Green Elephants must speak up


AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: This op-ed was published the Billings (MT) Gazette, Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader, Jackson (MS) Clarion Ledger, Twin Falls (ID) Times-News, Birmingham (AL) News, Greenville (SC) News, Tallahassee (FL) Democrat and San Gabriel Valley (CA) Tribune on Earth Day weekend, April 20-23, 2001.


This Earth Day, April 22, Americans need to remember that Republicans can be environmentalists, too. And the conservation-minded among us need a special reminder of how important it is to speak up, to be heard by the Bush administration in Washington. It’s up to us to prove that, while “Republicans for environmental protection” may elicit loud chuckles from some quarters, it’s a phrase with a proud history.

Theodore Roosevelt declared that efficient use of resources is a moral and patriotic obligation. Frugality and restraint are hallmarks of true conservatism, as TR well knew. But our new president seems to have forgotten what it means to be a true conservative. Instead, he is condoning the continued squandering of natural resources for the short-term gain of a few.

Many people know that the idea of setting aside public lands began with Theodore Roosevelt. Few realize, however, that Republican presidents Coolidge, Taft, Hoover and Eisenhower greatly expanded our public land inventory. Unfortunately, President Bush seems determined to undermine this great legacy.

On the very day he was sworn in–urged on by some of his largest campaign contributors–Mr. Bush suspended one of the most popular and widely supported forest conservation rules in U.S. history. The policy to protect the remaining wild portions of our national forests from logging, road building and mining had been enacted after 600 public hearings, which resulted in a record 1.6 public comments, 96 percent of them favorable. Yet on top of suspending the rule, Bush’s Department of Justice has failed to adequately defend the new policy from special interest lawsuits.

President Nixon first proposed the Safe Drinking Water Act, which President Ford signed into law in 1974, setting a new standard for our country. But now, thanks to President Bush’s recent decision not to lower the level of arsenic in tap water, almost everyone associates our GOP with poisoned water. The only cheers for his arsenic decision came from the mining industry, which had worked behind closed doors to revoke the new safeguards. Not surprisingly, mining waste is a major cause of arsenic in drinking water supplies.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a priceless environmental legacy of the Eisenhower presidency, which first set the land aside for wildlife habitat. But President Bush seems to regard the refuge–one of the most pristine places left in North America–as just another oil and gas field. And if Congress balks at drilling in the Arctic Refuge, Vice President Cheney and Interior Secretary Gale Norton have an equally poor back-up plan to drill in national monuments and other protected areas, sacrificing to industrialization natural lands that are the heritage of all Americans.

The first President Bush signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change at the Rio Earth Summit, starting America down the road toward an international climate accord. Yet after only three months in office, his son repudiated a campaign promise to seek reductions in carbon dioxide emissions—the major cause of climate change.

Mr. Bush’s lack of interest in environmental issues is more unfortunate than he seems to realize. Voters have shown time and again that they place a premium on clean air and water, undisturbed wilderness areas, and protected wildlife habitat. They are increasingly concerned about the effects of global warming, and want to raise their children free from toxic pollution.

In 2002, Americans will go to the polls to elect a new Congress, and in 2004 to choose a president. If Mr. Bush continues his current policies, it will only further convince voters that the GOP places the interests of campaign contributors ahead of the needs and desires of ordinary citizens. Our party will pay a heavy price at the polls if people believe it has turned its back on the environmental protections that 80 percent of Americans routinely say they want.

Recent actions by President Bush and his advisors have created the impression that the only environment Republicans know or care about is the business environment. That isn’t so, but we need to work hard to convince our president that his recent anti-environmental decisions are bad policy, bad politics, and ultimately bad for business.

On this Earth Day–and every day–Republicans need to remind President Bush that we, too, value conservation of our natural resources. We need to insist that he live up to one of the greatest traditions of our party.

It is not just “liberals” and Democrats who want to protect the world we live in. Conservation is conservative. In fact, it’s the most fundamentally conservative philosophy there is.

ORIGINAL CREDIT LINE IN ALL EIGHT NEWSPAPERS: Martha Marks is a county commissioner in Lake County, Illinois, and president of Republicans for Environmental Protection.