Bush offers challenge on Gore turf, environment

By Glen Johnson, Associated Press, 4/4/2000

LIQUIPPA, Pa. - George W. Bush challenged Al Gore yesterday on environmental issues, one of the vice president's perceived strengths, and said his presidential rival had some explaining to do on positions he took in his book, ''Earth in the Balance.''

Standing on former steel mill property that has been cleaned and is about to reopen as a $120 million wallboard plant, the presumed Republican presidential nominee proposed a plan for contaminated sites that would be modeled after programs already in use in 35 states.

Bush contrasted that with the federal Superfund cleanup program, which is behind schedule and over budget.

''Our state is a state like Pennsylvania that didn't wait for Al Gore to wave his magic wand to clean up our environment,'' the Texas governor told reporters after speaking at the US Gypsum plant in suburban Pittsburgh. ''We cleaned it up ourself, and our state's the better for it.''

He also said Gore would have to explain his book, which criticizes the internal combustion engine.

Asked if he thought Gore was an extremist on the environment, Bush said, ''I think the vice president is probably going to have to explain what he meant by some of the things in his book, to share with us the philosophy behind some of the standards in the book.''

Later, Bush acknowledged he has not read ''Earth in the Balance.''

In response to Bush's plan, the Gore camp cited the vice president's proposals to expand open spaces, fight urban sprawl, and ban new oil drilling as proof of his environmental credentials.

It also said Bush's plan to deal with contaminated ''brownfields'' mimicked or expanded federal programs.

''The difference between Al Gore and George Bush on the environment is like night and day,'' said spokesman Doug Hattaway. ''Al Gore has a long history of fighting for the environment while George Bush presides over the most polluted state in the country.''

Environmental problems in Texas include Houston air pollution that recently surpassed that of Los Angeles. Since Bush signed legislation in 1995, some 451 brownfield sites in Texas have been cleaned, adding $200 million to local property tax rolls.

Under his proposal, Bush would:

Direct the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards for brownfield cleanups that are more flexible than existing Superfund rules.

Give developers who clean up brownfields under state redevelopment plans protection from federal legal action if the sites are cleaned according to the new US standards.

Focus more on developing technologies and methods to clean brownfields.

Streamline bureaucracy and block-grant money under the $35 million Brownfield Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund.

Extend permanently a brownfield cleanup tax credit that is scheduled to expire Dec. 31.

Direct active federal facilities to comply with all environmental protection laws and hold them accountable when they do not.