Get IOL's cool new iPad app...
By Geoffrey Lean
Washington - President George Bush's new administration and supporters who control Congress are setting out to dismantle 30 years of United States (US) environmental protection.
Since his re-election, they have announced they will comprehensively rewrite three of the country's most important environmental laws, open up vast areas for oil and gas drilling, and reshape the official Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
They say the election gave them a mandate for the measures, although Bush went out of his way to avoid emphasising his environmental plans during his campaign.
"The election was a validation of the philosophy and the agenda," said Mike Leavitt, the Bush-appointed head of the EPA.
He points out that more than a third of the agency's staff are to become eligible for retirement during Bush's four-year term, enabling him to fill it with people lenient to polluters.
The administration's first priority is the controversial plan to open up the Arctic Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. Two years ago the Senate defeated plans to exploit the refuge - home to caribou, polar bears, musk oxen and millions of migratory birds - by 52 votes to 48.
But with the election of four Republican senators in favour of the drilling, the administration has the votes for victory.
It intends to follow with an energy bill - also defeated in the last Congress - that would pave the way for the investigation of vast tracts for exploitation for oil and gas and encourage the building of nuclear power stations, halted since 1979.
Far more radical measures are under way. Joe Barton, the Texas Republican chairman of the house energy and commerce committee, has announced a comprehensive review of the Clean Air Act.
Environmentalists predict the emasculation of the act, which has cut air pollution across the country by more than half over the past 30 years.
The Republican chairman of the House Resources Committee, Richard Pombo, has announced a review of the Endangered Species Act, for the protection of wildlife. The law has been the main obstacle to the felling of much of the US's remaining endangered rain forest.
Congressional leaders also announced an attack on the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires advance details of the environmental before they proceed.
Environmentalists point out that almost every local referendum on environmental issues carried out on election day achieved a green majority.