Newt Gingrich calls it a populist revolution. Bob Dole says
the American people are sick of paying taxes to save the
environment. Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin insists that
ordinary citizens think property owners should be able to do
whatever they like with their land, no matter how
deleterious the environmental or public-health impacts.
Bad news for environmentalists? It would be - if any of it
The truth is, Americans overwhelmingly support environmental
protections. Just months before Gingrich's November
"revolution," four out of five Americans were telling
pollsters we should "do whatever it takes" to protect the
environment; more than three in five said environmental
regulations are worth the cost; and most said laws to
protect endangered species and wetlands and combat air and
water pollution don't go far enough.
In January - during the infamous "first hundred days" of
supposedly populist deregulation - 67 percent of respondents
said they believed the government should not cut back
environmental programs in order to balance the budget, as
opposed to just 27 percent who favored cutbacks. And nearly
nine in 10 said the environment was either "very important"
or "one of the most important" problems facing the country
All of which presents Congress with a dilemma: With four out
of five Americans saying they want to protect the
environment, how can the nation's elected leaders reverse
the progress of the past quarter-century?
Their answer, increasingly, is: Any which way we can. Employ
camouflage, for example, by wrapping anti-environmental
provisions in populist-sounding rhetoric. Slash funding for
green initiatives, agencies and programs, from the
Environmental Protection Agency to the California Desert
Protection Act. Take a page from the snake-oil sales manual
by insisting that legislation to destroy millions of acres
of Utah wilderness is really an antidote for the ills of
Or, as with "logging without laws" and the renewed assault
on the Arctic, attach a rider to a budget bill where, if all
goes well, the public will barely notice it - and the
president will be hard-pressed to veto it. That tactic
fizzled when President Clinton, responding to thousands of
calls, faxes and e-mail messages from grassroots activists,
used his first veto to block a bill that would have
rescinded $16 billion in 1995 spending authorizations,
inside of which nestled the timber industry's license to
clearcut publicly owned forests. Clinton's resolve dissolved
quickly, though: He has agreed to sign a modified version of
the bill, even though the horrendous "logging without laws"
provision survives virtually intact.
Editorial writers and U.S. citizens are beginning to realize
that "anti-regulatory" is a code word for "anti-
environmental" - and that the Gingrich "revolution" runs
counter to the wishes of the vast majority of Americans. So
if you wondered why the 104th Congress is waging its War on
the Environment under cover of darkness - disguising its
attacks with flag-waving rhetoric, flat-out
misrepresentations and underhanded parliamentary maneuvers -
the answer is clear as day. It's called vox populi.
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