The Friends of the Earth Political Action Committee long has been a critic of the Clinton-Gore administration. Last September, we endorsed Bill Bradley over Al Gore in the Democratic primaries because we believed Bradley had a superior environmental record. Today, with Bradley out of the race, three choices for president face us: Gore, George W. Bush or Ralph Nader.

Nader is closest to us on many environmental policy issues, particularly globalization and genetically engineered food, but it is clear that he will not win the election. Third parties can influence policies but seldom, if ever, get a chance to govern. The vote in this presidential race is about governance, about who is going to set the budget, fill cabinet and agency posts, appoint members to the judiciary and deal with national and global environmental problems. And that person will be either Gore or Bush. On five major criteria, a grand canyon of difference separates these two candidates.

Vice presidential selections: The choice of running mates offers insight into the priorities and values of both candidates, and indicates the kinds of people they are likely to appoint to agency and judicial posts. Bush picked Dick Cheney, a former congressman with close ties to polluters, a man who possessed one of the worst environmental voting records in Congress--his lifetime average score from the League of Conservation Voters is just 13 percent. Gore selected Joseph Lieberman, a senator with one of the top environmental records--scoring 100 percent 8 of 11 times on the League of Conservation Voters' scorecard--and a recipient of the "Friend of the Earth" award.

Appointments to agency positions: The presidential appointments to the EPA, Department of Interior and other cabinet posts help set in motion long-term policy. For example, Ronald Reagan's first EPA administrator Ann Gorsuch Burford managed to cripple enforcement of pollution laws by repeatedly physically relocating the enforcement department in different parts of the EPA building. It's hard to enforce our nation's pollution laws when all you're doing is packing and unpacking boxes. As Texas governor, Bush has appointed representatives of the oil, chemical and real estate businesses to run the Texas pollution control agency. Conversely, Gore is committed to appointing capable and committed individuals to head important environmental agencies. The future credibility of our bedrock environmental legislation depends on the quality of these appointments.

Judicial appointments: The appointments a president makes to the the various levels of the federal court system are critical to ensure implementation of environmental laws. We are still living with some deleterious decisions made by Reagan appointees, and we can expect more of the same under Bush. Gore has committed himself to appointing individuals who will work to safeguard the environment in our legal system.

Budget priorities: President Reagan's infamous Secretary of Interior James Watt said, "We won't change any environmental laws, we'll just do it through the budget." George W. Bush has not expressed any interest in increasing spending for environmental protection. On the contrary, his record in Texas demonstrates that the environment is not a priority for him at all. Gore has pledged an effort to fill the "environmental budget deficit" with an additional $15 billion each year.

Positions on key issues: Given the failure of Congress to move ahead with important land protection measures, the Clinton-Gore administration has made real progress in protecting significant natural areas for conservation purposes, using the presidential designation of national monuments, a crucial conservation tool that dates back to President Theodore Roosevelt. Bush and Cheney have said they want to take another look at these land conservation efforts and possibly reverse these important actions. Bush has also supported increased logging in our national forests.

Texas leads the nation in toxic industrial air pollution, toxic waste in groundwater and expired water pollution permits. When Bush came into office in 1995, he cancelled the auto emissions testing program in Houston. Now Houston has surpassed Los Angeles as the city with the greatest smog problem. By contrast, the Clinton-Gore administration has adopted the strictest auto emission standards ever for cars, and strengthened clean air standards for soot and smog nationwide.

There's more: The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a pristine treasure of remarkable wildlife. Gore opposes drilling in the refuge. True to their alliance with big oil, Bush and Cheney want to open the refuge to oil drilling. Gore also played a crucial role in negotiating the Kyoto Agreement on climate change. Only recently has Bush admitted that global warming might be a serious problem. However, Bush remains opposed to this agreement.

The Bush-Cheney "all oil" ticket is a dangerous duo for the planet. We need more than a head-in-the-sand approach to serious global environmental problems such as climate change, tropical deforestation and massive species extinction. And Al Gore provides that.

Brent Blackwelder is president of Friends of the Earth and the Friends of the Earth Political Action Committee.

Read David Brower's response, "Ralph Nader: We Can Do Better."


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