IS THE ENVIRONMENTAL STATE OF THE UNION?
Like millions of Americans, I watched President Bush deliver the State of the Union message January 28. Although concerned about our prospects for war, I also looked forward to hearing the president's comments on and tangible evidence of support for the environment. Being a scientist, I recorded some data while the president spoke.
The word "environmental" was first used in a sentence that began with word number 1,174 of a 5,433-word speech. By my kitchen clock, this was about 15 minutes into the 48-minute speech. After delivering 264 words on the environment, the president moved on to other topics. The environmental discussion consumed about 3 minutes, but my kitchen clock is the old-fashioned kind with hands rather than a digital display, so it may have been closer to 2 minutes or 4. However, using the accuracy of the word count, the topic of the environment constituted slightly under 5 percent of the talk. For those of you reaching for your calculators, the exact percentage was 4.86 percent.
The environment represented one of the president's four national "goals" set by his administration: "Our third goal is to promote energy independence for our country, while dramatically improving the environment." He immediately presented two of his environmental program plans, the "Clear Skies legislation that mandates a 70 percent cut in air pollution from power plants over the next 15 years," and the "Healthy Forests Initiative, to help prevent the catastrophic fires that devastate communities, kill wildlife, and burn away millions of acres of treasured forest."
Now I feel certain that President Bush is aware of the use of rhetoric
in pushing programs and understands that calling skies "clear"
and forests "healthy" does not necessarily make them so. An
environmental cynic might even be looking for ways in which commercial
interests are being served rather than the skies and forests. To avoid
unjust criticism, surely President Bush will turn toward the many ecologists
and environmentalists around the country to critique these plans for
our skies and forests in advance. A careful look at the plans by all
of us will certainly be in order as Congress deliberates how best to
help us--and the environment.
An environmental extremist might say that the way to be sure Americans are supportive of hydrogen-powered automobiles rather than gasoline-powered ones is to ensure that the latter are heavily taxed, regulated, and not subsidized in any way. Also, some will ask why the president did not promote further research on solar energy, which has already been shown to be an effective power source for automobiles. Or how about tax breaks for hydrogen-power users and tax penalties for using fossil fuels? The environmental cynic might also be suspicious enough to ask: for every $1.2 billion of government dollars provided in support of developing hydrogen power, will $1.2 trillion be used to subsidize and support fossil fuel interests? Or does this mean we don' t have to worry any more about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?
The president probably did not have time to mention these aspects of
his plan, so I am still looking forward to hearing his comments on and
tangible evidence of support for the environment.