" ... Here, the environment is not an issue -- it's an ethic. It's protecting creation." In criticizing President Bush's environmental policy, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made that pronouncement. Echoing a similar theme, a former official with the Wilderness Society of California said, "Many, many people feel almost religious about the environment. It really does touch their inner souls."
Unlike other members of the human species, Republicans neither breathe air, drink water, nor enjoy nature. On the environment, Republican critics believe the party operates under this motto: Capitalism to earth -- drop dead.
Recently, President Bush sought changes to the Endangered Species Act to slow down civil lawsuits aimed at getting animals and plants listed as threatened or endangered. He also sought to rein in the process under which federal regulators, citing environmental concerns, restrict the use of private property.
Even former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt found such changes worth discussing, and chastised the environmentalists for their absolutism, "Environmentalists resist any change, fearful of giving opponents of the Endangered Species Act any openings. But on this matter, they are overreacting. Critical habitat is a problem that ought to be fixed, if not in the manner proposed by the (Clinton) administration."
While the Endangered Species Act sounds noble and just, proponents ignore the law's unintended side effects. Since the government can halt land development, and does not compensate a landowner for "preserving" his land, this creates another problem -- landowners destroying habitats before the government can restrict the land's use. The National Center for Policy Analysis, a non-profit organization seeking private-sector solutions for problems, says, "Even environmentalists are beginning to acknowledge that the ESA may endanger some species by giving people an incentive to engage in what people in the Pacific Northwest call the 'shoot, shovel and shut-up' phenomenon."
But hasn't the Endangered Species Act "worked"? Not according to the National Center for Policy Analysis, which, in 1997, said, "For all of its power, the ESA has not worked well. Of the 1,524 species listed as either endangered or threatened during the ESA's more than 20 years of existence, only 27 had been delisted by the end of 1995. Seven of the 27 had become extinct, eight others had been wrongly listed and the remaining 12 recovered with no help from the ESA. In fact, no species recovery can be definitively traced to the ESA."
What about the flap over arsenic in our drinking water? In the waning days of his administration, President Clinton lowered the permissible amount of arsenic from 50 parts per billion to 10. Bush put it back to 50. The water industry argued that the new Clinton standard required an investment of $600 million per year, plus billions in capital expenses. Whether the water industry exaggerated the cost misses the point. For Clinton's eight years, Americans somehow, some way, struggled with arsenic levels Bush wishes to retain.
What about carbon dioxide emissions? Didn't candidate George W. Bush promise to retain the Clinton-imposed standards? Yes, during the campaign, Bush promised to retain the recently reduced Clinton standard for carbon dioxide emissions. He broke the promise, and now withstands charges of attacking the planet. Again, for most of the Clinton years, the country survived under the new Bush standard. Somehow the planet survived as supporters hailed the Clinton administration's environmental activism.
What about global warming? For people like Congresswoman Pelosi, global warming and impending disaster are simply established facts. But Dr. S. Fred Singer, an atmospheric physicist, who served as the first director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service, says, " ... My personal guess ... is that there is a greenhouse effect and that it is very small in comparison to natural fluctuations of the climate. We don't see this effect yet, but we may notice it in the next century. Even if we do notice it, it will be extremely small and actually inconsequential. It will be an interesting scientific curiosity but it won't be of any practical importance."
Professor Richard Alley serves as chairman of a panel on climate change at the National Academy of Sciences. Alley says, "We are reasonably confident now that a whole lot of the things we have been getting excited about are not (caused by) global warming; we aren't sure what they are."
Ronald Bailey, environmental journalist and author of the book, "Earth Report 2000: Revisiting the True State of the Planet," says, "Environmental groups make a living by scaring people. They say they're merely exposing the terrible truth about the trends; in my opinion, they're misinforming people in order to scare them."
What about private property rights? How much should regulations cost per life saved? Does sound science back regulations supported by the "green" people? Legitimate questions deserve careful thought -- something difficult when people, like Congresswoman Pelosi, feel "almost religious about the environment." Fine. Praise the Lord and pass the sanity.