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WHERE THE CANDIDATES STAND ON THE ENVIRONMENT. The next president will grapple with a host of dangers that threaten to strangle our environment: toxic wastes, air pollution, contaminated water. Fourth in a series. BUSH

TO most people in the environmental community, George Bush the self-made oilman is also George Bush the self-styled environmentalist. Despite a considerable effort to establish environmental credentials, Mr. Bush has failed to convince environmental circles that he is a true advocate for their cause.

``There is nothing in the Bush record to support the image of an environmentalist,'' says Jim Maddy of the League of Conservation Voters, a public-interest group that has rated the performance of elected officials on environmental issues since 1970. The LCV has endorsed Michael Dukakis for president.

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In their bill of particulars against Bush, environmentalists point to the vice-presi dent's role as chairman of President Reagan's Task Force on Regulatory Relief, beginning in 1981. Recent reports released by the Sierra Club and the Washington-based group Clean Water Action charge that under Bush, the task force relaxed or attempted to relax environmental regulations for hazardous-waste cleanup, wetlands protection, discharges of toxic metals into city sewer systems, and levels of lead in gasoline.

Issue by issue:

Clean air. The vice-president promises to support ``an effective reauthorization of the Clean Air Act,'' including encouragement of the use of ethanol and methanol in fuels, a reduction of ``millions of tons'' in sulfur oxides and ``substantial reductions'' in nitrogen oxides generated by fossil-fuel plants.

Environmentalists note, however, that in the fight for a Clean Air Act reauthorization, some congressional forces sought sulfur-dioxide reductions of as much as 12 million tons. Bush's vague reduction pledge, they say, could fall far short of this goal.

Bush also says he was instrumental in helping to reduce lead levels in gasoline.

Environmentalists counter that, as head of the regulatory task force, Bush sought to relax the requirement for a phase-down in lead levels in gasoline. The task force also suspended cleanup requirements for 850 hazardous-waste incinerators for 11 months, environmentalists charge.

Toxic wastes. Bush calls for ``speeding up the cleanup of toxic-waste dumps.'' In 1986, he supported reauthorization of the Superfund, the nation's cleanup program for toxic dumps no longer in use.

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But environmental experts say Bush's task force exempted 1,078 hazardous-waste dumps from some cleanup requirements for at least four years and others for more than seven years. Seventy percent of the dumps exempted had no liners to prevent toxic leaks, and 39 percent of the active sites had a high potential to contaminate groundwater, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Only after congressional action were the requirements reinstated.

Wetlands. Bush calls for ``no net loss of wetlands,'' the naturally occurring marsh-type lands that provide flood control and water purification. Environmentalists say that Bush's task force attempted to redefine wetland areas in a manner that, if successful, would have removed two-thirds of the nation's wetlands from federal protection. Regulations adopted in the wake of task-force action have substantially relaxed the review and enforcement procedures for protecting wetlands.

Public lands. Bush vows to preserve natural areas, national parks, and the nation's ``scenic heritage.'' When he served in Congress in the late '60s, he sponsored or supported numerous pieces of legislation to protect waterways and to establish national parks, a national monument, and a national wildlife refuge.

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