During his introductory address, the new Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Mike Leavitt, told of a visit to President Bush’s Crawford ranch: “I’m from the West, and I know love of the land when I see it,” he said. Leavitt then announced plans to implement Bush’s Clear Skies Initiative, which, among other things, allows coal-fired power plants to send more mercury into the air. Under the plan, rather than cleaning up their act, polluters can trade “pollution credits” with less-polluting plants (HCN, 9/29/03: Who’s at the helm?).

“Instead of enduring season after season of devastating fires, my administration acted to remove the causes of severe wildfires,” said President Bush when he signed the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, a law that boosts logging on 20 million acres of public lands. (HCN, 12/8/03: Forest protection on the honor system). At the ceremony, Bush thanked top officials from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior, Republican lawmakers, firefighters, scientists — and Chuck Leavell, the Rolling Stones’ keyboard player, a “tree raiser,” in Bush’s words, who was attending the ceremony.

Under orders from Washington to privatize federal jobs, the Forest Service has just completed its first round of lay-offs: In August, the agency purged members of the Content Analysis Team, which analyzes public comment on the agency’s environmental analyses. In November, 20 more employees lost their jobs (HCN, 9/1/03: From Washington, D.C., comes a new spoils system). The jobs have been outsourced, despite a study that shows the agency can do the job $425,000 cheaper than private contractors.

Former government officials are fuming over the White House’s environmental record — and some of them have come out swinging. A new group, Environment 2004, is hoping to make environmental issues a priority of Democratic candidates in the next election. Prominent members include Bruce Babbitt, Interior secretary under Clinton; Carol Browner, Clinton’s EPA administrator; and David Foster Hales, a high-ranking Interior Department official under Jimmy Carter.
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