IMAGE: Bush and Schwarzenegger
Kevin Lamarque  /  Reuters file
President Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have pursued different environmental policies.
By Miguel Llanos Reporter
msnbc.com
updated 10/14/2004 3:40:44 PM ET 2004-10-14T19:40:44

Judging by relations between President Bush and environmentalists — some of whom have declared him the worst president ever in terms of the issues they care about — you'd think there's no way for Republicans and activists to get along.

But after a year in office, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — one of America's most popular Republicans — has done just that. He's been embraced by environmentalists in his state after signing into law nearly two dozen bills, most sponsored by Democrats, that strengthen environmental laws.

The president and the governor do share a guiding principle of balancing environmental and economic needs, but they have very different notions of where that balance lies.

On global warming, for example, Schwarzenegger endorsed new state regulations requiring that by 2016 new cars will have to emit 25 percent less carbon dioxide and other gases that many scientists tie to the warming of Earth.

The president, while accepting the science that humans are having a global warming impact, has decided against regulations, arguing the economic costs so far outweigh any benefits and favoring voluntary steps instead.

Reaching out
The contrast is no less stark at the personal level.

Schwarzenegger invited 30 environmental leaders to a summit last summer and asked them to summarize their priorities.

"I was very impressed," says Terry O'Day, a senior staff member at Environment Now. "Anyone's eyes would have glazed over" by the presentations, but Schwarzenegger was "quite engaged," taking notes and going up to individuals afterward for one-on-ones.

Adds Daniel Hinerfeld, the Southern California spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council: "I get a sense he's talking to all the real stakeholders ... and actually listening."

Bill Magavern, legislative director for the Sierra Club in California, has described Schwarzenegger as "more of an environmental advocate than any other Republican in Sacramento," the state capital.

The Bush administration, on the other hand, has left an impression with environmentalists that it has no interest in their ideas.

"There are so many cases where they could have reached out," says Martha Marks, president of Republicans for Environmental Protection. Her favorite example is that when Vice President Dick Cheney headed an energy task force at the start of the Bush administration, only industry groups were represented at first. Environmental groups complained and were brought in "at the very last minute," Marks says.

The administration's attitude, she says, comes across as "almost gleeful anti-environmentalism."

Bush hasn't written off all environmental protections. In fact, environmentalists have welcomed certain policies like tougher rules on diesel engines.

But overall, the president's approach is seen as a veiled attempt to reduce many protections that hinder industry.

"They obviously know the public doesn't like environmental rollbacks," Marks says, "so they give friendly sounding names" to controversial policies like the one called "Healthy Forests."

Where Bush says the initiative will rid forests of sick or dead trees that would only fuel wildfires, activists fear it will open new federal areas to logging of healthy, older trees.

Is Schwarzenegger really Republican?
For other Republicans,the issue is one of whether Schwarzenegger even belongs in their party at all. He's part of the Kennedy clan, having married Maria Shriver, and he makes no bones about being influenced by environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Then there's the fact that Schwarzenegger chose an environmentalist, Terry Tamminen, to be in charge of California's Environmental Protection Agency. Tamminen previously headed Environment Now, once a little-known group based in Santa Monica that has since become a statewide player.

For environmentalists like Hinerfeld, Tamminen is "obviously the real deal. ... He's not a figurehead, Schwarzenegger is listening to him."

That's not to say Schwarzenegger has pleased environmentalists with every action. O'Day calls his forestry record "mixed" and notes that the second in command at California's EPA is a former lobbyist for the logging industry.

Schwarzenegger has also vetoed seven bills where he's felt the economic costs outweighed the environmental benefits, among them one that would have prohibited growth at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles if it pushed smog from diesel ships beyond a certain level.

Would it play at national level?
A key question is whether other Republicans could succeed with Schwarzenegger's approach, especially at the national level.

Having made millions from his Hollywood movies, he didn't rely on special interest money to get elected. "That's an important point no matter where you are in politics," Tamminen said in an interview with MSNBC.com.

Marks agrees, and adds another element: the quirkiness of the California election last year, when then Gov. Gray Davis was recalled and the political parties had to forego the traditional primary process for a quick campaign.

The conservative base that votes in Republican primaries would have eliminated Schwarzenegger, Marks believes. "He was able to avoid the very narrow filter of the California Republican Party."

On the other hand, she says, California is special in that "it's hard to win a seat like that without supporting the environment."

And Schwarzenegger isn't the only senior Republican embraced by activists. Arizona Sen. John McCain has tried to pass legislation curbing emissions tied to global warming, and New York Gov. George Pataki has pressed for tougher air pollution controls at the federal level.

Then there's the first President Bush. "This president's father worked to brand himself as an environmental president," says Greg Wetstone, director of advocacy for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The first President Bush played a leadership role at a 1992 U.N. summit that laid the foundation for action against global warming, and signed into law 1990 legislation toughening the Clean Air Act.

'Unusual suspects' rowing together
For Tamminen, a key lesson in his first year with Schwarzenegger is that more can be done working with industry than against it.

"It's been humbling ... to realize that the nonpartisan approach to environmental issues gets a lot of the unusual suspects all rowing the boat in the same direction," he says.

"The truth is there's no D or R next to the names of our children," Tamminen adds, referring to party affiliations. "Air pollution affects us all, the costs of cleaning up oil spills, for example, affect every one of us."

Tamminen uses his own background to break the ice when meeting with an industry executive for the first time. His greeting, a close associate says, is to point to his head and say, "Take a look, no horns!"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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