Air Date: Week of June 7, 1996
Commentator Jonathan Adler remarks on the Republican party's recent waffling on its environmental position.
CURWOOD: Ever since the presidential campaign season began, the Republican party has been trying to reposition itself on the environment. Leaders in the House of Representatives have been working especially hard to make the party look more moderate on green issue. But that doesn't impress commentator Jonathan Adler.
ADLER: Recently, News Gingrich and some of his colleagues stood on Roosevelt Island in the Potomac to announce a new set of Republican principles on the environment. Only, they aren't very new. It sounds like the GOP is trying to embrace the rhetoric of its opponents in an attempt to regain political momentum. It will not work. Offering a moderated version of the conventional agenda will gain Republicans little credit in environmental circles. No matter how hard they try they will never out-spend or out-regulate the Democrats. Efforts to "me too" the issue will look lukewarm and insincere. And why should any self-respecting environmentalist vote for a half-hearted green when they can vote for the real thing?
Republicans need an environmental message. But to be successful, it has to be one of their own. In 1994 they showed they understood the frustrations of those who must comply with America's environmental laws. Now they must prove they understand the aspirations of those who wish to safeguard the environment. Republicans must articulate an environmental vision that rejects Federal bureaucracies and embraces the principles of free enterprise and limited government. Most importantly, the GOP must demonstrate that allegiance to these principles does not pose an environmental threat.
As most experts recognize, there is a strong environmental case against the status quo. But Republicans have failed to make it. Emphasizing economic costs pits environmental protection against corporate profits, a debate that is difficult to win and obscures what is really at stake. It may be unreasonable that cleaning a Superfund site costs many millions of dollars. But the true outrage is that the 15-year-old program is doing little, if anything, to clean up the environment. And it is frustrating economic redevelopment in poor communities. Current hazardous waste regulations and endangered species protections often create perverse incentives that increase waste production and the destruction of wildlife habitat. Challenging this state of affairs is not anti-environment.
Large majorities of Americans embrace both the need for strong environmental protection and a limited government agenda. The challenge to would-be reformers is to bridge this gap. Thus far, the Republicans have not been up to the job.
CURWOOD: Jonathan Adler is director of Environmental Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and author of Environmentalism at the Crossroads.
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