Politically Confused

by Carolyn Chase


ust when I think I've seen or heard it "all," something comes along that makes me guffaw out loud at the state of human political affairs. This latest revelation came in the form of an email clipping making reference to: "The Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists." Now there, I thought, is a group that has something for everyone in San Diego to be against.

Are the rest of us any less politically confused? What about the voting public-at-large? What are we collectively for? Is there anything other than trivia or crisis that everyone can rally behind?

What can we work toward that's not so utopian as to be ridiculous, but deals seriously with the infrastructure and politics needed to deal with the impacts of growth? Does anyone really believe that the initiative process is the best way to deal with the complex issues of land use and planning for growth? What kind of leadership is required to deal with integrating economic, social and environmental concerns? When will the environment really be integrated as real litmus test for politicians?

A Roper Report survey reported that overwhelming majorities of Americans envision the "expected problems" of the future to be environmental. The top concern of those surveyed was severe air and water pollution, with the next four problems on the list also having to do with the environment.

While polls say that a vast majority of Americans are "environmentalists," this has not translated into environmental friendly politics nor much real environmental political leadership from either major party. We need lessons in ecological economics, but we need candid political leadership on the choices ahead even more.

The question of who is really an environmentalist-politician is not an easy one and there are too few contenders. The League of Conservation Voters tracks key votes in Congress, and the Sierra Club evaluates candidates and initiatives at local, state and national levels. But you can find divergence in these endorsements as well.

We are not exactly living in an age of "environmental politics." Environmental politics for the most part is missing. And it's missing that it's missing. The environment, as a litmus test of politicians and political acts doesn't often come into play seriously. Other things are perceived as closer to home, specifically, the economy , crime and education take precedence - except in times of crisis when we finally figure out we have to do something. It seems too much to ask, either the American people, or their politicians, to integrate all of these vital areas. Instead we are in an era of ideological warfare and denial about our responsibilities.

The fact of the matter is that the environment should not be a partisan issue. But it has turned into one. Governor Pete Wilson left office on a wave of vetoes of 26 environmentally friendly bills negotiated and passed by both the Republican majority Senate and the Democratic majority Assembly.

He struck down measures both large and small and often added petty comments:

AB 1368 (Villaraigosa) -- The Carl Moyer Memorial Air Quality Standards
Attainment Program. Would have established a grant program for funding
the purchase of low-emission, heavy-duty engines and the retrofit of
existing engines. Co-sponsored by the Sierra Club, this bill was part of a
bipartisan package extensively negotiated among environmentalists, truckers and clean air agencies.

AB 278 (Escutia) -- The Children's Environmental Health Protection Act.
Co-sponsored by the Sierra Club, this bill would have required review and,
if necessary, revision of air quality standards to protect infants and children.

PW: "California laws, regulations and administrative practices
appropriately focus on sensitive populations. Despite the rhetoric
surrounding this bill, rarely do children and infants fit that definition."

AB 2432 -- Would have required energy-efficiency measures and
green building standards in the construction of state buildings.

SB 1363 - Would have authorized the Department of Fish and
Game to work with fishers, marine scientists and other stakeholders to
establish a voluntary onboard observation program.

AB 2404 -- The Sea Life Conservation Act. Would have
required the study and reorganization of the state's marine reserves.

SB 1875 -- Would have required the Metropolitan Water District
to increase its emphasis on sustainable conservation, recycling and
groundwater storage and replenishment measures, and to submit an annual
report on its water conservation activities.

AB 2339 -- Would have required the regional water boards to
complete the monitoring and surveillance needed to characterize toxic hot
spots and to work with the State Water Board to ensure implementation of
a statewide cleanup plan for identified toxic hot spots.
PW: "AB 2339 represents a step backwards . . . the provision of this
bill that call (sic) for implementation of the final plan 'with all deliberate
speed' could be interpreted to force immediate implementation."

AB 1169 -- Would have required Internet posting of certain
Resources Agency information, including staff reports and meeting agenda.
PW: "This bill would consume considerable taxpayer funds to post on the
Internet, vast numbers of documents of little interest to the public and
already available under the Public Records Act."

As you can tell, from just this short list, this Republican Governor was unable to support even moderate, incentive-based and educational programs negotiated through the gauntlet of the people's legislature. These vetoes don't exactly represent the will of "the people" now do they? I would say they more represent the will of large lobbying groups with connections to the Governor and the interests of future Republican party movers and shakers.

The sad news is the Republican party harbors and empowers the "worst of the worst" of those who have ideological passions against environmental education, standards, and enforcement, even in the face of strong scientific evidence. Especially in Congress, their commitments to individual property rights over the rights of the commons and the general public are zealous and often religious in their fervor. And it's not like these folks are just a part of the Republican majority. They are in positions of power in the Republican majority and use those positions to block all manner of positive policies and to advance the backward-looking subsidies and wishes of the big timber, mining, and waste industries.

Every time I even attempt to address the rampant partisanship in the battlefield of environmental politics, I get unsympathetic letters from Republicans essentially saying - hey, I'm really for conserving the environment - after all I'm a conservative - so give the Republicans a break.

For the record, I was raised in a Republican household but have never been active in any party politics. I am now a registered Green, but as a party, the Greens are dysfunctional (though one could make that observation - to some degree - about all political parties in the U.S.A. today.)

So while I'm culturally sympathetic to Republican ideals for conservation, I'm much more interested in seeing their ideals move beyond mere sentimental lip-service. There are a few Republican environmentalists, but they are marginalized and unable to deal with the ideological loyalties of other parts of the party. To conservation-minded Republicans I say: get your house in order. If you want your party to really be about conservation, you have a lot of work to do.

As for the Democrats, they too have fundamental problems in integrating environmental priorities with other socioeconomic interests. Many Democrats may not understand how to integrate environmental issues with others, but they are at least more willing to listen and learn. To environmentally-minded Democrats I say: get your house in order too. If you want your party to really be about environmental justice, you have a lot of work to do.

With so many issues vying for attention, what will the election be about? To the extent that the Republicans persist in both drawing out the public crucifixion of President Clinton, and manipulating last-minute anti-environmental deals, we might just see an anti-Republican-zealotry vote emerge and regretfully, I have to conclude that at this point in our political evolution this too, would be good for the environment.