After years of mounting pollution across the American landscape, Congress enacted ambitious environmental legislation, particularly throughout the 1970s. Ensuing decades, however, brought torpid federal environmental policy. Conservationists became especially anxious as a duo of oil company executives became president and vice president in 2001. Their fears of an anti-environmental administration appeared warranted as energy industry executives and legislators with poor environmental voting records were nominated to key posts in the Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency. Soon, hundreds of environmental regulations and laws were relaxed or eliminated by the Bush administration. In some cases, Congress tried to restore environmental protection legislation.
This study attempts to gauge the ecological mood of the electorate as reflected by the success of green incumbent candidates in the Congressional elections of 2002. While a majority of Americans support the concept of environmental protection, results were mixed. A majority of Congressional incumbents considered advocates of environmental protection were re-elected, yet nearly all members with poor ecological records (extensively outnumbering the champions) were also returned to office, indicating that other factors (i.e., incumbency, party, region, endorsements, campaign resources) are more significant in explaining the outcome of the 2002 midterm election. One might imagine that with a Republican majority in Congress, powerful industry influence, and notable, albeit, tenuous presidential popularity, the early years of the new millennium will not witness robust environmental protection policy.
The Environmental Legacy
During the Nixon administration (1969-1974), Congress, backed by strong public support, recognized the need to protect an environment rapidly under assault by disasters such as the Santa Barbara oil spill and the Cuyahoga River fire. President Richard M. Nixon, generally not regarded as a champion of environmental protection, responded by establishing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the steady bureaucratic stewardship of its first director, William Ruckelshaus. In fact, the 1970s would witness the enactment of some of the most protective legislation that established a legacy for environmental protection. In 1970, Congress, in response to the National Environmental Protection Act, created the Council on Environmental Quality. The council served as an advisory agency to analyze the impact of various projects affecting sensitive areas of the environment. That same year, the Clean Air Act authorized the EPA to identify air pollutants that cause a health threat, and to establish auto and factory emission standards. The Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 stiffened anti-water pollution laws and, in 1975, included wetlands protection. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 authorized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate endangered species for federal protection and to regulate areas of "critical habitat." The Toxic Standards Control Act of 1976 directed the EPA to define hazardous wastes and toxic substances and to establish standards for their release into the atmosphere. Later, President Jimmy Carter, concerned over mounting toxic wastes in the environment, signed into law the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act which authorized the EPA to oversee solid and industrial waste removal as well as recycling efforts. In 1980, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Act established the "Superfund" for cleaning up old toxic and hazardous waste sites. The EPA would oversee the cleanup of the sites, placing some 1,200 on its National Priority List. (1)
During the ensuing decades, there were many attempts in both the legislative and executive branch to roll back a variety of environmental protections. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan, recalcitrant against enacting rigorous environmental policy, ordered the removal of former President Carter's White House solar panels. …