GOP Has Little Success in Reform of Environmental Laws: Green Activists Say Republicans Put Lives at Risk

By Larson, Ruth | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 22, 1996 | Go to article overview

GOP Has Little Success in Reform of Environmental Laws: Green Activists Say Republicans Put Lives at Risk


Larson, Ruth, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The Republicans came to power with ambitious goals to roll back environmental laws that they contend stifle economic development, but Earth Day 1996 finds most of those aspirations unfulfilled.

"The GOP came in breathing fire, intent on scaling back the environmental regulatory juggernaut. One year later, it hasn't really worked too well," said John Shanahan, environmental policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

A report card on Republican environmental initiatives would likely receive a grade of "incomplete," since reforms of the major environmental laws remain bogged down in the legislative process.

Still, environmental activists remain wary of Republican plans, and continue to sound apocalyptic alarms.

"This is the worst Congress on the environment since Earth Day 1970," said Daniel J. Weiss, political director for the Sierra Club. "They want to take us back to the bad old days, when companies can put anything they want in the air or water, and nobody can stop them."

Adam Thierer, a Heritage fellow in economics, argues that Republicans have allowed themselves to be thrown on the defensive by such charges from the environmental community.

"Liberals and the environmental community frame the issue as one of hurting cleanups and putting lives at risk. The Republicans answered, `Jobs and money.' Well, if you pit jobs and money against lives, you lose the debate. It's that simple."

Peter Kelley, communications director of the Environmental Information Center, noted that Republicans are set to vote on a package of environmental bills this week, many of them involving wildlife refuges around the country, as well as fisheries management and rechargeable battery recycling.

"They're settling for window-dressing instead of substance. For example, they're voting on battery recycling, but at the same time, they're trying to roll back the Safe Drinking Water Act," Mr. Kelley charged.

"They're trying to look good on Earth Day, yet bills to dismantle existing environmental regulations are still moving through the system," he said.

House Commerce Committee spokesman Mike Collins disagreed. By reforming the Safe Drinking Water Act, for example, "our goal is to enhance safety by giving EPA the flexibility they need to target resources on the most dangerous contaminants, and the ones most likely to be present. Right now, the EPA is on a regulatory treadmill."

John Czwartacki, spokesman for the House Republican Conference, said Republicans should be proud of their environmental record, despite environmentalists' warnings.

"Their press releases would have you believe we're about to pave over Planet Earth, but they're in the business of raising money and scaring people, and they've come up with a convenient bogeyman, namely, Republicans."

But even some Republicans concede the party is vulnerable to charges of environmental extremism. Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert, New York Republican, told The Washington Times, "The speaker [Newt Gingrich of Georgia] and whip [Tom DeLay of Texas] have both acknowledged that they didn't handle environmental issues in the best way."

Mr. Boehlert, who has led efforts to moderate some environmental reforms in the House, said the November 1994 elections showed that Americans wanted a smaller, less costly, and more efficient government. …

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