The Magazine

Smoke and Smearers

The Gore campaign has maligned the Bush environmental record

Oct 30, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 07 • By CHRISTOPHER DEMUTH
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So the TRI numbers cannot possibly support Gore's assertions. But even in their own terms, they tell a story that is the opposite of what the vice president would like voters to believe. Texas has always been near the top of the various TRI ratings, reflecting the state's huge share of national petrochemical and refining capacity. But it did not become No. 1 in the overall ranking under Governor Bush, as the Gore campaign insinuates. Rather, Texas was No. 1 under Bush's predecessor, Democratic governor Ann Richards, and it has improved significantly since he took office. The EPA's 1999 release of TRI data through 1997 noted that "Texas, the state with the largest production-related waste managed in 1997, was also the state projecting the largest absolute reduction . . . over the next two years." The data for 1998, released earlier this year, show Texas leading the nation in reduction of toxic releases -- with 43 million pounds eliminated between 1995 (the first year Bush was governor) and 1998. The new report also finds Texas leading all other states in energy recovery and waste treatment, and second in on-site recycling. In part because of these improvements and in part because of improved nationwide reporting, Texas has now dropped from first to fifth place in the TRI composite index.

Environmental quality in Texas has improved under Governor Bush by virtually every useful measure. Here are a few selected statistics of our own: According to the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, industrial air emissions in Texas fell 11 percent from 1994 through 1998. According to the EPA, ambient air quality in Texas improved for five of the six national air pollutants for the same period; all Texas cities but one now meet the national standards for four or more of the six pollutants (the exception, El Paso, receives cross-border pollution from Mexico); and half of Texas's cities are now below the national average for all six pollutants. According to the EPA, Texas's proportion of rivers and streams classified as "impaired" is better than the national average. And according to Environmental Defense, a research and advocacy group that has generally been highly critical of Governor Bush, Texas is not "No. 3 in water pollution" but No. 37 -- its water quality, as measured by percentage of substandard water under Clean Water Act criteria, is better than in 36 other states.

Governor Bush does not deserve all of the credit for this solid record; it is also due to the progressive tightening of national environmental standards and, perhaps even more, to progressive improvements in production technologies. But a share of the credit does belong to him, for his own decisions and those of his appointees. And in several critical areas of environmental policy, he has been a national leader -- closing the old-plants loophole, redeveloping "brownfields" laid waste by the perverse incentives of the Superfund program, providing positive incentives to businesses for "pollution prevention" and to private landowners for conservation and species protection, and improving the financing of public parks and recreation areas. "Texas-style environmental regulation," which the Gore campaign invites us to fear, is, like Texas-style school reform, something Americans can welcome.