Republican congressional leaders learned a hard lesson last year when their misguided plans to roll back environmental protections and give away public lands blew up in their faces. By huge margins, the American people say they value clean air and water and want to preserve their heritage of parks, forests, wilderness, and wildlife. They don't want politicians attacking the laws that protect these national assets.
The GOP's 1996 platform tries to show that party leaders have taken that lesson to heart. But most Americans won't be fooled. They know that votes matter, not words. Unfortunately, with a few notable exceptions, the environmental voting records of Republicans in the 104th Congress are a disgrace.
Republicans for Environmental Protection, a national grassroots organization of ordinary Republican voters fighting to restore our party's conservation heritage, sees little evidence that GOP leaders have changed their ways. Behind the rhetoric is the same old agenda: to roll back laws that have cleaned up our air and water and to turn our great public lands over to extractive industries. When it comes to our natural resources, the traditional Republican ideals of frugality, efficiency, and conservation are, regrettably, nowhere to be found. Corporate welfare still reigns supreme.
Here are some examples of the thorns menacing our environment from behind the GOP platform's flowery rhetoric:
Logging. Under the guise of a "forest health crisis," majestic, centuries-old trees in our national forests have been sold for far less than their worth and chopped down indiscriminately. Roads that benefit only the logging industry have been built at taxpayers' expense. Old-growth forests have been clear-cut with no regard for long-standing environmental laws. Sadly, the GOP platform calls for more of the same taxpayer-subsidized destruction.
Grazing. Taxpayers can take no more heart from the platform's call for expanded production of livestock on public lands already beaten down by decades of overgrazing that harms streams, fish, and wildlife. Ranchers who graze their cattle on federal land pay fees far below the rates charged on private rangeland. This giveaway damages natural resources and cheats taxpayers. There is nothing fiscally conservative about subsidized grazing, yet the GOP platform both applauds it and calls for its expansion.
Endangered species. The platform's claim that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has "devastated the environment" is nonsense. The law has saved many creatures by giving wildlife a fighting chance to survive heavy-handed resource extraction, pollution, and urban sprawl. Most projects that could effect endangered species have gone forward. Of the more than 195,000 proposals reviewed under the ESA between 1979 and '95, only 0.05 percent were canceled or withdrawn because they jeopardized the existence of endangered or threatened species. The ESA has been a success. Ask anyone who has seen a bald eagle soaring overhead.
Energy. Nowhere is the conflict between the GOP's traditional ideals and its current platform more evident than in the energy proposals. The platform calls for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which would jeopardize a pristine sanctuary for a few months' supply of oil. It then attacks vehicle-efficiency standards. Since 1973, energy-efficiency measures have stretched fuel supplies, saved consumers over $150 billion, and kept millions of tons of pollutants from the air, water, and land.
The members of Republicans for Environmental Protection urge party leaders to return to the GOP's long, honorable conservation tradition. We're tired of tree-planting photo-ops and other forms of "greenscamming." We see our natural resources as an endowment to be conserved for the future, not squandered for short-term gain. We want thoughtful, cost-conscious ways of husbanding this endowment as our growing nation puts more pressure on its resources.
WE welcome new, flexible approaches that make use of incentives, as long as strong standards are established and met, public accountability maintained, and actions informed by sound, impartial science. We respect property rights but recognize that the freedom to use property carries with it responsibility to obey laws that in the long run protect everyone's property values and benefit the community.
In 1905, in an address to Congress, President Theodore Roosevelt said: "There can be no delusion more fatal to the nation than the delusion that profit, or business prosperity, is sufficient in judging any business or political question."
President Roosevelt's legacy should not be an icon to be trotted out during campaigns and ignored the rest of the time. It should be a philosophical foundation on which to build an environmentally healthy and prosperous America.
We call on Bob Dole to read the platform that his allies have crafted and repudiate its short-sighted anticonservation, corporate-welfare provisions. The effort to preserve our natural heritage and protect the environment must transcend partisanship - for the sake of the children who will inherit our world.
Martha A. Marks is a Lake County, Ill., commissioner and president of Republicans for Environmental Protection. Jim DiPeso is secretary of the group.