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Bush, Gore clash in dueling Earth Day speeches

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush and his rival in the 2000 presidential race, former Vice President Al Gore, offered sharply different views on the White House's environmental policies Monday in competing Earth Day speeches.

Gore, who has stepped up his political appearances in recent weeks, was pointedly critical of Bush's policies in a speech at Vanderbilt University.

The former Democratic presidential nominee accused the Republican administration of choosing "to serve the special interests instead of the public interest."

Gore criticized Bush for rejecting the international Kyoto agreement on the reduction of greenhouse gases, for backing a push to drill for oil in the protected lands of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- a proposal defeated in the Senate last week -- and for giving too much influence to the interests of the oil and energy business.

"When it comes to energy and environmental policy, the Bush administration has brought the oil and chemical representatives out of the lobby and into the Oval Office and let them rewrite America's environmental laws during secret meetings that they're still trying to keep secret," Gore said.

Bush, meanwhile, delivered his Earth Day address in New York's Adirondack Mountains, where he touted his "Clear Skies Initiative" to combat air pollution, which will require approval by Congress.

"Some of the biggest sources of air pollution are the power plants which send tons of emissions into our air. Therefore, we have set a goal. With Clear Skies legislation, America will do more to reduce power plant emissions than ever before in our nation's history," he said.

The "Clear Skies Initiative" aims to cut emissions from sulfur dioxide by 73 percent, nitrogen oxides by 67 percent, and mercury by 69 percent -- all by 2018.

Bush also has set a goal for the United States to cut the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions -- so called because they are believed to be warming the Earth's atmosphere -- by 18 percent over 10 years.

That is more modest than the goals sought under the Kyoto agreement, which was adopted by 178 nations last year.

Critics, including Gore and other Democrats, have criticized Bush's proposals as insufficient, in part because they do not require mandatory reductions, as Kyoto does.

The Republican administration has countered that Bush's plan will be effective because market incentives will induce companies to voluntarily reduce greenhouse emissions.

"We will reach our ambitious air quality goals through a market-based approach that rewards innovation, reduces cost and -- most importantly -- guarantees results," Bush said in his Adirondacks speech.

"Mine is a results-oriented administration. When we say we expect results, we mean it."

Environmental groups blast Bush policies

Along with Gore's barbs, the Bush administration also received strong criticism from several environmental groups Monday.

The groups urged the White House to stop what they called its "assault" on the environment, and criticized what they said was a practice of formulating environmental policies behind closed doors, with input only from the energy industry.

"Environmental groups today are accusing the Bush administration of massively abusing its executive authority by working with its energy supporters in order to subvert and undermine our major environmental laws," Rodger Schlickeisen of the Defenders of Wildlife told reporters at a news conference in Washington.

The coalition of environmental groups also launched a nationwide advertising campaign Monday to inform the Americans of what it claims the Bush administration is trying to do to harm the environment.

"We are asking the public to send a loud and clear message to the Bush administration to stop letting big corporations trample on our environmental rights," Gene Karpinski, executive director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said at the news conference.

In a published report, "Rewriting the Rules: The Bush Administration's Assault on the Environment", the Natural Resources Defense Council charged that the administration is letting big corporations and campaign donors to rewrite America's environmental rules.

Well-known singer and environmental activist Bonnie Raitt, who was present at the news conference, asked Americans to put an end to "mobile Chernobyl" and support a petition drive against allowing the federal government to store the nation's nuclear waste near Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

-- CNN Producer Dave Adhicary contributed to this report.




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