Americans Go 'Lite Green' AFTER 25 YEARS Series: EARTH DAY. One of Three Articles Appearing Today

By Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 18, 1995 | Go to article overview

Americans Go 'Lite Green' AFTER 25 YEARS Series: EARTH DAY. One of Three Articles Appearing Today


Brad Knickerbocker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


ONE of the United States Congress's last acts before taking "spring break" this month was to advance a controversial measure that would change the Clean Water Act.

The bill, which is to come before the full House in a month or so, would ease restrictions on wetlands development and loosen some water-quality standards.

Rep. Bud Shuster (R) of Pennsylvania, the bill's author, accuses the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of "environmental terrorism" in the way it promulgates and enforces regulations. Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, calls this part of "a stealth campaign to undo environmental and health safeguards before the American people know what's happening."

As millions of Americans prepare to celebrate Earth Day next Saturday, the hard-edged rhetoric over this key environmental law (and others, such as the Endangered Species Act) reflects shifting, and in some ways conflicted, public attitudes toward environmental protection.

Emboldened by last November's elections and armed with the Contract With America, Republicans (backed by some Democrats) say it's time to ease the regulatory burden. Using recent public-opinion polls, opponents say most Americans still favor strong environmental protection.

Both seem to be right.

"A strong backlash has developed against environmental regulation as industry, states, and even ordinary citizens have resisted directives they view as intrusive, bureaucratic, and overly protective," says Robert Sussman, former deputy administrator of the EPA.

But in a recent publication of the Environmental Law Institute, Mr. Sussman also writes: "While the public is frustrated with the day-to-day realities of environmental regulation, there is no reason to believe it has rejected environmental values or ceased to support strong environmental goals."

A new survey of polling data by Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and Everett Ladd of the University of Connecticut confirms this view. While the public remains deeply committed to environmental protection, these researchers find, it sees the problem as less urgent than before. And 53 percent, according to a Yankelovich poll taken last January, think it best to slow the rate of spending on environmental protection.

In essence, write Ms. Bowman and Mr. Ladd in a report released yesterday, Americans have become "lite green." Despite this recent trend in public attitudes, Bowman stressed in an interview, "the commitment {to environmental protection} remains deep across class and demographic lines."

The explosion of grass-roots groups to defend communities from pollution or the destruction of some part of nature -- often drawing people who don't necessarily think of themselves as environmentalists -- is a clear indicator of this commitment. In 1980, Lois Gibbs, the housewife who blew the whistle on toxic waste at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, N.Y., organized the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste. Based in Falls Church, Va., the group provides training for local groups concerned about chemical plants, radioactive sites, and other toxic waste sources. …

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