Bush the Conservative Is No Conservationist

After more than two years of humiliation and unacknowledged frustration, Christine Todd Whitman is leaving as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

What took her so long?

Under George W. Bush, the job of E.P.A. administrator became little more than a make-work job for a high-profile female Republican with a suburban, swing-state constituency. Ms. Whitman was undermined, and found herself defending policies she opposed while she was governor of New Jersey. To make matters worse, she watched from the sidelines while the likes of Vice President Dick Cheney and others bulldozed the ideals of conservation and stewardship.

The fossil-fuel barons who run Washington these days never had much use for Ms. Whitman, who gained a green reputation during her seven-plus years in Trenton. And Ms. Whitman seemed unwilling to challenge the administration’s hostility toward environmentalists and their issues. In fact, had she been made of sterner stuff, she would have quit almost two years ago, after she told European leaders that the President would abide by the Kyoto treaty to reduced global warming. The President quickly stated that he would not be bound by any such thing, embarrassing both Ms. Whitman in particular and the nation in general.

Ms. Whitman should have resigned on principle over Kyoto. Instead, she played the loyal soldier. Not long afterward, she announced that the White House would postpone the enactment of new drinking-water standards. The macho gang that really runs environmental policy in the Bush White House thought these new standards were too tough on business-and besides, they said, only wimps would care about a little arsenic in their tap water. A public outcry forced the administration to reconsider, and Ms. Whitman was given the unenviable job of announcing a major policy reversal.

The Bush administration has been relentless in its promotion of mindless deregulation and absurd assaults on the environment, like the plan to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, delaying the much-needed cleanup of General Electric’s mess in the Hudson River, rolling back fuel-efficiency standards and permitting logging in protected forests. Christine Todd Whitman would have performed an admirable public service by calling out the White House on these policies, instead of swallowing her pride and holding onto her job long after it became clear that her agenda meant nothing to this President.

The Bush White House proudly identifies itself as conservative. But there is nothing conservative about its environmental policies. It does not seek to “conserve” the nation’s rivers, lakes, forests and open spaces. Instead, it sees corporate profits where the rest of us see the glories of nature.

These Republicans have reversed the priorities of one of their heroes, Theodore Roosevelt. He was a conservative in the truest sense: He sought to conserve nature and was a steward of the environment.

The Bush White House, by contrast, instinctively sides with the despoilers of nature, with those who desecrate rather than preserve. And few know that better than Christine Todd Whitman. She’s leaving the E.P.A., but none too soon.

It’s the Mayor’s Call On Firehouse Closings

New York is in the throes of its worst fiscal crisis in a generation. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the businessman turned politician, finds himself confronting an array of choices, none of them good. He must cut this program, raise that tax, lay off workers and not hire bright new people to replace retirees.

And, he believes, he must close some firehouses. With the number of fires steadily decreasing and the number of fire stations based on the needs of the early 20th century, Mr. Bloomberg selected six houses for closing: four in Brooklyn, one in Queens and one in upper Manhattan. All are small, single-company houses-that is, they serve as quarters for engine companies only.

The closings took effect on Sunday, May 25, and will save the city more than $6 million a year. Bear in mind that the Mayor is cutting facilities, but is ordering no layoffs of firefighters. This is not a battle over manpower or work rules, but about buildings considered out-of-date and engine companies that are hardly among the city’s busiest. Residents, however, believe that the value of a firehouse nearby simply can’t be measured in mere dollars, and many were arrested as they protested the Mayor’s decision.

Their despair is understandable, and it surely is sad to see companies with decades of service and tradition disbanded. But the Mayor didn’t make this decision lightly-no Mayor would, considering the strong feelings involved.

Even so, the decision is Mr. Bloomberg’s to make, and he has made it. Although City Council members threatened legal action to block the closings, their efforts thus far have failed, and rightly so. As bad as these closings might be, it would be inappropriate if a judge stepped in to tell the Mayor how to manage his budget.

Mr. Bloomberg made a tough and unpopular decision, but the times call for tough and unpopular measures, and the Mayor deserves credit for not looking for easy answers.