|BUT NOT ON ANY HIGHER LEVEL, his critics insist. "In my opinion, he is virtually clueless on environmental issues," declares Ken Kramer, director of the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club. Kramer spoke on a wilting afternoon in Austin, two months before the national GOP convention, when the smoggy skies over the governor's mansion looked like the inside of a juke joint's ashtray. "And by being clueless, Bush opens himself to being influenced heavily by his advisers." Kramer and his allies are hell-bent on drawing an unflattering picture of the candidate and his crew. The national Sierra Club has launched an $8 million ad campaign that will hit Bush and other environmentally incorrect politicians until the election, and earlier this year the League of Conservation Voters issued a damning candidate profile that reads like a droning indictment from a war crimes trial: "Bush has overseen efforts to enact a major anti-regulatory agenda....His appointments to state commissions that oversee environmental programs have sparked criticism because of their strong ties to chemical, oil and real estate interests....Texas ranks first in the nation in toxic air emissions from industrial facilities....[Last] summer, Houston, for the first time, surpassed Los Angeles as the U.S. city with the highest levels of smog."
While the air pollution dig is a bit unfair—Texas is saddled with the nation's largest concentration of oil refineries, and even the most committed environmentalist governor would have trouble cleaning them up—Bush's critics have a point. But Team Bush considers the environmentalists' assault to be a mere opening barrage: His advisers are bracing for a full-scale D-day assault. "Basically, by the time Al Gore finishes, Texas is going to be a place where no one will want to live," quips Karen Hughes, Bush's alter ego, speechwriter, ghostwriter, and a senior member (along with political strategist Karl Rove and campaign manager Joe Allbaugh) of the so-called Iron Triangle that commands his run for the Oval Office. Fearing the inevitable Gore photo op on an especially dirty day in Houston, early this summer Bush's people began talking up the state's progress on pollution. "We have just adopted the most aggressive air-quality plan ever contemplated by any administration in the state of Texas," says Jeff Saitas, executive director of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission—the state environmental regulatory agency known as TNRCC by loyal proponents and as TRAINWRECK by its hardened opponents (who point out that Bush's appointments to the body have included a former executive of the agribusiness giant Monsanto and a consultant to the utility industry). Saitas is referring to a plan, approved by TNRCC in May, to bring the Dallas-Forth Worth and Beaumont-Port Arthur areas into compliance with federal ozone standards by 2007. In 1999, Bush signed legislation cracking down on power plants and establishing voluntary guidelines for the oldest industrial factories in Texas. Earlier in the year, he had blocked a proposal to force a cleanup of the aging smokestacks, which were exempted by the legislature when it passed an environmental law in 1971.