The 1988 Presidential Candidates and Their Environmental Records

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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.

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


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

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

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

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.