IF ONLY President Bush had revered the nation's rivers and streams as much as the remote Pacific. In establishing new marine monuments there this week, one of them protecting the deepest place on Earth - the Mariana Trench - Bush gave himself a notable, yet still faint, consolation prize in what otherwise has been a lost eight years for the environment.
After all, the day after Bush announced the monuments, The New York Times reported on how coal ash dumps like the one in Tennessee that fouled 300 acres with dangerous sludge are subject to no federal regulation and very little state regulation.
The dumps, of which there are more than 1,300 across the United States, contain lead, mercury, arsenic, and selenium. The Environmental Protection Agency has done nothing on the issue despite being aware of it for nearly 30 years. It nearly declared coal ash a hazardous waste in the waning days of the Clinton administration, but the Bush administration bowed to coal industry complaints that it would be too expensive to comply with any regulations. Industry complaints spoke louder than an EPA report in 2007 that found 63 contaminations of waters in 26 states.
Bush's protection of the Mariana Trench, as well as the northwest Hawaiian Islands two years ago, merits praise. Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environmental Group, said Bush's action "has done more to protect unique areas of the world's oceans than any other person in history." But the achievement unfortunately stands as a remote island paradise - a rare act by an administration that ignored eight years of the fouling of waters at home.