By Donella Meadows
–January 9, 1997–
Retaining ethically challenged Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House makes little difference to the environment. Much more important were the congressional committee chairmanships handed out last month. Despite Republican assurances to the contrary, those appointments indicate an ongoing disdain for the natural resources of our nation and the people who care about them.
American voters of all ideological stripes want clean air, clean water, public parks, abundant wildlife, and preservation of soils, waters, and forests. We rarely elect folks with such tunnel vision that they can see no value in a landscape unless it is turned into pulp, beef, houses, or hydropower. But there are always a few environmental grinches in Congress.
Check the contributors to those grinches and you’ll see lumber and mining companies, grazing interests, developers. Nearly all grinches are Republicans, but not all Republicans are grinches. In fact, grinches are in the minority, which is why until recently both parties stood behind our environmental laws.
Then came the last Congress, the fighting 104th, in which the newly dominant far-right Republicans placed arch-grinches in charge of the Senate and House committees on natural resources. Last month, despite pleas from environmentalists, those appointments were renewed.
Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska, once and future chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has an impeccable record of voting to weaken the Clean Water Act (several times); to subsidize coal, oil, uranium, grazing, mining, and timber companies; to cut funding for enforcement of environmental regulations; to kill citizens’ right to know what toxic wastes are released in their neighborhoods; to set aside the Endangered Species Act (many times); to … well, the list is way too long to complete here.
Senator Murkowski seems to have two overriding missions. One is to get oil drilling into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which he insists on calling the “Arctic Oil Reserve.” The other is to protect the exclusive right of the Ketchikan Pulp Company, a subsidiary of Louisiana Pacific, to clearcut the Tongass National Forest at taxpayer expense. Last fall Murkowski held up funding for parks in 40 states in order to bargain with the White House to extend Ketchikan’s privilege.
Representative Don Young, re-appointed Chairman of the House Resources Committee, also of Alaska, has a record similar to Murkowski’s and a sharper tongue. Environmental groups like to collect choice Young quotes, such as:
“[When I see a tree,] I see paper to blow your nose.”
“[Environmentalists] are a socialist group of individuals. I’m proud to say that they are my enemy. They are not Americans, never have been Americans, never will be Americans.”
“If you can’t eat it, can’t sleep under it, can’t wear it or make something from it, it’s not worth anything.”
“If I have my way, I’m going to dissolve the Forest Service. They’re in the business of harvesting trees and they’re not harvesting trees, so why have them anymore?”
“The environmentalists — the self-centered bunch, the waffle-stomping, Harvard-graduating, intellectual idiots that don’t understand that they’re leading this country into environmental disaster.”
“We wonder why we have got the Freemen or the militants. We wonder why we have got unrest in this country. It is because our government, in fact, has got out of hand and out of line, with the Endangered Species Act.”
Ignorance, and arrogance like this might be expected occasionally in the Congress. But party leaders should know better than to put the priceless natural resources of our land into the hands of grinches. Over the past two years Murkowski and Young have held biased hearings, brought in industrial lobbyists to write bills, and moved through Congress dozens of destructive measures, most of which President Clinton didn’t sign, some of which he did.
Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently wrote in the New York Times, “Republicans should not allow the fringes of the party to set a radical agenda that no more represents the mainstream of Republicans than environmental extremists represent the mainstream of the Democratic party.” But that’s what Republican leaders (not just Gingrich) have done, again.
The 105th Congress will not repeat the frontal attacks on the environment that proved so unpopular last time. Murkowski and Young will just quietly cut enforcement budgets, exempt their friends’ special projects from environmental laws, weaken citizen power, hang sneaky riders onto unrelated bills, and kill research and data collection so no one will measure the damage.
The only place you will be able to see the damage will be on the land.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1997