DALLAS — The differences between George W. Bush and John Kerry on the environment can be measured by the same yardstick that scientists often use to measure pollution: Parts per million.
That’s because the prize in the political battle over the environment isn’t a huge number of voters but the smaller number who haven’t decided whom they’ll support or whether they’ll vote at all.
Analysts say the environment, like many other issues such as education or crime, is rarely a prime factor for most voters. In an election dominated by the economy and the war in Iraq, the percentage of people who list the environment as their top political concern is in single digits.
But as Kerry’s extended swing through some of the nation’s environmental hotspots shows – Tuesday in Florida, Wednesday in Louisiana and Thursday, Earth Day, in smoggy Houston – the environment can make a difference in key states, pushing swing voters to the other side of the ballot.
The Bush campaign recognizes the issue’s potential for tipping a race.
“Let’s be honest – this is going to a close election,” said Bush campaign spokesman Danny Diaz. “We recognize that there are a lot of different issues that drive a lot of different voters.”
The differences between Bush and Kerry on the environment weren’t just cooked up by political consultants. The candidates diverge sharply on several points.
“The distinction on these issues couldn’t be greater,” Carol Browner, head of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration, told reporters Tuesday while campaigning with Kerry. “This is simply the worst administration ever when it comes to protecting our air, our water, the health of our families and communities.”
Here’s a breakdown of where the candidates stand on some major environmental issues:
Clear Skies, the centerpiece of Bush’s clean-air efforts, would rewrite the Clean Air Act to let utilities earn, buy and sell credits for cutting emissions of nitrogen oxides, which cause smog, and toxic mercury. A company that needs to cut its emissions could avoid actual reductions by buying credits from another company that reduced its pollution more than the law required.
That system has been applied with great success to sulfur dioxide, a component of acid rain. Bush said using the technique for other pollutants would reduce them 70 percent by 2018 and save $1 billion in compliance costs.
Clear Skies legislation has stalled in Congress, so the administration has proposed making many of the changes with regulations, which don’t need congressional approval.
Kerry and many environmentalists say Clear Skies is flawed and actually works to the utilities’ benefit by postponing pollution cuts far too long. One of the most controversial provisions would remove permit requirements that now limit industries’ ability to boost emissions.
Kerry said Clear Skies would increase pollution by 21 million tons a year over the simple enforcement of existing law. By rejecting a more protective option that environmental officials proposed, Kerry said, the Bush plan would result in 100,000 additional premature deaths over a decade and a half.
Bush’s energy plan hasn’t gotten out of Congress, but as with Clear Skies, the administration has made its agenda plain. Bush is promoting more use of coal as well drilling for oil and gas on public lands, including Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
He also wants to spend $1.2 billion for research into hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles, homes and businesses. All of the initiatives are meant to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil, Bush said.
Kerry also said he wants to wean the nation off foreign oil, but he said the country “can’t drill its way to independence.” Instead, he would create a renewable energy trust fund to speed up the adoption of cleaner technology and energy efficiency.
Kerry also favors hydrogen research, but in the meantime he wants to require more fuel-efficient gasoline-powered cars in the next decade. And although he’s for more use of natural gas because it’s the cleanest fossil fuel, he’s against drilling in the Arctic refuge.
-The Dallas Morning News