In this issue, Audubon highlights a favorite George W. Bush oil patch: the precious, pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. His expressed desire to drill there is contributing to some of the worst popularity ratings at this point in a presidency since polling began. Surveys in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal show that a majority of Americans believe the President cares more about corporations' interests than their own. And mainstream Republicans and independents--by a three-to-one ratio--favor energy conservation over Bush's "drill and burn" strategy, as the Times puts it. (Americans can't even reach a consensus like that on whether the "Star-Spangled Banner" makes the best national anthem.) Bush shrugs off these concerns as an image problem caused by "allowing people to define me as somebody who's not friendly towards the environment."
Of course, back when conservation was a bipartisan issue, two of its truest friends, Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, were bedrock Republicans. In a recent, fascinating book, Nixon and the Environment, J. Brooks Flippen ranks him among the top greens in White House history. It hardly mattered that Nixon was competing with Democrats to be Roosevelt's heir. Nixon signed landmark laws to stem air, water, and pesticide pollution and to safeguard endangered species. "Nixon, the consummate political animal," Flippen writes, led his "environmental offensive" for reasons of "political expediency." He later abandoned these issues, tacking to the right. But bent on salvaging his legacy, citizen Nixon called himself "an environmentalist."
If Congress decides to permit drilling in the Arctic Refuge, don't count on future historians to write glowing books about the current President and the environment. He is now securing the place in history he deserves.
© 2001 NASI
Sound off! Send a letter to
Enjoy Audubon on-line? Check out our print edition!