THE political flare-up over Bill Clinton's stewardship of Arkansas' rivers hints at campaign salvos to come. The Bush administration's charge that Governor Clinton has "caused" and "nurtured" pollution came on the heels of the Democrat's description of President Bush's views as "shaped in another era when economic growth and environmental protection were seen as mutually exclusive."
The environmental record of neither man is exemplary. Clinton concedes that he often shelved pollution concerns in favor of industrial development in his economically backward state. Bush, though aspiring to be the "environmental president," has proven reluctant to take strong stands on such issues as wetlands protection and reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions.
The White House is notorious for its split between those leaning toward a greater emphasis on environmental concerns and those who want to ease environmental regulations to help business. That split is evident in the debate whether the president will attend the June United Nations world environment conference in Brazil.
Bush political advisers, aware of Clinton's jabs, join pro-environment staffers in urging attendance. The president says he wants to go, but doesn't want to be perceived as going because of domestic political pressures. At the conference, he can expect strong criticism from third-world leaders, who blame Washington for the developed world's coolness toward funding environmental protection in their regions. Bush worries that an international accord on global warming will entail pollution restrictions that
will hurt US industry.
That concern should be allayed by a new government report indicating that holding emissions at 1990 levels will not be as costly as some believed.
The president's Earth Day statement, issued last Wednesday, proclaimed that "sound policies do not force us to choose between" the environment and economic growth.
So why not some examples of sound policy from the president and the governor? Bush should join the 70 or so other national leaders gathering in Rio and come up with agreements on sharing the costs of cutting pollution in order to secure long-term benefits for mankind. And Clinton might want to review the state of environmental enforcement in Arkansas.
Between now and November, the two chief executives still have time to bolster kind words about the environment with a little action.