FOR the second election in a row, the American people have voted for an "environmental president," and this one comes with an "environmental vice president" who has written a book about the subject.
Next to the economy, the environment is of prime concern to the electorate. Ironically, the very popularity of environmentalism has led to abuses. In the last four years the Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Program has successfully prosecuted for fraud six laboratories and 17 individuals under contract to clean up waste sites. Now that the cold war has ended, is the EPA doomed to succeed the Pentagon as champion of wasteful spending?
Another warning sign: Environmentalists are quarreling among themselves. In New York City, a factional struggle developed about who should be in charge of Earth Day celebrations. In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, environmentalists are sharply divided over whether wells should be dug to provide water for Appalachian Mountain Club huts. The club argues that its wells conform to federal drinking water standards. But another environmental group, RESTORE, sees wells as a luxury corrupting rustic simpli city.
Environmentalists cannot afford to erode the idealism of their cause, either through the greed of those who play the Green Revolution for profit or through the stubbornness of those who contend too self-righteously for power on grounds of doctrinal correctness.
The environmental movement is in danger of disarray. If President-elect Clinton is to live up to his ambition to be the "environmental president," he must provide far more than jawbone leadership. He must get the EPA's cleanup job up to speed, cutting back on dubious preliminary studies that have contributed to excessive expenses. He must make defining environmental goals a task worthy of cabinet status.
He must restore the United States to world leadership on environmental issues - a role abdicated at last summer's Rio conference.
No undertaking will more gravely test Mr. Clinton's reputation for being able to bring diverse and contentious interests into a workable coalition.