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Background: Environmental Divide

After this background report, a panel compares the Clinton and Bush environmental policies.

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    President Clinton has set aside more land as national monuments in the continental United States than any other American president, preventing future development of millions of acres of mountains, deserts and forests. Relying on a 1906 law, the Antiquities Act, Mr. Clinton announced the creation of 11 national monuments. Using the Grand Canyon as a backdrop, he created the Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah. And more recently, he designated five additional western monuments.


    Why are we doing this? Well, if you look at the Grand Canyon behind me it seems impossible to think that anyone would want to touch it. But in the past, there have been those who wanted to build on the canyon, to blast it, to dam it.


    In the last few months before leaving office, the president also proposed a series of initiatives intended to protect his environmental legacy. In November, the administration released and then adopted a major plan for Yosemite National Park in California, designed to reduce congestion and human impact; the plan was opposed by some park users, and Congress could still cut the funding. Late last month, the Clinton administration approved regulations to cut diesel fumes from big trucks and buses by 95 percent, over objections from the oil industry and engine makers. Repeal of those regulations designed to reduce smog would be a lengthy and politically difficult process.

    And President Clinton proposed that nearly one third of the nation's national forests, or 60 million acres, be off limits to road building. The proposal faces a stiff battle in the GOP-controlled Congress. Mr. Clinton's actions have sparked controversy. Critics, many in the West, have called the new monuments land grabs. Republican lawmakers have threatened to override some of the Clinton proposals.


    The next president of the United States.


    During the campaign, Governor Bush agreed with the critics, saying he would overhaul federal environmental laws and rely more on private business and states to clean up polluted industrial sites, and encourage voluntary conservation efforts. Mr. Bush also called for oil exploration in Alaska's 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The area is home to a large variety of wildlife, including a herd of 129,000 caribou.


    And you bet I want to open up a small part of… a part of Alaska, because when that field is online, it will produce a million barrels a day. Today, we import a million barrels from Saddam Hussein. I would rather that a million come from our own hemisphere, our own country.


    The president-elect has now picked his advisers on environmental issues. Gale Norton, former attorney general of Colorado, is his choice to head the Department of Interior. Norton was asked about the Clinton's administration's recent actions in setting aside land.


    The West was concerned about those decisions in large part because there was no consultation with the people whose lives were most affected by land withdrawals by the Clinton administration.


    New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman is the president-elect's pick for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and former Senator Spencer Abraham was selected as energy secretary. In 1999, Abraham sponsored a proposal to eliminate the Department of Energy.

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