Before I was elected, a Republican president worked with the Congress to establish the Environmental Protection Agency and the Council on Environmental Quality. I joined the long list of presidents of both parties who have followed this common environmental commitment so steadfastly that most of our fellow countrymen had come to take it for granted that the nation's chief executive officer would strive to improve the quality of our environment and protect the public lands.
However, during the last year and a half there has been such a radical change in environmental policy emanating from the Oval Office that our nation has been shocked and deeply troubled.
Environmental laws designed to protect the quality of the air, water, and land are being circumvented or ignored. Many of our longstanding programs are being eliminated or subverted by executive order or budget policy. Formerly inviolate professional staffs are being summarily dismissed. Public lands, forests, and mineral resources are being squandered or sold at giveaway prices.
Unfortunately, most of the specific expressions of concern have been focused on subordinates in the government who seem to revel in the publicity, no matter how embarrassing the facts might be.
Under these circumstances, what can be done? The situation is certainly not hopeless. The Congress has been both courageous and effective in preserving some of the existing laws. Rulings of the federal courts have almost consistently protected the public interest.
The President must no longer be allowed to hide behind a secretary of the interior or a director of the Environmental Protection Agency or a budget director - all of whom must conform to policies and directives coming from the White House.
I have served in the Oval Office, and I know that when a difficult or unpopular decision was made concerning the Panama Canal, or the Middle East, or China, it was my responsibility; not that of the secretary of state or national security adviser.
Similar credit or blame can be placed on each member of Congress when a vote is cast on environmental legislation.
This must be our goal - to modify and shape public policy to conform with the ancient bipartisan commitment to a cleaner and more beautiful America. If, in the process, some political heads roll and some tough battles must be fought and won - so be it!