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LAY OF THE LAND

Free-Market Fallout | Who Owns Water? | Bold Strokes | Updates

W watch: Keeping Tabs on George W. Bush

The science of stalling

by Reed McManus

All George Bush wants, he tells us, is “sound science.” The phrase sounds measured, and, well, presidential, but the commander in chief’s piety about scientific certitude is exercised only sporadically--and most zealously when industry activity might be curtailed. “[T]he president and his top officials are trying to have it both ways,” writes New York Times science reporter James Glanz. “On the one hand, they cite the lack of conclusive research on climate change to argue against the Kyoto accord on global warming. At the same time, they are eager to push ahead with the development of a national missile defense despite even greater scientific uncertainties.”

Here’s what’s behind three of the scientist in chief’s recent pronouncements:

“We’re going to make decisions based on sound science, not some environmental fad or what may sound good.”
--George W. Bush at an April 24 White House ceremony honoring young people for their service to the environment. Only problem is, few scientists agree with the administration. “What’s extraordinary about this moment in time, on both missile defense and the greenhouse effect,” Dr. Hugh Gusterson, a cultural anthropologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the New York Times, “is the substantial consensus against the White House policy.”

“[W]e must be very careful not to take actions that could harm consumers. This is especially true given the incomplete state of scientific knowledge of the causes of, and solutions to, global climate change.”
--Bush in a letter to Republican senators Chuck Hagel (Nebr.), Jesse Helms (N.C.), Larry Craig (Idaho), and Pat Roberts (Kans.) on March 13. The president suspended new limits on carbon dioxide emissions, despite three assessments by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change backed by 17 international scientific academies. In June, the National Academy of Sciences again confirmed the existence and threat of global warming in a study commissioned by the Bush White House.

“We pulled back so that we can make a decision based on sound science.”
--Bush explaining on March 29 why he delayed implementing rules on arsenic levels in drinking water invoked in the last days of the Clinton administration. These regulations were based in part on a 1962 recommendation by the U.S. Public Health Service that arsenic levels be prohibited above ten parts per billion (which is also the level recommended by the World Health Organization since 1993 and adopted by the European Union in 1998) and on a 1999 National Academy of Sciences report that arsenic can cause bladder, lung, and skin cancer, and may cause kidney and liver cancer.

Click here for a comprehensive and up-to-date look at the impact of the Bush presidency on the environment.

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