Using Earth Day to answer critics who have blasted the White House as hostile to the environment, some of President Bush's top advisers said Sunday the administration was doing a good job of protecting the country's natural resources while developing a comprehensive energy policy.
"President Bush is an outdoorsman. He's someone who values very much our environment," Interior Secretary Gale Norton said on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.
"I believe that, at the end of his term, people will see that the air is cleaner and the water is purer than it was when he took office."
Norton said the administration was considering opening lands to gas and oil drilling that former President Clinton had designated as national monuments.
Balance is key
"I think we all want to see as much preservation as we can," Norton said on ABC's This Week. "We also need to recognize that we have to have a balance to keep our jobs available for people, to keep supplies of heat for our homes. And so, those are things that we need to try to balance as well as possible."
Bush's policies, including his support of drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and his suspension of rules to cut arsenic in drinking water, have drawn fire from many environmental advocates and Democratic lawmakers.
"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-Conn., said on CBS' Face the Nation.
"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."
Bush has also been criticized for his support of logging in national forests, his opposition to the Kyoto treaty on global warming and his reversal of a campaign pledge to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
A recent Newsweek poll found that 43 percent of Americans disagreed with the view that Bush was committed to protecting the environment.
Last week, the White House announced a few decisions that aides said highlighted the administration's commitment to the environment. Some environmental advocates dismissed the decisions as public relations moves in advance of Earth Day.
Bush announced his support for a global treaty which calls for the elimination of a dozen highly toxic chemicals. The White House also said it would conduct a study to look at the impact of placing limits on arsenic in drinking water.
Before he left office, former President Clinton enacted regulations that called for lowering the arsenic standard from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion. Bush set that aside.
"I just felt that we could take the time because the rule wasn't going into effect until 2006," EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said on NBC's Meet the Press. "We will still have an enforceable rule in 2006 that will be dramatically different than 50 parts per billion."
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