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Democrats Blast Bush's Environmental Record - 2003-06-30

Democratic Party presidential candidates in the United States say environmental issues can help them regain the White House. Democratic presidential hopefuls outlined their positions on the environment in Los Angeles. They call Bush administration policies on the issue a "disaster."

Five of the nine leading Democrats who are running for president spoke at an environmental forum at UCLA (the University of California at Los Angeles), and they focused their attacks, not on one another, but on the president. Senator Joseph Lieberman echoed the comments of the others when he called the Bush presidency an environmental "disaster."

"This man has turned the Environmental Protection Agency into the Environmental Destruction Agency. Look at his Clear Skies initiative. It makes the skies dirtier. Look at his Healthy Forest initiative. It makes the forests sicker. Look at his Freedom Car plan. It keeps our cars chained to foreign oil. This has been the worst environmental president in our history," Mr. Lieberman said.

But former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley Braun said Democrats have lost ground with voters by saying environmental reform takes sacrifice, leaving the impression that Americans must choose between the environment and jobs.

"While there will have to be sacrifices, I think in some ways, that sets up almost a false set of choices. The fact of the matter is that we can reduce our dependence on carbon-based fuels. We can make sensible choices that will give us in some ways a more conservative lifestyle, but certainly not one that will pit one group of Americans against another, pit economic development against protection of the environment," Ms. Braun said.

A civil rights activist and presidential hopeful, the Reverend Al Sharpton, said new technology, including electric cars and electric-gasoline hybrids, will help clean up the environment and boost the economy.

Democratic suggestions for improving the environment include tax credits for fuel-efficient vehicles, stricter laws on emissions for both cars and factories, and stronger enforcement of existing regulations.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry outlined his prescriptions, which combine conservation and research into alternative energy sources. "Number One, the raising of the fuel standards saves two-million barrels of oil a day, completely obviate what we take from the Middle East. Number Two, create the Energy Institute-Hydrogen Institute, push for the creation of the new energy sources. Number Three, (through) ethanol and biomass and alternatives, we can reduce our dependency, so we don't need to drill offshore," Mr. Kerry said.

Critics, including Republicans, say alternative energy sources cannot yet meet our needs, and the world must rely for some time to come on fossil fuels.

The Bush administration opposes the Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 environmental treaty that much of the world has signed on to. The president said it would harm the U.S. economy, costing millions of jobs, an assertion attacked by Democrats at the forum. The United States has refused to ratify the agreement, which mandates sharp reductions in "greenhouse gases," such as carbon dioxide and methane, which have been linked to global warming.

Most Democrats say the United States should work within the framework of the treaty, which has been endorsed by the European Union, Japan and many other nations. But the Clinton administration had concerns about the treaty, as does Democrat Howard Dean, the governor of Vermont and a presidential hopeful. He called the agreement flawed, but said the United States should work with other countries to revise it.

"The biggest problem with the Kyoto Protocol is that it doesn't ask the developing nations to do anything, and that's an enormous problem. We don't want to move our smokestack industries offshore to avoid the things they are going to have to do to comply with Kyoto. I've spent some significant amount of time in both China and Brazil. I know that they're doing to the environment there. That is not acceptable, and Kyoto has to apply to all of us. But we need to be in a mode where we negotiate it successfully, so we can sign it," he explained.

Surveys show the environment is not high on the list of U.S. voter concerns, and that Americans are more worried about the economy, education and terrorism.

But the last presidential election, decided by barely 500 votes in the state of Florida, could well have gone to the Democrats, if the party had kept its support among environmentalists. Some turned instead to the small U.S. Green Party and its presidential candidate, Ralph Nader. The UCLA forum was aimed at those voters.

The group that sponsored the forum has launched a campaign of its own to ensure that a Democrat goes to the White House after the 2004 election. The head of the League of Conservation Voters says, in the opinion of her members, any Democrat at the forum would be better on the environment than President Bush. The group hopes to make the environment a key issue in the election.