George W. Bush was too busy raising money and delivering the world from evil to listen to Indiana environmentalists during his visit to South Bend on Sept. 5. But he and other crony capitalist politicians - like Joe Kernan and John Fernandez - had better be listening. Their political futures may hang in the balance.

The domestic twin towers of Enron and Environmental Devastation have awakened the American public to the stark realities of 21st century domestic life under the Bush-Kernan-Fernandez political paradigm. Eventually, they will recognize the folly of Bush's bloodthirsty response to the new world order that we now realize we can't escape, even here at home.

When the devastation of endless global war and domestic neglect finally do jolt Americans back to reality, environmental issues like those raised in South Bend by the Sierra Club's Jolinda Buchanan and Indiana Forest Alliance's Joshua Martin will play a key role in determining what America's 21st Century political landscape will ultimately look like.

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Buchanan, Conservation Organizer with the Hoosier Chapter of the Sierra Club, pointed to the role Indiana and George W. Bush play in polluting the air and changing the climate.

"Indiana is home to five of the 51 worst polluting coal plants in the country," she said in a news release prepared for Bush's South Bend fund-raising appearance.

Bush's recently proposed "Clear Skies" initiative, a political payoff to the fossil fuel industry that has bankrolled his life and career, would roll back regulation of several environmental pollutants emitted by coal-burning power plants, including sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are the primary causes of acid rain. In the US, about 2/3 of all SO2 and 1/4 of all NOx comes from electric power generation that relies on burning fossil fuels like coal."

Indiana ranks third in the nation in SO2 and in NOx emissions, according to the "Repowering the Midwest Report," a study issued in 2001 by a coalition of clean energy groups that includes the Citizens Action Coalition, Environmental Law & Policy Center of the Midwest, and Union of Concerned Scientists.

Nitrogen oxides are the primary chemical components in smog, which exacerbates breathing problems for the elderly, the young, and people with lung diseases like emphysema or asthma. Even healthy people who work outside can find breathing problematic when smog levels are high.

According to the American Lung Association, 26 Indiana counties with high ozone levels and combined populations of 3.1 million have:

  • 42,619 suffering from pediatric asthma
  • 180,040 suffering from adult asthma
  • 100,601 suffering from chronic bronchitis
  • 31,653 suffering from emphysema

"Polluting power plants make Hoosiers sick and add to our medical bills," Buchanan said. "Why are Hoosiers bearing the costs for polluted power?"

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Martin, who is Midwest Organizer for American Lands Alliance as well as Co-coordinator for the Indiana Forest Alliance, went to South Bend to raise awareness about Bush's "Healthy Forest Initiative," a political giveaway to the timber industry under the guise of protecting homes and communities from wildfires.

"The Healthy Forest proposal will rollback forest protection, increase logging in our pristine roadless areas and stonewall citizen participation," Martin said, noting that the initiative would govern fire-suppression efforts in Southern Indiana's 199,000-acre Hoosier National Forest.

According to a joint news release from the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture, the Bush plan would depend on "active land management efforts such as thinning of small trees and brush, and, where appropriate, prescribed burns."

Martin and other environmentalists, however, see it as a pretext for increased logging on the nation's public lands. They cite several government reports to support their positions:

  • A 1999 Forest Service report on reducing wildfire threats to homes found "… the potential for home ignitions during wildfires, including those of high intensity, principally depends on a home's fuel characteristics and the heat sources within 100-200 feet adjacent to a home."
  • A 1999 General Accounting Office report reached a similar conclusion but reported "forest officials told us they tend to (1) focus on areas with high-value commercial timber rather than on areas with high fire hazards or (2) include more large, commercially valuable trees in a timber sale than are necessary to reduced accumulated fuels."
  • A Congressionally mandated study of the Sierra Nevada ecosystem published in 2001 by the University of California Davis found "timber harvest, through its effects on forest structure, local microclimate and fuel accumulation, has increased fire severity more than any other recent human activity."

Environmentalists also provided a copy of an Aug. 28, 2002, letter from five firefighters in the Pacific Northwest to Agriculture and Interior Secretaries Ann Veneman and Gale Norton taking issue with the Healthy Forests Initiative. The firefighters said:

"Before Congress and the Administration institute new fire policies such as the 'Healthy Forest Initiative,' they need to hear from ground-level professional volunteer, municipal, and wildland firefighters in whose name much of these administrative and legislative proposals are being made, and who, after all, will be the ones putting their bodies on the line to implement those policies."

"The president's proposal puts firefighters at great risk and fails to protect the lives and property of communities," Martin said.

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Activists from across the populist spectrum, like Buchanan and Martin, are calling attention to the issues of the future - environmental protection, economic justice, democratic principles, and catastrophic war, to name but a few.

While George W. Bush dined with high rollers in South Bend who anted up $250 a plate, citizen activists laid out a tabletop spread of bagels, fruits, cookies and other food items for the masses. While Bush posed for pictures with high rollers paying $4,000 for the privilege, the people carried signs putting Bush and Hoosier clones like Kernan and Fernandez on notice:

"Keep America Beautiful! More forests, less Bush."

"I didn't vote for his ass, did you?"