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Steve Fleischli Headshot

Farewell to An Environmental Tyrant

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Dear President George W. Bush,

I can't say it's been a pleasure (it's been anything but) and I won't say let's do it again (more like never again). But let me offer some simple heartfelt words shared by millions at this moment: please leave, just go, adios, hit the road.

And if you're worried about your legacy, don't be. You've left an environmental burden that will persist in our rivers, lakes and oceans for decades to come.

Your record of environmental deregulation and rollbacks is unparalleled. You've even lured your critics into calling them "rollbacks," when, in truth, they have been nothing more than illegal acts. An avalanche of court decisions against you over the last eight years testifies to your wanton disregard for the law.

Yours was a revolving door of EPA administrators -- from Christine Todd Whitman to Michael Leavitt to Stephen Johnson -- none of whom had the courage to stand up for what was right. In the single area of water protection -- a critical part of any effective environmental policy -- your legacy of shame is long and includes these Top 10:

• Allowing coal-burning power plants to continue to spew hundreds of tons of toxic mercury into the air indefinitely, threatening the health of millions of Americans, in particular, our children;

• Allowing factory farms to avoid treating their enormous quantity of animal waste and to escape toxic reporting requirements;

• Allowing the continued spraying of pesticides in our waterways without any meaningful permits;

• Allowing the energy industry to literally suck in trillions of gallons of water a year from our lakes, rivers and streams to cool their turbines while destroying aquatic life on a massive scale;

• Changing the regulatory definition of one word -- "fill" -- to allow the mining industry to chop off the tops of mountains and dump them in nearby streams;

• Allowing mining operations to clear mountains to a stream's edge and bury those streams in violation of water quality standards;

• Refusing to issue, as required by law, limits for stormwater runoff from large construction activities;

• Allowing water from one waterway, no matter how polluted, to be dumped in other waterways without Clean Water Act permits;

• Denying many wetlands and intermittent streams their rightful protection under the law;

• And, mixing idiocy with illegality: Who can forget your unsuccessful attempt to allow more arsenic in drinking water?

Your most destructive and dishonorable act, however, was one that went almost entirely unnoticed by the media. It took place at the United Nations World Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002. Water and global warming were center stage at the Summit, yet you refused to attend.

I was there and watched in horror as your minions held hostage an international agreement to reduce by half the number of people in the world without access to clean water. Your administration withheld support for such a much-needed agreement until concessions were made for a toothless approach to global warming. In the end, your tactics prevailed and the U.N. bowed to your wishes, if only for the sake of the billion people on earth in need of clean water.

A week later, I traveled to Zimbabwe where I saw impoverished children collecting putrid green water from street gutters in order to live another day. Dumping the coins out of their beggar's cups, they begged for water!

Certainly, Zimbabwe's problems are not all the result of your foreign policy. Not by a long shot. But that trip was when I saw the bitter truth about how real people were going to be harmed by your actions. I will never forget the incident, nor will it be easy to forgive you, George W. Bush, for your despicable positions against the basic right to clean water.

For the moment, though, I am content to mark your departure and bid you adieu. When the cheering stops and a new president and administration are in place, we will carry on the hard work of undoing all the harm you've inflicted, and we will set right all the injustices you have allowed and endorsed. We won't rest until we do.

That's a promise, Mr. Soon-to-Be-Former President.

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