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. …