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The Planet

Letter from the Editor

What's Next? Private Environmental Savings Accounts?

"Of course I care about the environment," said President Bush recently. "That's why I've proposed private environmental savings accounts for all Americans so we can all invest voluntarily in our own personal environment and have the freedom to protect our own air and water from pollution."

The administration's proposed new ESAs would allow all citizens to invest a part of their environment in a personal account. "I believe strongly in an ownership society," Bush said, "because if you own something, you care about it.

He used his own ranch as an example, pointing out that Duffau Creek, which feeds the North Bosque River near his ranch, is filthy and full of dead fish. But the Middle Bosque River, which flows through his ranch, is clean.

"The problem is government. I own my ranch. I keep the creek clean. If everyone owned their own ranch, we wouldn't have this problem. We've got the get the government off our back."

According to journalists secretly embedded in the Bush administration, the environment is headed for a crisis—in ten years the system will be "flat broke, busted," says the president, and the only solution is privatization.

The administration plan also includes provisions to auction off the public lands of the nation to citizens to invest in their own ESAs, and give them the freedom to keep these lands wild, develop them, even use them to store nuclear waste.

"And best of all," Bush adds, "the air and water and land in your personal account is yours, and the government can never take it away."

OK, the environmental savings accounts aren't real, though they may as well be. (The water quality difference between the president's ranch and the neighboring community is real, however.)

Clearly, the president and his allies aren't against clean water—who could be against that?—but they don't believe that the government has a responsibility to take of the water or air or wildlands for the rest of us.

But you can't lock up clean air or water in a private account. No matter how clean your town's air is, if your upwind neighbors are burning coal to generate their electricity, you end up breathing their polluted air.

Or, as Tom Valtin explains in "Water Sentinels Stop Toxic Antifreeze Runoff" on page 3, the antifreeze the airport next door uses to keep the airplane windows from icing over ends up your creeks. But citizens in northern Kentucky successfully pressured the state to take action to control toxic runoff from the airport.

If the federal government can't (or won't) lead the way, there are other levers of democracy that citizens can use to protect the environment.

- john byrne barry

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