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Bush Backs Ban On Snowmobiles In 2 Wyo. Parks
GOP Seeks Future 'Limited' Use

By Eric Pianin
Tuesday, April 24, 2001

The Bush administration gave the go-ahead yesterday to a Clinton administration ban on recreational snowmobiling in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks in the latest move by the White House to shore up the president's environmental credentials.

But the White House said it still hoped an agreement would eventually be reached to allow "limited recreational use" of snowmobiles in the two Wyoming parks.

The snowmobile ban, issued in January on the day former president Bill Clinton left office, followed years of controversy over snowmobiling in the parks that pitted environmentalists concerned about air pollution and noise against snowmobile manufacturers, sportsmen and nearby communities that benefit from winter tourism.

Within hours of his inauguration, President Bush put a hold on the snowmobiling rule as part of a wider review of about 175 regulations issued by the Clinton administration. Yesterday, the Interior Department announced that it would not stand in the way of the new regulation that would ban snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton by the winter of 2003-2004.

While yesterday's decision marked a victory for environmental groups, the dispute is far from settled. Republican lawmakers are attempting to modify or revoke the new winter management plans for Yellowstone, while Interior and Justice Department lawyers are negotiating a settlement of a suit brought by the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association and others that might allow the use of cleaner, less noisy snowmobiles.

"We believe an agreement can and will be reached that will provide for limited recreational use while ensuring that we protect our national parks," said Scott McClellan, a White House spokesman.

The administration's handling of the snowmobile ban is viewed by many environmental groups as another test of the president's attitude toward the environment. After weeks of criticism for environmental moves early on in his administration, particularly his decision to withdraw from the 1997 Kyoto agreement on global warming and to reject a lower standard for levels of arsenic in drinking water, Bush last week announced a series of more environmentally-friendly decisions.

He said the United States will sign a treaty aimed at reducing the release of dangerous chemicals in the environment, and the administration pledged to come up with a new rule on arsenic next year that would call for a reduction of at least 60 percent from allowable levels. The White House also endorsed a Clinton administration rule that will require thousands of businesses to reveal the details of their emissions of lead into the environment.

According to a Washington Post-ABC News Poll, fewer than half of those surveyed -- 47 percent -- said they approved of Bush's handling of the environment. The poll also found a wide gap between the public's desire to protect the environment and their perception of Bush's commitment to do so.

Meanwhile, the White House yesterday reaffirmed Bush's commitment to a plan to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in an effort to boost domestic energy production.

 

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Christine Todd Whitman said over the weekend that a White House energy task force's report due out next month would not specifically cite drilling in the refuge as a vital option. Senior Bush adviser Karl Rove reportedly told a Republican consultant the president would not push for drilling in the area.

However, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday that "the president believes we can and we should, in an environmentally responsible way, open up a small portion of ANWR so we can explore for oil."

In choosing to go along with the Clinton administration's snowmobiling regulations, the White House and Interior Department officials opted for an approach that would give them more flexibility to ultimately ease the ban than if they tried to formally undo the rule.

Environmentalists and National Park Service officials contend that snowmobiles are too noisy and that their exhaust hurts the parks' wildlife and natural habitats. Opponents of the ban contend that it would damage businesses and towns that rely on snowmobiling for winter income. They also argue that the snowmobiles are confined to roads and paths that are heavily traveled by cars and trucks during the rest of the year.

Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), a leading critic of the regulation, said the Clinton administration ignored snowmobile design advances that would lessen pollution and noise. "What we're looking for is not a continuation of the present program but significant changes in the machines and the management of them in the parks," Thomas said.

Congress last year delayed by two years the date of the ban -- to the winter of 2003-2004 -- which will give the administration, lawmakers, state and local officials, and private businesses more time to work out a compromise.

Administration officials say they believe the negotiations over the snowmobile manufacturers' lawsuit may provide the forum for a final deal, but some environmental groups complain that they are being excluded from the talks.

"If the administration were really coming out in support of the national parks, then the settlement negotiations would cease immediately," said Rose Fennell of the Wilderness Society.



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