GOP Avoiding the Green Debate

By Alston Chase

Since the start of the primary season and Republican presidential hopefuls left the snows of New Hampshire for greener pastures in the South and West, one potential campaign issue remained conspicuous by its absence: the environment.

The GOP candidates avoided environmental debate like toxic waste. This silence starkly contrasts with the sound and fury that accompanied the opening of Congress a year ago, when young Turk congressmen loudly promised radical restructuring of pollution and preservation laws.
In one short year, the party has been transformed from a lion to a lamb, from confident bully bossing greens about to craven sissy, fearing them.

This is because, by making noise, Republicans woke the green dragon. Just as England experienced its finest hour after its disastrous defeat by the Germans at Dunkirk, so environmentalism is most effective when its back is against the wall. Like the movement’s archenemy, Rush Limbaugh, it fairs best in opposition. It requires adversity to sustain momentum. And Republicans provided this adversity.

When Democrats are in power and people feel the environment is “safe,” activist groups suffer declines in money and membership. But when conservative Republicans gain the upper hand, raising public anxieties that capitalists will rape the Earth, green groups grow like gangbusters.

That’s why Ronald Reagan’s presidency spurred the greatest expansion in the history of environmentalism. And that’s why the relatively green years of the Bush and Clinton administrations have been a period when the movement’s membership and revenues declined.

But the Republican landslide of 1994 has turned the tide again. By winning control of Congress- and promising to restructure pollution and preservation laws, the party strengthened the movement. Rather than offering carefully wrought alternatives designed to better sustain the environment, the GOP instead made a series of ad hoc proposals intended to protect property rights and save jobs. To many, this appeared a cave-in to special interests.

Environmental advocates quickly exploited this opening. Groups such as the National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club, supported by megabuck foundations, launched a well-funded, sophisticated campaign warning Americans that “the new majority in Congress is teaming up with the special interests to roll back 25 years of environmental progress.

These activists made the GOP look like the Grinch who stole Christmas. Backed by growing public support, they thwarted or stalled many of the party’s legislative plans. And they garnered support from some of its strongest constituents, including big business and perhaps even the Christian right.

To attract the business community, several environmental groups now emphasize “incentive-based” conservation. Meanwhile, many major corporations are already closet greens, giving the movement millions each year. Many also benefit from environmental regulations. Federal safety requirements help Detroit automakers by reducing competition from European manufacturers. The ban of the CFC refrigerants in response to the ozone-depletion scare has given one chemical company a monopoly on their substitute.

Likewise, federal reductions on timber harvests benefit multinational wood products corporations. By reducing timber supplies, these regulations raise the value of the big companies’ vast holdings while simultaneously eliminating competition from small mills that purchase timber from the government.

And business may not be the only Republican constituency going green. In late January, a group calling itself the Evangelical Environmental Network, claiming to represent 1,000 churches, announced that the Endangered Species Act was the “Noah’s ark of our day” and that “Congress and special interests are trying to sink it.”

This group has already distributed thousands of “creation care” packets urging Christians to organize “Noah congregations. Now, it is launching a million-dollar media campaign against congressional proposals that it fears would weaken safeguards for endangered species.

This may signal that conservative Christians have become born-again greens, or it may, as a spokesman for Congressman Richard Pombo put it, merely mean the Network is “a phony front for environmental extremists.” This latter interpretation is supported by reports that the evangelical’s media campaign is funded by a prominent advocacy group, the Environmental Information Center.

But whether this campaign represents a genuine ground swell of Christian concern or not, the mere threat of evangelical’s going green has Republicans running scared. Already, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, after meeting privately with Network leaders, has indicated his party is rethinking its environmental platform.

Thus, Republicans are poised to blow yet more opportunities for environmental reform and electoral victory. Having first been too aggressive, they are now too timid. By backing down, they concede the field of debate to Clinton and the Democrats, who will know how to use this against them in November.


EDITOR’S Comment:
This article was published in Speak Up America on June 15th 1996. It could have also been published next week because the same thing is happening again, except for Donald Trump. He needs our help and to help you must have knowledge. Please spread the word, cut and paste this article, Tweet it, do everything in your power to stop the Liberal Green movement.