Bush's War Against Nature
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Three years ago, in April of 2000, President Bill Clinton created the Giant Sequoia National Monument in the southern Sierra Nevada, 250 miles east of here. The declaration was meant to protect a forest that includes the world's oldest and biggest trees -- a place that had been a battleground for a century.
Ever since John Muir trekked in the Sierra, conservationists had fought to protect the Sequoia, battling timber companies that saw the ancient giants as so much standing lumber. Clinton's move seemed to put an end to the fight -- it mandated that commercial logging in the forest would cease.
Late last year the Bush administration re-ignited hostilities by proposing a plan to allow widespread logging in the Monument, home to nearly half of the remaining groves of Sequoia.
U.S. Forest Service chief Dale Bosworth, the Bush administration appointee who oversees the Monument, claimed that the logging plan was primarily designed to protect the big trees. Thinning the forest, Bosworth said, would lessen the risk of fire, and a local sawmill would be able to market wood that would otherwise eventually burn.
Environmentalists countered that the idea of logging the forest to save it was absurd, and that one sawmill was not worth the ecological price of cutting into the ancient forest.
But the plan to log in the Giant Sequoia National Monument isn't just about wood, any more than the war in Iraq is just about oil. And it isn't about saving the trees, any more than Operation Iraqi Freedom is really about liberating the citizens of Iraq.
Just as Gulf War II represents an aggressive shift in U.S. foreign policy, the logging plan in the Sierra is part of a massive assault on a budding environmental ethic that dates back to the first Earth Day, April 20, 1970.
The Sequoia logging plan is included in a Bush administration proposal called the "Healthy Forests Initiative." The proposal would effectively allow loggers back into 10 million acres of woods they have been locked out of by three decades of regulations. In order to do so, the Initiative undercuts the two cornerstones of forest protection law: the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Forest Management Act.
The Bush team says the Healthy Forests Initiative is intended to protect fire-prone forests. Environmentalists and scientists see the Initiative as a cynical ploy -- one front in a broadly aggressive campaign to rewrite the nation's environmental law books.
From the beginning, George Bush showed that green was not one of his true colors. His appointees in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Energy were as hawkish as their cabinet colleagues in Defense and State. Even as the war in Iraq was being waged, the president's hand-picked departmental heads -- Ann Venemen, Christie Todd Whitman, et al -- have engaged in a domestic war on the side of timber companies and oil companies, factory owners and car-builders, nuclear-power plants and land developers.
This War Isn't Over
Over the past three years, the Bush administration's anti-environment army has practiced the same brand of warfare America has been watching on TV for the past three weeks: a series of rhetorical air strikes followed by ground attacks in the courts and bureaucratic strongholds, taking one chunk of territory after another.
But the nation's environmental groups have not crumbled like the Republican Guard, and this war is not over.
The Bush army has failed in its efforts to weaken Clean Water Act restrictions on arsenic, to drill for oil off the coast of California, and to move a massive industrial outpost into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These were big victories for the environment. But there have been devastating defeats.
The EPA -- in charge of enforcing environmental laws -- has been the site of the most thorough-going turnaround. A few recent actions: In January, the EPA exempted the oil and gas industry from water pollution rules. Last month, the agency decided cities could not be held responsible for their toxic runoff. There is a move currently underway to loosen rules mandating that chemical plants, automobile factories and steel mills cut their emissions of air pollution.
(The EPA is, however, still being too aggressive for the Bush administration. The Office of Management and Budget has targeted the agency for "review" in an overall move to reduce regulatory constraints placed on industry.)
Other federal agencies have joined in the pile-on. Agriculture has certified Mexican tuna "dolphin safe," when it is a well-known fact that fishing practices in Mexican waters are killing dolphins. The Department of Defense has OK'd a Navy plan to test sonar that is known to cause brain hemorrhages in whales.
Over in the Department of Energy, the Bush administration's plan -- notorious for having been written in secret by Dick Cheney and a cabal of corporate executives -- contains a blueprint for drilling, mining, and the re-ignition of nuclear power. This plan stems from the administration's refusal to believe in the frightening fact of global warming -- a belief which has scientists the world over calling for the development of alternative sources of energy.
Meanwhile, in the Giant Sequoia National Monument, a verdant island surrounded by clearcut-scarred National Forest land, the "Healthy Forests Initiative" calls for more chainsaws.
Are Trees Evil?
If the Sequoia falls like that statue of Saddam, it will be equally symbolic. But what will it mean? Saddam was a convenient enemy for a nation bent on expanding its power -- but he was also a truly nasty piece of work. With the logging of the Sequoia, what evil is being banished?
Despite the Bush team's innocent claims, the enemy is not wildfire. To believe that, one would have to accept the premise that forests need loggers in order to thrive. One look at the clearcut lands surrounding the Giant Sequoia Monument -- where mud-choked streams flow through stumpfields -- puts the lie to that idea.
But one needn't take a trip to the redwoods to discern the Bush administration's intent. It is evident in the workings of the Initiative itself.
To achieve its prescription, the Healthy Forests Initiative does one fundamentally important thing: It limits citizens' rights to appeal Forest Service decisions. The idea, according to the Bush administration doctrine, is to allow "professional forest managers to make decisions without interference from 'special interest groups.'"
This is the real enemy: environmentalists and the ethic that guides them.
One of this war's chief strategic thinkers, anti-environmentalist crusader Ron Arnold, posed the challenge in his book, "A Wolf in the Garden : The Land Rights Movement and the New Environmental Debate":
"Today the Wolf is firmly entrenched in Washington, D. C., where important environmental groups have established headquarters or major operating bases. Eco-ideologists have written many laws, tested them in the courts and pressured many administrative agencies into compliance with their ideology. They have, in brief, become the Establishment. The apparatus of environmentalism is no longer represented merely by non-profit organizations, but has grown to encompass American government at all levels.
"Who will restrain America's science and technology? Who will decide what "delicate balance humans must observe"? The answer was clear: only environmental ideologists, and not those who create economic growth, science, technology or the market economy."
This is where the War in Iraq and this other war, being waged practically in secret, show their shared heritage.
With its apparent "victory" in Iraq, the Bush administration has effectively ended a brief era during which international law -- represented by the faltering steps of the United Nations -- played an important, if limited role. By asserting dominance over this law, Bush, Dick Cheney, and their warlords (Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Powell, and the like) have asserted the supremacy of American (corporate) interests against those of the Arab world and against those of the wider world community.
This other war asserts an even deeper arrogance.
In Bush's war against the environment, the nature ethic is not collateral damage. This ethic and these principals are indeed the targets of these policies -- of these wars.
In its place, the Bush administration would put a policy of dominion. George Bush's anti-environment crusade, his war against nature, is rooted in the belief that, just as the world must bow before American military might, nature itself must be subservient to corporate man and his rapacious greed for dominion. It is meant to be a message to the world, a challenge: We will do as we please.
The world has yet to answer that challenge.
Eric Johnson is the editor of Coast Weekly in Monterey, Calif.