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POLLUTION AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

 

Republicans for Environmental Protection

Sometime ago, I came across the website of REP America - the Republicans for Environmental Protection. I would like to publicize this group and applaud them for what they are trying to do for the environment, given what they are fighting against in their own party - particularly the President (George Bush Jr.). I have always thought that conservation is part and parcel of conservatism. I grew up in a conservative household where conservation and respect for nature were instilled as moral values*. So, it was a bit of a surprise to me to discover that the Republican Party of the United States, claiming to represent conservatives, stood not for environmental preservation and conservation but rather for massive weakening of environmental protections. Against that backdrop, the website of REP America was a welcome sight.

Martha Marks, founder and President of REP America, has just written an article titled "the Green Old Party" in Sierra Club's magazine - Sierra - in the July/Aug 2004 edition (Note: my wife is a member of Sierra Club, both she and I are members of NRDC). It is an article worth reading, especially because she tries to remind Americans that environmental conservation has long been a bipartisan effort in the U.S. (but only before 1981 (largely) - there is a splendid chart in the article showing how the two parties have diverged since 1980, which I will hopefully post once it becomes available online). Indeed, she also points to how well known Republican Presidents of the yester-years played a leadership role in protecting the environment. 

Mark's article is not yet online at the time of this writing. But many of the facts she points out in her article may be found in articles displayed on REP America's website. I will reproduce some of that here because it is pertinent and highly relevant in this era. 

Marks:

Roosevelt established national forests, parks, monuments and wildlife refuges to prevent special interests from squandering the nationís natural bounty. Bush has appointed a stable of industry lobbyists to open up more of those lands to the same kind of special interests Roosevelt fought throughout his presidency.

Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge to stop poachers from destroying a public resource for private gain. Bush wants to open Americaís largest national wildlife refuge so oil companies can compromise a public resource for private gain.

Roosevelt founded the Boone and Crockett Club, which successfully campaigned to protect Yellowstone from exploitation by railroad and mining interests. Bush wants to roll back protections against snowmobile pollution, catering to off-road vehicle interests.

I am a lifelong Republican and have served as an elected Republican officeholder in Illinois for 10 years. The GOPís conservation tradition was one reason I became a Republican. Over the past 20 years, however, the Republican Party seems to have lost its way on conservation. So, in 1995óat the height of Congressí attacks on public lands and environmental standardsóI teamed up with two other women to found Republicans for Environmental Protection, known today as REP America. Our goal is to restore the GOPís conservation tradition. Our members believe that conservation is conservative: protecting our nationís natural resources is consistent with true conservative principles of prudence and stewardship.
...

Marks:

T.R. [Teddy Roosevelt] --one of our greatest Republican presidents--left us a great conservation legacy. Like many other Republican ideas, however, his legacy has been pirated away by the Democrats.

It's time we in the GOP stole it back.

Environmental Republicans? The idea is hardly novel. Barry Goldwater, the father of the modern conservative movement, was a lifelong conservationist (and a member of REP America.) Richard Nixon signed into law the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act; he also established the Environmental Protection Agency. Ronald Reagan signed laws protecting nearly 10 million acres of national forest and wilderness. Many supporters of Ducks Unlimited, the Mule Deer Foundation, Trout Unlimited, and other sportsmenís groups are loyal Republicans. They know that the most vital element of their hunting or fishing activities is a healthy forest, river or stream.

...

Polls repeatedly show widespread support for conservation among GOP voters...

Marks:

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 [George W. Bush] 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...
...
President Nixon first proposed the Safe Drinking Water Act, which President Ford signed into law in 1974, setting a new standard for our country...
...
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a priceless environmental legacy of the Eisenhower presidency, which first set the land aside for wildlife habitat...
...
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.
...

Jim DiPeso:

Scientists keeping tabs on the Earth's oceans are concerned that global warming could actually lead to dangerously cold weather in North America and Europe.

The notion defies common sense, but the underlying physics are worth the close attention of citizens and national policymakers who would have to deal with the harsh consequences.

It starts with the Gulf Stream, a current of warm water in the Atlantic Ocean that transports warm air northward. That's why much of Western Europe, which is at about the same latitude as Canada, has a relatively mild climate. The Gulf Stream is actually part of an oceanic conveyor belt. As the Gulf Stream gives up its heat in northern latitudes, the current becomes saltier and heavier than surrounding waters and sinks, a process that propels the conveyor belt.

Global warming could interrupt this vital process. As temperatures warm, melting of glaciers and ice fields would accelerate. This is no idle theory. Glaciers worldwide are retreating. Glacier National Park is losing its namesake features. Ernest Hemingway's fabled snows of Kilimanjaro are disappearing.

Melting ice sending a surge of fresh water into the North Atlantic would dilute its saltiness. Less salty water is lighter. At some point, the Gulf Stream could stop sinking into the North Atlantic's depths, bringing the conveyor belt to a halt, like an engine that has seized up.

The consequences could be both abrupt and severe. Within a generation, average winter temperatures in the eastern United States and Western Europe could drop 10 degrees--a huge drop as averages go--and brutal winters could be the norm for the following decades or even centuries in the most economically developed region in the world. Ironically, the regional deep freeze could occur even as the Earth as a whole continues to warm, according to a presentation the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute made to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 27.

Oceanographers reported in Science magazine last year that the North Atlantic is rapidly becoming less salty. Does that mean the shutdown of the Gulf Stream could happen soon? Scientists do not know. However, there is good evidence from Earth's past that climate can shift abruptly. For example, scientists are investigating whether an abrupt climate shift caused the ''Little Ice Age'' between 1300 and 1850, a period of colder temperatures that resulted in crop failures, disease and mass migration.

So what should government policymakers do? The first step is to underwrite research that will improve scientific understanding of abrupt climate change--both how it occurred in the past and how it could recur in the future. The second, simultaneous step is to reduce the risk that global warming could trigger an abrupt climate shift, through prudent measures to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Jim DiPeso:

For many greens, Ronald Reagan's environmental legacy can be summed up in two words -- James Watt.

The appointment of Watt, the reflexively pro-industry ideologue who oversaw America's public lands as secretary of the Department of the Interior from 1981 to 1983, was consistent with the stereotype that Reagan was anti- environmental. But that perspective on the issue is too pat.

History has shown that Reagan, whose pragmatic streak defied expectations, both puzzled his supporters and got the last laugh on his critics. Reagan skillfully blended principles with pragmatism in many public-policy arenas, including the environment. After Watt had ignited one too many controversies, Reagan showed him the door, aided by a none-too-gentle push from Nancy Reagan, for whom Watt's cancellation of a concert on the Mall for her favored Beach Boys was the last straw.

Wilderness, not Watt, was Reagan's environmental legacy. During his two terms in office, Reagan signed nearly 40 bills that added 10.6 million acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System, about 10 percent of the system's size (all data according to www.wilderness.net). No other president has signed so many wilderness bills into law. Since enactment of the Wilderness Act in 1964, only President Jimmy Carter has added more wilderness acreage, thanks to his approval of the huge Alaska lands bill of 1980.
...

It is a shame that the Congressional GOP delegation of today (except for a few moderates -- just barely enough to keep egregious bills from passing) is ignoring their party's past commitment to the environment, and the wishes of the rank and file of their party. 


* Edited slightly on 1/3/05

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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