BOSTON — IN a room overlooking a light snowfall on Boston Harbor Bruce Babbitt, president of the League of Conservation Voters, kicked off a 50-city, 50-week tour Friday, aiming to draw environmentalists into "hardball" politics and to announce a "midterm grade" for President Bush's environmental efforts. "Reluctantly," he said, "our grade for the president his first half is a D."
"When Mr. Bush came to Boston Harbor in 1988, he came with the promise to be the 'environmental president,' " said the former Arizona governor, referring to Bush's campaign visit during which he sailed around the harbor and accused opponent Michael Dukakis of neglecting the mess. He promised, if elected, to clean it.
"The president has not met his promise to be the 'environmental president,' " said Mr. Babbitt, who ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1988. "Most disappointing," said Babbitt, "is the president's energy policy," which calls for more oil drilling and more reliance on nuclear energy. Of the untapped oil in Alaska's pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Babbitt said: "There isn't enough there under the best of circumstances to power this country for six months."
Rather than focus on the link between consumption and saving jobs, said Babbitt, the president's National Energy Strategy should stress conservation and efficiency.
Babbitt pointed to the energy policies of Japan and Germany, where production and jobs have kept steady while energy consumption has been cut by half, he said.
In Washington, Michael Deland, chairman of the President's Council on Environmental Quality, said: "The report bears no correlation to the performance of the president. The record of President Bush this far is as solid as any president's record in this century." He cites Bush's record in Clean Air legislation, reducing acid rain, increasing funds for research and development of more energy-efficient cars and high-speed railways, and hiring environmentalists on his staff.
In addition, Mr. Deland says, the public backs Bush. In a recent Gallup poll, 53 percent of Americans surveyed said they approved of the way the president has handled the environment.
But the League's 11-page "Presidential Scorecard" is less encouraging. While it praises Bush's support for the Clean Air Act, some criticisms of his record include:
Defeating stricter auto-mileage standards.
Neglecting to enforce the Endangered Species Act, which protects dwindling species and ancient forests.
Falling short of his promise of "no net loss" of wetland areas.
Failing to give money to fund environmental projects.
Supporting the use of pesticides in agriculture.
'Score card' issued annually
The League of Conservation Voters, founded in 1970, describes itself as a nonpartisan political-action committee with a national membership of some 35,000. It has support from groups such as the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, National Resources Defense Council, and National Audubon Society. Every year the league publishes a "score card" that rates environmental voting records of House and Senate members.
Babbitt, who said his political ambitions are "firmly in remission," said that he would support environmental candidates for the 25 new seats expected to be filled in the 1992 US House election as the result of redistricting and retirements.
Peter Shelley, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, which filed the original lawsuit seeking the Boston Harbor cleanup, agrees with the league's assessment - nationally and locally.
"The only thing Bush has done for the harbor is give us, at the expense of other cities, $100 million from a revolving state sewage cleanup fund," he said. "It amounts to a very cynical way of appearing to keep his campaign promise to clean up, without actually having to find us money." That money will cover less than 3 percent of the total needed in the cleanup.
Loss of federal funds shifts the burden of payment to municipalities, which are strapped for funds, Mr. Shelly says, adding: "We need someone to sort out the environmental priorities."