AS the GOP-led Congress muscles forward its ``Contract With America,'' a battle of the faxes has broken out between interest groups on both sides of the environmental equation.
``Wise-use'' organizations urge their comrades to put the heat on lawmakers to pass such things as limits on unfunded federal mandates and stronger protections for private property owners. Environmentalists respond with dire warnings that such measures would undermine needed safeguards of health and nature.
The Alliance for America, headquartered in upstate New York, recently urged members of the 600 local wise-use groups it represents to ``hit the phones and faxes'' lobbying for the Republican Contract.
``Do it now. Don't wait,'' states the alliance's ``fax alert.'' ``The future of everything we have worked for is on the line.''
National environmental groups - larger and wealthier than their organized competitors - are scrambling to head off a replay of wise-use successes in the Democrat-led 103rd Congress.
These included failure to pass mining-law reform or to elevate the Environmental Protection Agency to Cabinet status. Improvements to the Superfund toxic-waste cleanup law and reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act also failed.
A ``Sierra Club Action Alert!'' posted recently on the environmental computer network Econet warns that the GOP ``Contract With America'' amounts to ``an undeclared war on the environment.''
The proposal to limit unfunded federal mandates on state and local governments (such as the Clean Water Act) ``is the first bill of several planned by conservatives in Congress that would begin to roll back critical federal safeguards that protect all of us,'' the Sierra Club's widely distributed message states.
Environmentalists also are concerned about the leadership and ideological bent of congressional committees overseeing the activities and budgets of agencies charged with protecting the environment.
Chairing the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is Frank Murkowski (R) of Alaska, who wants to allow oil drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Fellow Alaskan Rep. Don Young (R) now chairs the House Resources Committee. A former tugboat captain and trapper, Mr. Young recently referred to environmentalists as ``the self-centered bunch, the waffle-stomping, Harvard-graduating, intellectual bunch of idiots that don't understand that they're leading this country into environmental disaster.''
The six-term Alaska lawmaker said in a published interview that his No. 1 goal is to revise the Endangered Species Act. Right behind that, he said, is ``to undo what's been done'' by federal agencies to regulate use of designated wetlands.
Meanwhile, the Wilderness Society flashed to the press a warning that ``radical proposals would gut public protections, trash public lands.''
The national environmental group was referring to the first hearing held by another congressional panel now run by Republicans - the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Interior Department.
Invited to testify at the hearing were such conservative groups as the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, and Citizens Against Government Waste.
Among proposals heard that day: turning national forests over to private landowners, ending federal energy-conservation programs, and eliminating local zoning regulations on land use.
``I expect to see some of these ideas come back'' as bills, warned Darryl Knuffke, Wilderness Society regional director in Colorado.
Environmentalists are not without their champions on Capitol Hill. Following the Interior Department budget hearing, Rep. David Skaggs (D) of Colorado pronounced himself ``appalled and offended at this indication of what the `Newtonian' revolution may mean on the environmental front.''
Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia last week reminded Republicans of how they used to hold up majority initiatives when he successfully blocked a Republican attempt to cut off debate on unfunded mandates.