Enviros blast plans to exempt old energy plants from clean air regs. Plus: How does the president find the time for so many weekend getaways?

Published July 9, 2001 8:24PM (EDT)

As the Environmental Protection Agency prepares a set of hearings on new power plant regulations, the Sierra Club is once again beating the drum against President Bush.

The latest attacks from the environmental organization and others come as the EPA prepares to examine its "new source review" standards, which require power companies to offset the pollution created when an old power plant is expanded, or to obtain a permit stating that the most environmentally friendly technology is being used.

The EPA is considering weakening those standards as part of Bush's energy plan, which includes bringing 1,300 new power plants online in the next 20 years. Public hearings begin Tuesday in Cincinnati, and will be followed by hearings in Sacramento, Calif., Boston and Baton Rouge, La. The EPA is scheduled to submit a report to President Bush on August 17.

The standards affect 51 old coal-fired plants, mostly in the Midwest, that environmentalists say are the nation's worst polluters. "These plants put out as much pollution as major states in the Northeast," said University of Cincinnati College of Medicine health professor George Leikauf. "One of the plants puts out as much [noxious] emissions as the entire state of Massachusetts."

"The issue at hand is profitability and making money rather than taking care of people's health," Leikauf said.

Sierra Club senior Midwest representative Brett Hulsey says that while the EPA may not have much jurisdiction to actually change the regulations, enforcement of the law will be entirely up to the agency. "What concerns us is that the enforcement budget for the EPA has already been cut by 20 to 30 percent," he said.

-- Anthony York

Bush league: The president is out

The president is keeping his campaign promise to remain a Washington outsider, at least on the weekends. Out of his 24 weeks in office, Bush has visited his ranch in Crawford, Texas, six times, and has spent 12 weekends at Camp David, with only two of them devoted to meeting foreign leaders.

And Bush's need for rest and relaxation seems to have increased dramatically in recent weeks. Since the beginning of June, Bush has spent every weekend out of town. He did work on Saturday in Poland during his mid-month journey to Europe, but spent two weekends in Crawford, two at Camp David and last weekend at a Bush family gathering in Kennebunkport, Maine. Two of his weekends have started on Thursdays, and he hasn't been at the White House after five on Friday in that same six-week period.

-- Alicia Montgomery

Daily line

"The amazing thing about this job is the job seems to follow you around."
-- President Bush speaking during a golf outing during his long weekend in Maine

Bush buzz

The president has returned to the White House after spending a long weekend with the Bush clan in Kennebunkport, Maine, in which he celebrated his birthday (he turned 55 Friday) with his wife, his parents, his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and other Bush relations. Absent from the festivities were the president's twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, who spent the holiday weekend in Texas.

The family fun and fishing couldn't have come at a better time for Bush. The week before the holiday, polls charted a slide in his approval marks, and the Senate handed him a serious defeat by passing the patients' bill of rights. As Congress is coming back to town, Bush faces another potentially damaging policy battle with campaign finance reform scheduled for debate in the House this week. The president has signaled his disapproval of the reform bill, championed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., though he has not explicitly pledged a veto.

Republican leaders, eager to bolster their president's troubled agenda, are backing a bill sponsored by Reps. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and Albert Wynn, D-Md., that would cap unregulated soft money donations to political parties, but would not ban it completely the way McCain-Feingold bill would. Republican reform opponents have gained the support of several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who say the soft money ban hurts their own party-building efforts in their districts.

In the meantime, GOP congressional leaders are blasting McCain, accusing him of trying to bully House freshmen into supporting his reform bill. McCain maintains that he has only asked that congressional representatives who relied on his star power to boost their campaigns stick by their promises to support reform. McCain says that the Republican House leadership would be to blame if his reform effort died in the House.

Bush would rather have the Congress put touchy campaign finance reform efforts on the back burner, and pay more serious attention to his crowd-pleasing public school reform bill. The president has declared that he wants to sign his education improvement plan by the beginning of the school year. But now conservative critics of the package are becoming more vocal, with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, dismissing the bill as toothless reform that's not worth passing.

Meanwhile, Bush's more regular critics on the environment have targeted him for foot-dragging on global warming. Despite promising last month during his European tour to offer an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, Bush has not prepared any new global warming plan, though international discussions on the issue are due to start in a week.

Bush could see his big victory on the tax cut sullied as bad economic news revivesthe fiscal blame game between the parties. Democrats are pointing to an upcoming report from the Congressional Budget Office, which they believe will show a shrinking surplus, as proof that the president's tax cuts were irresponsible. Republicans maintain that the cuts will stimulate the economy and ultimately swell the surplus.

And don't miss: A new study finds that Bush may be making his administration into a mens' club. The Brookings Institution found that only 26 percent of Bush's appointees thus far have been women, compared to the 37 percent mark hit by the Clinton administration.

Also, coulda-been presidential daughter Karenna Gore Schiff is beating up on the man who beat her dad. The daughter and political advisor to former Vice President Al Gore has written an article for Glamour magazine, "The Guide to Not Getting Bush-Whacked," giving advice to young women about surviving the Bush years.

Meanwhile, Jenna Bush was sentenced Friday for her second boozing charge this year. The president's daughter pleaded no contest to trying to use a fake I.D. to buy booze at Chuy's, an Austin restaurant, in late May. On Friday, she was sentenced to perform 36 hours of community service, attend an alcohol education program, lose her driving privileges for 30 days and pay a $500 fine plus $100 in court costs.

Monday schedule: Bush joins Secretary of State Colin Powell for a signing ceremony of the "Fulfilling the Promise of America" declaration at the White House.

-- Alicia Montgomery

This day in Bush history

July 9, 1995: The Dallas Morning News reports that Gov. George W. Bush's lax enforcement of environmental policies has resulted in increased pollution in Texas waterways. Fisherman Ernie Butler claims that he has sent hundreds of letters written by affected citizens to the governor, but never received a response.

Burning Bush

Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

Send scoops to bushed@salon.com.

Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Karen Croft, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

-- Alicia Montgomery

By Salon Staff

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