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The Planet

Calling All Activists:

'Green Group' Leaders Speak Out on Takings

The Planet, July 1994, Volume 1, number 1

The chief executive officers of the nation's largest environmental organizations have joined in "an urgent appeal for political action" to thwart the takings campaign.

The leaders are calling on their combined memberships--totaling millions of citizens--to ask President Clinton and Congress to stop what they term "an all-out effort to weaken our most important environmental laws."

In addition to takings, they cite two related threats:

  • "Cost benefit" and "risk analysis" measures, which would force government agencies to weigh the value of environmental safeguards in narrow monetary terms, and
  • "Unfunded mandate" measures, which would prohibit enforcement of federal environmental laws unless Congress paid for all state and local costs of implementation.

The Planet asked Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, one of those making the appeal, to assess the current political climate.

Q: You and your colleagues quote congressman Don Edwards, who was first elected in 1963, calling this "as deep a crisis as any in all the years I 've spent in Congress. "Are things ready that bad ?

CP: The political crisis is far worse than the press is telling the public. Congress is seriously considering rolling back far more of the environmental reforms of the past 30 years than Reagan, Watt and (then-EPA chief Anne) Burford were ever able to lay their hands on. It's perfectly plausible that by the end of the next Congress, virtually none of our major environmental statutes will be left intact.

Q: What's behind this crisis? Anti-environmental backlash? Erosion of public support for environmental protection ?

CP: Neither. The other side has figured out that as much as Americans may love the environment, they hate government even more. Since government action is essential to environmental protection, they're attacking government in the name of takings, unfunded mandates, risk assessment. This attack--unlike the Reagan counter-revolution--provokes little public outcry because it's seen as an attack on government and not the environment.

Q: You don't hear much about "takings" or the so-called "wise use" movement in the mainstream media. Why not?

CP: The press has decided the environment is no longer very newsworthy, and that to the extent it still is, it should be covered in a new way--by giving proponents of pollution just as much credence as opponents.

Q: Why does Congress seem so eager to bend to anti-environmental pressure?

CP: There are too few members left whose political consciences were formed before the campaign-finance arms race began in 1976. We're outnumbered. Whatever the personal views of the new members of Congress, most have no memory of a time when politicians represented ideas or constituencies. Their only knowledge is of a politics in which they represent checkbooks.

Q: How can environmentalists fight a back, then ?

CP: I believe our response to this crisis is Clear. We must refocus the public debate on the anti-environmental objectives d those who cloak themselves in anti-government rhetoric. We must carry out this battle with the public and media in our own communities; regional and local media are far more open to our message than the national press. We're doing very well at beating these bills at the state level, and we need to start holding mayors and governors accountable for their efforts to undo national environmental laws. Finally, we must consistently drive home our message and mobilize our members.

This is a fight the Sierra Club is well-equipped to lead--and to win. But it's crucial that we recognize its urgency and the obstacles we face in beating back the threat.

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