The 1988 Presidential Candidates and Their Environmental Records

A look at the 1988 presidential candidates and their ecological perspectives, including Michael Dukakis, George H.W. Bush and their past environmental legislation and histories.

1988 candidates environmental record

We've reviewed the report researched by the League of Conservation Voters, a nonpartisan political action committee, and adapted it to provide this profile of the environmental records of the candidates.


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It's only one of many issues dividing 1988 presidential candidates George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, but it's also an issue on which they've both tried to hang their hats. 

The 1988 Presidential Candidates and Their Environmental Records

ONE OF THE BIGGEST SURPRISES OF this year's presidential election has been the emphasis placed by both 1988 presidential candidates upon environmental concerns. Both Vice President Bush and Governor Dukakis have claimed the title "environmentalist." Therefore, though you, as voters, will have to weigh many other factors and issues before making your choice, we've reviewed the report researched by the League of Conservation Voters, a nonpartisan political action committee, and adapted it to provide this profile of the environmental records of the candidates.

1988 Presidential Candidate Michael Dukakis

Governor Dukakis has initiated and supported some excellent state environmental policies, including acid rain research, auto emission control programs, the creation of superfunding for hazardous waste cleanup, and the protection of farm land from development. His administration has also moved to monitor cancer-causing pesticides, opposed the Seabrook nuclear plant on the grounds of its unworkable evacuation plan and taken many steps to safeguard the New England coast.

Budget and appointments  

Dukakis has, observers claim, made some weak appointments to key environmental posts, has—especially during his second term—occasionally favored economic development over environmental causes and has sometimes been slow to implement existing legislation. His overall environmental record, however, is commendable.

Air pollution, climate, acid rain 

A strong advocate of acid rain control, Dukakis spearheaded the New England Governors' Conference's proposal for a national control strategy, and backed a related bill in the Massachusetts state legislature. He now claims to support a 12 million-ton reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions but, in the past, participated in laying the ground work for the Proxmire Bill which calls for only a 10-million-ton reduction and has generated opposition from environmentalists. In other clean-air-related actions, Dukakis supported an effective auto emissions program, but has not always been as quick to enforce standards for large incinerators and industrial polluters. He's gone on record as promising to phase out the use of substances contributing to the greenhouse effect.

Water pollution, toxics, solid waste 

Dukakis successfully lobbied for a bill giving the state the right to impose penalties on polluters without going to court. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health was also among the first to ban several cancer causing pesticides. The governor's stated goal is for Massachusetts to, "in the near future," recycle 25% of its solid wastes and burn not more than 50%. Five recycling centers are projected.


The governor blocked the opening of New Hampshire's Seabrook nuclear power plant (on the grounds that an adequate emergency evacuation plan was impossible) and has been a constant force in prohibiting oil leasing off the New England coast. He has also endorsed energy conservation and renewable sources of energy—in part by budgeting $10 million for a photovoltaic research center and by encouraging the use of co-generation. Massachusetts is ranked third in the nation for its renewable energy programs. Dukakis not only pioneered a state law setting energy efficiency standards for appliances but also lobbied Congress to keep those regulations in federal law.

Public land and land use 

After backing several innovative land preservation programs (he is responsible for the "largest open space land acquisition program in the history of the nation"), Dukakis endorsed a Land Bank bill which would have allowed "communities to impose a real estate transfer tax to provide revenue for housing and open space." (The bill died in the legislature.) Environmentalists have, however, frowned upon some of his state forest management practices, especially with regard to road planning, and disapprove of his failure, thus far, to stop the downtown Boston Fan Pier high-rise, which would block prime waterfront to easy public access.

Water resources, coastline, wetlands 

As part of his stance against offshore oil drilling, Dukakis fought in federal court to protect one of the richest fisheries in the United States. He also instigated a powerful coastal zone management program and new tidewater regulations providing better beach access and has endorsed an impressive wetlands protection program. (The latter has, however, been weakly enforced due to inadequate funding.)

1988 Presidential Candidate George H.W. Bush

Vice President Bush's record is a bit harder to pin down. Years ago, as a Texas congressman, he often supported environmental measures, but more recently—both as a candidate in 1980 and particularly in his role as chairperson of President Reagan's Task Force on Regulatory Relief—he has, for the most part, supported industry over environmental concerns.

Budget and regulations 

The Task Force on Regulatory Relief was set up to prevent business from being "regulated to death" by environmental legislation. One of Bush's early acts as chairperson was to recommend that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) be given veto power over environmental regulations. Industry leaders were asked to list the federal regulations they wanted weakened or rescinded. The resulting "hit list" eventually led to the watering down of EPA regulations on pesticide registration, testing of potentially toxic substances, air pollution and hazardous waste control. On the other hand, Bush—an active outdoorsman—has been more attentive to land and wildlife conservation programs. He lobbied for the creation of the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund to restore declining sport fisheries populations, supported international research on ozone depletion and endorses the soil conservation provisions of the 1985 farm bill.

Clean air and acid rain 

The Bush Task Force urged the EPA to delay establishing auto and truck particulate emission standards, and—under the Reagan administration—the OMB cut back the EPA's budget for implementing those standards which were not delayed or weakened. The vice president also chairs a task force on alternative fuels, which has promoted the use of ethanol from corn and methanol from coal and natural gas. (Ethanol and natural gas methanol can, environmentalists believe, help control carbon monoxide and ozone levels in our atmosphere. The production of methanol from coal, however, produces large quantities of carbon dioxide and would contribute to the worsening of the greenhouse effect.)

Water pollution and toxics 

The Task Force on Regulatory Relief also set out to weaken many toxic chemical control regulations. In 1981 Bush announced a continued freeze on the entire system of controlling hazardous wastes. Also in '81, the Task Force urged a quicker and easier pesticide approval system. The vast majority of pesticides remain effectively untested for possible health risks. Bush believes in financial incentives, not imposed regulations, for pollution control. However, he has thus far failed to develop a program to adequately replace those regulations weakened or eliminated by his Task Force.


The vice president's record on energy policy indicates a bias toward production rather than conservation. His Task Force succeeded in repealing performance standards for the weatherization of new buildings and the Residential Conservation Service, which provided free energy audits for homeowners. He has also tried to repeal the Corporate Average Fuel Economy auto regulations. Bush favors aggressive offshore oil development and feels nuclear power is "essential," endorsing low liability limits for nuclear accidents. In 1986, however, he halted a DOE proposal to locate waste sites in Maine and New Hampshire.

Public lands and wildlife 

As a congressman in the 1970s, Bush voted against increased logging in national forests and was directly responsible for the creation of Texas's Big Thicket National Park. In 1980, however, he supported legislation preventing the acquisition of additional wilderness areas and criticized the establishment of Alaskan wildlife refuges.

Water resources and private lands 

Bush's position on water development issues has not, in total, been positive. In 1983 his Task Force praised the Army Corps of Engineers' new regulations removing 50% of all wetlands from the protection of the Clean Water Act. It was only after a lawsuit by environmentalists in 1984 that the Reagan ' administration reversed those regulations.

Editor's Note: For more information, contact the League of Conservation Voters, Washington, DC.