This week brought two competing stories about the Bush Administration’s mindset on environmental issues. On one hand, they backed up a Brinks truck to the front doors of the National Parks Service — setting aside a bazillion in cash for a 10-year plan. The Parks folks are pretty excited about it, so this is good news.
Another story, though, tells about how the Agriculture Department broke the rules in its approval for Roundup-Ready Alfalfa, which is basically alfalfa that’s been genetically engineered to resist strong herbicides. This has to be put in the minus column for the Bush Administration. Turns out they didn’t do the Environmental Impact Statement that they’re required to do as part of every one of these approvals.
The common themes are typical of the Bush administration:
1) This is a big-spending administration.
- No such thing as small government anymore! They haven’t minded spending money, regardless of budget deficits. After adding the entire Homeland Security department, creating a complicated-and-costly prescription drug benefit, losing a bid for a redesign of Social Security that would have made that agency much bigger and much more complex, and finally financing the Iraq war, dropping a billion on something really isn’t hard for them.
2) Helping businesses is at the heart of the administration’s ambitions.
- The alfalfa-seed story is unsurprising. Fast-tracking a business request by simply ignoring the rules is common, and imperiling public safety is the common result. Here we have a huge manufacturer, Monsanto, introducing a GMO crop (and since the point is that it survives herbicides, we assume the herbicides will be introduced as well). The point of an impact statement is to do a check: let’s just make sure we have some sense of what impact there’ll be from the new product. But the administration simply answered the question “none” and skipped the step. It’s good to be Monsanto these days.
- We can’t help but wonder what stipulations will be put into the billion-for-the-parks plan — required outsourcing of services, perhaps, or more opportunity for private enterprise inside the parks?
3) Dishonesty and bald lies are too common from this administration.
- Tony Snow said, about the Parks announcement, “…this is an administration that’s been keenly committed both to environmentalism and conservationism from the start.” Rewriting history is the nicest thing you can say about this statement. Consider that Cheney said “Conservation … is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy” back in 2001. Also consider that the Bush administration has never touched fuel-economy standards for cars.
- The Agriculture Department sidestepped the environmental impact review by saying that the “potential environmental and economic effects” of the modified alfalfa were not significant. This is also dishonest. Monsanto is a huge producer of seed, and of herbicide. Alfalfa is a $7.5 billion industry in the U.S., covering around 24 million acres of farmland. Those facts alone indicate economic significance. The idea of a new plant and a new fertilizer growing on even 5% of that land (and it’ll be on more than 5% before long) is certainly worth some review. “Insignificant” means small stuff, and millions of acres isn’t small at all.