By Donella Meadows
–June 6, 1996–
There’s what they say in political campaigns and then there’s what they do. How does a busy voter ever sort out the difference?
In a proper democracy we wouldn’t have to. Politicians would not be able to buy the public airwaves to propagandize us. We would learn about their actions from an independent press, just the facts, straight up, what they fight for and what they don’t, what laws they sponsor, how they carry out those laws. No flags, jingles, or cute pictures taken in zoos on Earth Day.
Sigh. We do not live in a proper democracy.
So, busy as we are, we have to work hard to find out what our politicians are up to. For the rapidly rising number of people who have access to the Internet, that work is getting easier. You can subscribe for free to a number of email services that deliver to your desktop daily, weekly or whenever important votes are taken information about what our elected leaders do, as opposed to what they say.
For example, I’m on a number of lists that report on environmental issues. One of them, called GREENlines, sends a short news summary every day. Here by way of illustration is an item sent out on May 30:
“MONEY TALKS: ‘Recent events show that reports of the death of environmental reform efforts are greatly exaggerated,’ says a paper on ‘Congress and the Environment in 1996’ from the Center for Responsive Politics. ‘When you have campaign money, you stay on the agenda,’ CFRP says. They cite the work of Sen. Bob Smith (R-New Hampshire), who received $37,670 from PACs with interests in superfund liability, to ‘reform’ Superfund.”
On June 5 GREENlines sent:
“PUBLIC LANDS LEASED CHEAP: On May 31, the Government Accounting Office released a report concluding that the US Forest Service charges ‘only a fraction’ of the going rate for leasing public land to utility companies. The report found that USFS fees ‘do not reflect fair market values’ as required by federal law. In an extreme case, a natural gas pipeline owner paid the federal government $814 per acre for access to public land but paid the state of California $130,726 per acre for similar state land.”
Every now and then GREENLines puts out an alert about legislation in process in time for voters to contact their representatives. For example on May 30 it sent out a bulletin on the budget for the Department of Interior:
“The House Appropriations Committee has just set preliminary spending levels for each of its 13 subcommittees — including the Interior Appropriations subcommittee, which funds the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Biological Service. For the second year in a row, Interior will receive some of the highest cuts. DOI is concerned that this low level of funding will cause ‘deep and permanent damage’ to National Park units, public lands, endangered species and science programs.
“While the House has already set its funding levels, the Senate must still make its allocations. If the Senate comes up with higher allocations, this would at least give our programs a fighting chance. Please call, FAX, or email your senators and ask them to urge Appropriations Chair Mark Hatfield to give higher Interior allocations.”
GREENlines comes out daily. More sporadic bulletins about endangered species issues come from the Endangered Species Coalition. This one arrived on May 31:
“Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-Louisiana) is proposing that Congress pass a series of small ESA (Endangered Species Act)-related bills this Congress rather than attempting to pass a comprehensive reauthorization bill that would face serious opposition from both parties. His plan would be to introduce the less controversial sections of the Young-Pombo bill, which even House Speaker Newt Gingrich rejected as too sweeping. Tauzin has been meeting with Young (R-Alaska) and Pombo (R-California), as well as moderate Republican Reps. Wayne Gilchrest (Maryland) and Jim Saxton (New Jersey). The Tauzin bill would include tax incentives to encourage land owners to protect species on private property and set more stringent criteria that must be met before federal regulators could affirmatively protect a species.”
The Grandaddy of information sources about environmental politics is the League of Conservation Voters, which maintains both a website and an email service. The last message I got from the LCV was on May 23. It reported on a measure sponsored by Senators Kerry (D-Massachusetts), Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) and Boxer (D-California) to restore $7.3 billion that has been cut from the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Among other things,” says the LCV, “these budget cuts would reduce funding to states and localities to meet clean water and drinking water standards; slow cleanup of toxic waste sites; and weaken EPA’s ability to protect waterways from pollution, regulate harmful contaminants in drinking water, and control toxic air pollutants.”
On May 22 the Senate voted 55-45 to table this restoration of money to environmental agencies. The LCV lists the vote of every senator. All the Democrats voted to restore the budget cut except Howell Heflin (Alabama), Sam Nunn (Georgia), and Robert Kerrey (Nebraska). All the Republicans voted against it except Jim Jeffords (Vermont)
If you’d like to keep tabs on your government, your public lands, and your environment, you can subscribe to GREENlines by calling (202)-789-2844×288 or emailing rfeatherclarknet. For the Endangered Species Coalition bulletins e-mail eicinfoacpacom with “subscribe” as the subject, or fax 202-797-6501. You can contact the League of Conservation Voters by calling (202)785-8683 or faxing (202)835-0491 or e-mailing lcvlcvorg. The LCV web site is at http://www.lcv.org/. And if you want excruciating detail about Congressional bills, hearings, and actions on every kind of issue, the Library of Congress maintains a massive web site called Thomas (after Jefferson) at http://thomas.loc.gov/.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1996