President Bush, trying to shore up his environmental record against attacks by Democratic rival John Kerry, on Thursday called for restoring or protecting as many as 3 million acres of wetlands over the next five years.
Bush was celebrating Earth Day by highlighting efforts to help wetlands at a Maine nature reserve. He also was announcing new figures Thursday from the Agriculture Department that he says show that, for the first time in the nation’s history, the annual net loss of wetlands on farmland has been reversed.
The government has estimated that wetlands overall are being lost at the rate of 100,000 acres a year, despite pledges by successive administrations to develop policies to end the decline.
Bush is calling for at least 1 million acres of wetlands to be restored and created, 1 million acres to be improved, and 1 million acres to be protected over the next five years.
Maine is one 17 swing states in which Bush and Kerry are fighting hardest for votes.
Bush will talk Thursday about “how much environmental progress the country has made since the first Earth Day 30 years ago,” White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Wednesday. “Our air is cleaner, our water is cleaner and our land is better protected.”
Kerry in Houston
Kerry says Bush’s industry-backed policies are contributing to more air and water pollution. “In three short years, this president has put the brakes on 30 years of environmental progress,” said Kerry, who is spending Earth Day in Houston.
Duffy said Bush will talk “about how we’re working to use innovation, technology and incentives in addition to penalties and litigation to continue with that strong environmental progress.”
The president will be taking part in a water quality testing project during his visit to a national estuarine research reserve in Wells, Maine. The reserve has 1,600 acres of coastal wetlands.
Bush also is drawing attention to the reserve’s several hundred volunteers and its blend of public and private resources that were drawn upon to help protect fields, forests, salt marshes and beaches along Maine’s more densely populated southern coast.
The reserve is sandwiched between the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and the Laudholm Farm, which was settled by English colonists in the mid-17th century and later preserved through private efforts.
Some coverage scaled back
In December, Bush abandoned a plan that could have further reduced wetlands protections by scaling back the Clean Water Act’s coverage of isolated ponds and streams, many of them dry for part of the year.
His administration also has said that projects no longer have to restore wetlands acre-for-acre if the “no net loss” goal is met for each of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 38 U.S. districts, which are formed by watersheds and not state boundaries.
Benjamin Grumbles, acting head of EPA’s Office of Water, said Wednesday that speeding up “progress in watershed and water quality protections, and doing it in a collaborative way in public-private partnerships, is a major priority for this administration.”