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The Rant

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Yea, Bush! Way to go! I realize this is last week's news, but I'm a great believer in giving credit where credit is due. By designating the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a national monument, Bush has put one more level of federal protection around a vast spread of islands and irreplaceable marine life.

As he rather touchingly insisted, this IS a big deal -- 140,000 square miles of water that contains more than 7,000 rare species. The word is the president decided to declare the area a marine sanctuary after watching a documentary by Jean-Michel Cousteau. The thought that it might be possible to move George W. Bush to action by something as simple as watching a movie came as a new thought to many who are dying to try it on other issues.

But the environment is an area in which a simple plea often moves Bush. For example, Ernie Angelo, who used to be mayor of Midland, Texas, and represented Texas on the Republican National Committee, sent a note to Karl Rove in 2002 complaining about an Environmental Protection Agency rule designed to keep groundwater around oil drilling sites clean.

Well, as you can imagine Angelo, an oilman, was not happy about this rule. In fact, he informed Rove, the rule was causing many in the oil industry "to openly express doubt as to the merit of electing Republicans when we wind up with this type of stupidity."

Rove forwarded the note to the White House environmental advisers, demanding a "response ASAP." So the rule finally took effect this month. But after intense industry pressure, court battles, and behind-the-scenes lobbying at the agency and in Congress, it's more a hole than a rule. And guess what? It has no teeth in it.

Yep, Ernie and the oil industry got what they wanted: the end of the Clinton-era proposal to require special EPA permits for construction sites smaller than five acres as a way to keep groundwater clean. Imagine the immense burden that would put on the oil companies. Really, unless the Bush administration had taken this kind of special care, Exxon might suffer a drop in profits.

Next, we find the EPA has decided not to release information on 140 Superfund sites -- these are toxic waste sites that present risk of exposure to those nearby. You might, if you hadn't been paying attention, assume information collected by the government and paid for by the citizens would be, uh, public.

"This isn't a question of left or right," said California senator Barbara Boxer. "This is a question of right and wrong." According to the Los Angeles Times, "The EPA said that it had blocked only information related to law enforcement and that the public had access to all relevant health-risk data for the sites."

That's the kind of sentence reporters try to write with a straight face. Actually, what the EPA is keeping secret is how much money and time it will take to clean up the Superfund sites. Why? "Republicans said Democrats want to manufacture a political issue, and noted that Senate tradition had long prevented the release of sensitive information," said the Times story. What political issue? The reinstatement of a "controversial tax" -- i.e., the Superfund tax on chemical, oil, and other polluting companies.

In case you haven't been following this, the Superfund is broke and has been largely inactive for four years. The fund was allowed to run dry when Congress failed to renew the tax on polluters. You may not believe this, but the oil and chemical companies complained mightily about being asked to pay for the cleanup of messes they had created. What a concept.

Other environmental controversies continue to simmer all the time -- out of sight, out of mind. Just one more regulation chopped here, just one more law changed there, just a little information hidden.

But do be sure to give Bush credit for declaring the already protected Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument. That's a good thing. Is there an election anytime soon?

Molly Ivins writes for Creators Syndicate.

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