WHILE voters consider the top of the ticket, the vice presidential candidates are playing unusually prominent roles in the debate over whether Bush or Clinton is stronger on the environment.
Dan Quayle is best known on the issue for his record as chairman of the Council on Competitiveness, set up by Bush to make sure federal regulations do not impede economic progress. Critics say the group pushed changes that weakened the Clean Air Act, tried to rewrite government protections for wetlands, and forced the Environmental Protection Agency to drop a proposal that would have reduced municipal incineration by 25 percent.
In an article for the Environmental Law Institute, Rep. George Miller (D) of California, chairman of the House Interior Committee, charges Quayle's council with "improper influence on federal regulations [which] weakens laws - particularly environmental protections - sought by a majority of the Congress and the public."
Quayle responded in a companion article, "Our aim is to make public participation workable, not a costly source of bureaucratic delay."
If Dan Quayle is under fire for tinkering with the nuts and bolts of environmental policy, Al Gore raises eyebrows and hackles for his visionary book on the environment, "Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit." In his recent bestseller, Gore surveys the historical background to the growing "crisis" in resource depletion and pollution.
Gore says preservation of the earth should become mankind's "new organizing principle," and he proposes a sweeping "Global Marshall Plan" to do it.
Critics say Gore is too quick to accept some experts' gloomy view on topics like global warming.
"Mr. Gore is smart, informed and I admire his conviction," Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot wrote this summer. "But there's also the hint of a Malthusian in him, as if the world is going to hell in an internal combustion engine."
If he had known he would be his party's vice presidential candidate, Gore said on the Whoopi Goldberg Show last week, he might have been tempted to write more cautiously. But, he said, "I'm sure glad it's out there, because it's what's in my heart, it's what I really believe."