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Letter to President Bush Regarding Environmental Roll-Backs

December 4, 2001

The Honorable George W. Bush
United States of America
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush:

The tragedy of September 11th has forever changed America. In the last two months our nation has been plunged into a war against terrorism. Many efforts have been made to improve the security of America and help to sustain our economy. These efforts are of tremendous importance, but they must not conflict with America's commitment to preserving our environment. There seems to be confusion within your Administration as to what efforts are needed to secure our nation and our people, and many people believe that your Administration is using our current crisis to promote anti-environmental policies.

Most notably has been your Administration's push to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil exploration. I agree with your statement when you noted that we need to decrease our dependency on foreign oil supplies in order to guarantee our energy security. However, I vehemently disagree that drilling in ANWR is the solution to this problem. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that oil recovered from the Arctic Refuge would amount to less than a six-month supply for American consumers and would not be available for another 10 years.

Vice President Dick Cheney said in an interview that it is not possible to "conserve our way" out of an energy crisis, this is not true. The U.S. has at most 2-3% of the world's oil reserves while accounting for 25% of the world's oil consumption. It is simply not possible to produce our way to oil independence, even if we sacrifice all of our wilderness, parks, refuges, and coastlines. The only way for the US to achieve energy independence is to invest in energy efficient new technologies, become less reliant on oil, and embrace energy conservation and alternative sources of energy. The benefits of an energy policy focused on conservation and alternatives are not just environmental, but are also beneficial to our national security, and our economic competitiveness in the world.

I was disgusted to learn that Interior Secretary Gale Norton substantially altered biological findings from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service concerning effects of oil development in ANWR before she transmitted them to Congress. The extensive changes and omissions made by Norton go against her repeated promises during her Senate confirmation to "provide [Congress] the best scientific evaluation of the environmental consequences [of] any exploration and production" in the Refuge. This kind of deceit is a serious threat to freedom and democracy in our nation, and it comes as a slap in the face to the US Congress and the American people, the majority of whom oppose drilling in the Arctic. I would hope that in the future your Administration will not resort to underhanded tactics to promote unpopular policies.

I have many concerns regarding other policy decisions and strategies pursued by your Administration. Your decision to abandon the Kyoto Protocol demonstrated a lack of commitment to environmental protection. Global warming is a very real and serious issue that will not go away. If we fail to address this problem now, future generations will pay the price. Vice President Dick Cheney formulated crucial energy policy decisions behind closed doors, and is currently the subject of an investigation by the General Accounting Office. Cheney's task force focused heavily on incentives for production; easing regulatory barriers for energy development; and opening more public lands to drilling. I was upset when you reversed a campaign pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which may have saved an estimated 30,000 lives a year of those who die due to respiratory illness.

All of these decisions came before September 11th, and you faced much public scrutiny due to these actions. Since then, environmentalists have backed off from criticism so as not to appear unpatriotic in the face of our national crisis. I might tend to agree if it were not for continued efforts from your Administration to roll back important environmental protections.

An example of these efforts is to allow for more road-building in our National Forests, making it easier for extractive industries to exploit taxpayer resources often at taxpayer loss. There are already 440,000 miles of roads within our National Forest system, more than the entire highway system of the United States, and of which the Forest Service can only maintain 18% up to standard. I cannot possibly see the justification for more roads when our Interior Department does not maintain the vast majority of existing roads. These decrepit and unsafe roads increase erosion and damage water quality by washing sediment into streams. They allow for invasive species to enter our public lands and threaten the biodiversity. There should be no new road building in our National Forests at least until the $8.4 billion maintenance backlog has been cleared.

Other proposals of your Administration in the wake of the Attack on America include reversing the phaseout of snowmobiles in National Parks, making it easier for mining companies to dig for gold, copper and zinc on public lands, easing energy-saving standards for air conditioners, and barring the reintroduction of grizzly bears in the Northwest.

Mr. President, now is not the time to roll-back environmental protections that preserve the natural wonders of our great nation. It goes against the spirit of democracy to make significant policy decisions in secret and under the cover of a national emergency. I urge you to demonstrate a commitment to our nation's natural heritage and cease and desist efforts to reverse environmental protections. The preservation of natural resources would be a symbol of strength for our nation, and would help to ensure our long-term prosperity.

Thank you for your attention to these matters, I look forward to your reply.



Cynthia McKinney
Member of Congress


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