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Jeffords blasts Bush on environment

Says administration is 'moving us backward'

The Democratic weekly radio address focused on the environment.
The Democratic weekly radio address focused on the environment.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. James Jeffords -- the Vermont independent who stripped control of the Senate from Republicans last year when he bolted the party -- slammed the administration's record on the environment and said President Bush was "undoing his father's legacy."

"This year the power industry is getting a nice Christmas gift: the biggest weakening of the Clean Air Act in history," Jeffords said Saturday in the Democrats' weekly radio address, becoming the first independent to deliver that speech.

"Last week, the Bush administration announced devastating new regulations that will gut clean air laws -- allowing power plants to avoid installing simple anti-pollution equipment when they modernize," said Jeffords, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The Bush administration has said the changes will provide more flexibility to plants and, as a result, encourage reductions in emissions.

But Jeffords scoffed at that idea. The senator said he had been "proud to work with the first President Bush on the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990."

"Now this President Bush insists on moving us backward," he said, "undoing his father's legacy and weakening our nation's environmental laws."

Jeffords also criticized what he described as the White House's neglect of a rule to reduce sewage in lakes, rivers and streams, and said Superfund, the program charged with cleaning the nation's toxic waste sites, was woefully underfunded.

"Just this week, the administration announced new plans to allow new oil and gas drilling on national lands," the senator said. "And at the same time the administration is rolling back environmental protection laws, it is ensuring that the public knows little about what is happening in their own communities."

Sen. James Jeffords
Sen. James Jeffords

Jeffords cited a secrecy provision in the law creating a Homeland Security Department that he said would "make it more difficult for the public to get information about dangerous chemicals that may exist near their homes." Bush signed legislation creating that department Monday. (Full story)

"The administration has curtailed public access to that information which has been available to us for years," Jeffords said.

Jeffords caucuses with Democrats in the Senate. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office said Jeffords, a longtime advocate of environmental issues, was "the logical person to carry the message" on the environment.

Jeffords cost the GOP its majority in the Senate when he quit the party in May 2001. But the Republicans will again control both houses when the 108th Congress convenes in January.

Jeffords said he hoped "moderates in both parties can do what we've done before: Stand up to block these anti-environmental initiatives and instead pursue policies that protect and respect our environment."

When he was a Republican, Jeffords delivered one of the opposition's weekly counterpoints during former President Bill Clinton's administration, discussing health care December 25, 1999.

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