Conservation and Conservatism: Not at Odds Environmental Laws Have Boosted Regional Economies in the US

Article excerpt

AT the conclusion of the first session of the 104th Congress, House Speaker Newt Gingrich chastened fellow Republicans for "mishandling the environment." Reluctant to cede the environment as a campaign issue to Democrats, Republican pollsters and the House leadership scrambled to recommend that members plant trees, visit zoos, and hold environment appreciation days. When all is said and done, however, proposals before Congress weaken the Clean Water Act, eliminate enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, exempt logging and grazing on public lands from oversight, and diminish other environmental laws.

As the fall political season moves into full-swing, incumbents and would-be politicians should remember three facts.

Environmental protection spurs economic prosperity. Many predicted that protection of salmon and the northern spotted owl would render a "new Appalachia" of Oregon and Washington. Today they lead the region's economic growth. A recent report by 34 independent economists indicates that the Northwest's economy outperforms the rest of the country. They found that from 1988 to 1994 personal income in the Northwest grew 2.2 times the national average. Real per capita income improved more than two times faster than the national average, as did employment. The report notes that Boeing, PACCAR (a trucking company), and Microsoft, which account for more than 50 percent of Washington's exports, "would just as easily be located in Iowa or Alabama, as in Washington." But the quality of the environment draws employers to the region, proving, the report concludes, "a healthy environment is a major stimulus for a healthy economy." Environmental protection laws work. Considerable evidence demonstrates the efficacy of conservation statutes. Once urban rivers such as the Potomac in Washington, D.C., were little more than sewers. Today, some of the finest bass fishing in the East is found in the shadow of the Washington Monument. In the 1970s pollution problems abounded in parts of the Great Lakes. Today, anglers ply Lake Erie for trophy walleye while the city of Cleveland reaps the benefits of waterfront development. Countless other communities have benefited from improved water quality since the Clean Water Act passed in 1972. Critics claim the Endangered Species Act puts a few rare species ahead of thousands of potential jobs. The facts tell a different story. Of nearly 97,000 projects on federal land reviewed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service between 1987 and 1992, only 54 were terminated because of potential harm to endangered species. Meanwhile, the nation's symbol, the bald eagle, has recovered from the brink of extinction. Dozens of native plant and animal species are stabilized or recovering because of the act's protection. Equally important, landowners are protecting species before federal intervention is required. For example, the Georgia-Pacific Company voluntarily manages thousands of acres of private timber land to protect rare red-cockaded woodpeckers. …