WASHINGTON -- How the gods do play upon the poor soul who is known to us all as Al Gore. On the day Boy Clinton was impeached they sent him out on the White House lawn to laud The Groper as "one of our greatest presidents." In Campaign 2000, they cast him as the Poor Loser. Ever since he has been wandering the land looking for a friend and intoning preposterosities even more absurd than when he wrote his green classic, "Earth in the Balance." There he predicted that all the automobiles in America would soon be parked curbside while Americans squeezed into public transportation and enjoyed the ride. Now he champions the windmill over fossil fuel, no matter how many whooping cranes are slaughtered by the whirling blades. He is Don Quixote turned upside down.
What did the rude gods do to him this time? They forced him to cancel a speech scheduled for New Orleans where he planned to blame global warming for the hurricane season. You can be sure that when Hurricane Katrina scotched his appearance in New Orleans, Al, ever the opportunist, saw this idiotic speech as a splendid opportunity to summon the attention of the nation. Of a sudden Al would be the man of the moment. He might yet become president -- a Green in the White House.
So where did Al choose to deliver this critical compendium of misjudgments, hyperbole and error? On Sept. 9 he spoke in San Francisco, where he said "The warnings about global warming have been extremely clear for a long time. We are facing a global climate crisis. It is deepening. We are entering a period of consequences." And he urged that "the leaders of our country be held accountable" for the flooding of New Orleans. Unfortunately he was addressing the Sierra Club, which was not the best place to bring up the flooding of New Orleans.
The very day he spoke a congressional task force reported that the levees that failed in New Orleans would have been raised higher and strengthened in 1996 by the Army Corps of Engineers were it not for a lawsuit filed by environmentalists led by who else but the Sierra Club. Among those "leaders of our country" to "be held accountable" for the flooding of New Orleans, would Al include the Sierra Club? How about the Save the Wetlands stalwarts? According to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times, a 1977 lawsuit filed by Save the Wetlands stopped a congressionally-funded plan to protect New Orleans with a "massive hurricane barrier." A judge found that New Orleans' hurricane barrier would have to wait until the Army Corps of Engineers filed a better environmental-impact statement.
Now, because those who would have improved hurricane protection in New Orleans were prevented by the environmentalist rigorists, the wetlands are polluted and imperiled and New Orleans has suffered the damage that practical minds have been trying to prevent for three decades. What has thwarted them are the Al Gores of the environmental movement and a well-intentioned piece of legislation that has become a major stumbling block to improving the nation's infrastructure and energy production, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA). The legislation might have been sensible at the time but it has grown like a bureaucratic cancer. Environmentalist lawyers have expanded its reach until it now entoils practically any construction done by the federal government in red tape that stops projects large and small, some mere pork barrel expense, some critical to the safety of the citizenry.
The congressional task force that exposed the Sierra Club's mischief in New Orleans was convened in April to study the costs of NEPA and suggest means to reform it. Doubtless members of the task force -- it includes 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats -- will find some valuable contributions to the environment that it has made. But the task force and Hurricane Katrina have already revealed that it is in need of serious reform. For too long environmentalist fanatics with no sense of a broad-based commonweal have had a veto over government projects and projects in the private sector that are essential to the health and well-being of millions of Americans. Cost-benefit analyses and free-market treatment of pollution are but two alternatives the task force should consider over the decades-long environmental policy of "just say no."