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Old December 24th, 2005, 06:13 AM   #1
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Default Shrewd Strategy fuels Bush Policy efforts

Shrewd strategy fuels Bush policy efforts
Sun Staff Reporter

Despite tough questions President Bush is fielding on permission he gave intelligence agents to eavesdrop on Americans' phone calls, his administration has had success in other areas, namely environmental legislation.

The Bush administration is using a savvy strategy to sidestep opposition to its environmental policies while remaining within the law, a new book co-written by a Northern Arizona University professor asserts.

His victory is all about Republicans presenting a unified front, using terms like "common sense" to describe sweeping proposals and timing legislation to coincide with sweeping wildfires in California and Oregon, Northern Arizona University political science professor Jacqueline Vaughn and former NAU professor Hanna Cortner write in a new book, "George W. Bush's Healthy Forests, Reframing the Environmental Debate."

Vaughn's a political scientist specializing in environmental policy who teaches her students to study the strategy behind political wins and losses.

Cortner was an associate director at NAU's Ecological Restoration Institute before retiring.

The two had previously studied who appealed Forest Service decisions most often, finding individuals trumped environmental groups.

In the case of Bush's Healthy Forest Restoration Act that environmental groups dubbed a timber giveaway, which passed right after fires consumed 750,000 acres of California's desert brush, Bush won by getting all Republicans to work from the same playbook and present a unified front.

"The book just shows how the Bush administration pulled off what it wanted in terms of forest policy," Vaughn said. "That same strategy is being used for some other policy now."

Another technique she records in the book is known as "Freaky Fridays." The technique allows the administration to introduce new regulations at 5 p.m. Fridays, when reporters are less likely to notice until Monday, if at all. There's a holiday version, too, with regulations being introduced before any three-day weekend.

"They really have this down to a science," Vaughn said. "They introduce these regulations when no one's around or no one's paying attention."

The book also briefly details major environmental issues and history since the 1960s.

The "Healthy Forests" act makes retaining large and old-growth trees a priority, but not if they're likely to fall prey to insects, disease, or lie at the outskirts of fire-prone communities.

The act also limits individuals' and environmental groups' abilities to challenge Forest Service decisions, and makes courts consider the impact of not thinning or logging a forest.

Vaughn doesn't favor one side or another, she said.

"I'm a political scientist looking at an environmental topic... I'm not an advocate. I'm not a member of the Sierra Club or Wilderness Society or anything like that," she said.

But she does point out in her book that while Bush was governor of Texas, he was known more for what he didn't do to help the environment -- such voluntary emissions reductions plans in a state where two-thirds of Texans lived in areas where pollution exceeded Clean Air standards -- than what he did do.

Above all else, Bush's moves are legitimate and will impact forests here, Vaughn said.

"(The Healthy Forests Restoration Act) is going to affect what happens with a lot of the projects here... with regard to how or whether timber gets cut or not," Vaughn said.

Cyndy Cole can be reached or 913-8607.
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