George W. Bush: Environmentalist?

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Here’s a headline to make brows furrow: “Bush Plans Vast Protected Sea Area in Hawaii.” Bush plans what now? The man with the worst environmental record in history wants to protect what? No, apparently it’s true: he’ll designate as a national monument a 1,200 chain of small Hawaiian islands, along with the surrounding waters and reefs, creating the world’s largest protected marine area. But here’s the backstory:

Some environmentalists noted yesterday that the extra protection was an easy call for the administration, in part because there was little significant opposition in Hawaii or Washington. The move could also help the re-election prospects of Linda Lingle, Hawaii’s first Republican governor, who last fall banned commercial activities in state waters in the area and endorsed the federal sanctuary plan.

Now we’re getting somewhere. I was worried there was a totally non-cynical explanation for all of this. But surely bailing out a Republican governor isn’t enough to spur Bush into helping the environment, right? I mean, wasn’t there some sort of business or commercial interest opposed to protecting the reefs that he needed to kowtow before? Apparently not:

[Environmentalists] noted that there were only eight commercial fishing boats licensed to fish in the remote islands, and that rising fuel costs had made such trips less and less profitable.

Gotcha. Fishermen don’t really care about this sanctuary, not much harm was being done to the reefs anyway, so Bush may as well go ahead and protect the damn thing, especially since he can now claim that he has “accomplished the single largest act of environmental conservation in history.” Our hero. Well, it’s good news regardless, although there are countless other reefs and coastal regions that still need actual protection. What are the odds of Bush acting on those? No, let’s not answer that. By the way, it’s come to my attention that I get paid by the shameless plug, so do check out Mother Jones‘ new Ocean Voyager site, which takes an in-depth look at all the ocean stuff being neglected these days. It’s really quite amazing.

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