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Bush Marks Earth Day Announcing Wetland Protection Program - 2004-04-22

President Bush marked Earth Day with a new program to better protect American wetlands. The president's presumptive Democratic challenger, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry said that Mr. Bush is responsible for reversing 30 years of environmental policy.

President Bush met with environmental volunteers in the northern state of Maine, where he praised their efforts to help protect wetlands that cleanse water flowing into the Atlantic Ocean.

"There are good people working together for this reserve, for the sake of wildlife, for the sake of understanding and knowledge, and for the sake of future generations of people who are fortunate enough to come here," he said.

As part of his 2005 budget, Mr. Bush wants Congress to spend nearly $350 million during the next five years to create and protect more than one million hectares of wetlands. It is a plan that includes matching funds from state and local governments, conservation groups, businesses, and recreation and sporting organizations.

Government figures from 30 years ago, show the country was losing about 200,000 hectares of wetlands a year. That decline has gradually been slowed, and President Bush said that he now wants to get to the point where no more wetlands are lost to development.

"Wetlands stabilize shore areas," he explained. "As well, wetlands provide recreational opportunities for guys like me who like to fish, and for people like my wife who like to watch birds. Wetlands have been called the nurseries of life, and their well being is vital to the health of our environment."

Senator Kerry said that the president is undermining the health of the environment by rolling-back pollution regulations for big business, planning to drill for oil in Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge and weakening the Clean Air Act.

"They have reduced the enforcement," he said. "They have cut the number of enforcers and they have cut the number of enforcement actions. I believe we deserve a President of the United States who understands that it makes a difference, the quality of air that goes into the lungs of Americans."

Senator Kerry told a rally in Texas that the president's Earth Day appearance in Maine is evidence of what he calls a "say one thing, do another" administration. He said that Mr. Bush originally proposed rules that would reduce wetlands, but only agreed to reconsider those rules because it is an election year.

The Kerry campaign added that the Bush administration has made it harder for states to protect wetlands by reducing controls on pollution run-off from farms, feedlots and parking lots. It says White House budgets have cut funding for improvements in storm-water systems and repairs to aging pollution-related infrastructure.