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Barbarians at the Gate
A small picket line at a local congressional office ordinarily does not attract media attention. But when fifty environmentalists, fishermen, and citizens gathered at the Hudson Valley headquarters of Republican congresswoman Sue Kelly on July 17, 1995, the day before there were to be two critical House votes on bills that would gut the Clean Water Act and slash EPA funding, the New York Times, Gannett, two weekly newspapers, a cable television station, and two radio stations chose to cover the event. It was the first time in memory that a Hudson Valley congressional representative had been singled out as an enemy of the environment.
During her 1994 campaign, candidate Kelly had portrayed herself as a staunch environmentalist a prerequisite in a district that had produced environmental leaders such as Hamilton Fish, Jr., Richard Ottinger, and Ogden Reid. She pledged to uphold that tradition and to support increased penalties for polluters and the strengthening of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. Her aggressive environmental posture helped win her the primary endorsement of the New York State League of Conservation Voters and the race to replace the popular Republican Congressman Hamilton Fish, Jr. Yet after only seven months in office, Kelly had earned the enmity of both local and national environmentalists for her slavish support of the 104th Congress' program to dismantle twenty-five years of environmental law. She had received an approval rating of only 18 percent from the Washington-based League of Conservation Voters.
At the demonstration, the press wanted to know how an environmental hotbed like the Hudson River Valley had produced such an anti-environmental renegade. John Cronin explained, "To understand Sue Kelly, you need look no farther than her model, Newt Gingrich."
A Sierra Club member from 1984 to 1990, Newt Gingrich started his congressional career with an environmental platform, fighting for a tougher Clean Air Act, and calling acid rain legislation "the next most important issue" after banishing South African apartheid. All the while Gingrich was quietly curing favor with well-heeled polluters back home. He finally abandoned environmentalism in 1990 for the warm embrace of the New Right, its money, and its powerful corporate friends, and began schooling a new generation of Republicans in ideological warfare and fund-raising. Armed with Gingrich's leadership and large infusions of industry cash, they staged a historic takeover of the House and prepared to do industry bidding with a recklessness that was breathtaking.
The environment was the first loyalty test for the members of the realigned House of Representatives, and Sue Kelly had quickly caved to the pressure, industry money helped make this the most anti-environmental Congress in history. Without once mentioning the word explicitly, Gingrich's Contract with America took aim at the environment with a legislative program that would strip the nation of most of its federal environmental protections.
Gingrich's majority whip, Tom DeLay, was a former pesticide salesman who branded the EPA "the Gestapo of Government." DeLay identified the Endangered Species Act as the second greatest threat to Texas after illegal aliens and called for the lifting of the ban on mirex and DDT, which he labeled "safe as aspirin." Gingrich chose DeLay as the revolution's chief of environmental policy and assigned him the task of drafting and managing the Contract's environmental provisions. DeLay invited a group of 350 lobbyists representing some of America's biggest polluters to collaborate with him in drafting legislation to dismantle federal health, safety, and environmental laws. Their initial barrage was a stealth attack a series of "supermandates" concealed in the Contract, each designed to eviscerate whole bodies of environmental law without debate.
One of these, the Takings Bill, purported to protect property rights but masked an initiative giving constitutional protection to the right to pollute. It required environmental agencies to use federal tax dollars to pay polluters and landowners to comply with the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and federal wetlands laws. Another, the Unfunded Mandates Bill, ostensibly protected states and localities from being bullied by Washington legislators. Actually it erected new procedural hurdles to prevent Congress from creating national environmental standards such as those regulating contaminants in municipal drinking water supplies and reducing fish kills at power plants. An amendment that would have exempted laws that protected children's health was handily defeated.
The worst of DeLay's bills was the so-called Regulatory Reform Bill, which, under the pretense of encouraging smaller government, employed a complex legal mechanism to give polluters veto power over all health and environmental laws, and established new bureaucracy and technical requirements designed to tie federal agencies in knots.
Far from streamlining government, these laws were intended to paralyze it. They were driven by industry money and by the 104th Congress' virulent, mindless antigovernment fever. After every item in Congress' stealth attack against the environment passed the House within the first one hundred days, congressional bomb throwers unveiled their direct assault.
Legislators invited their favorite industry lobbyists to rewrite key environmental statutes, including the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. Congressman Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, sponsored a reauthorization of the Clean Water Act written by lobbyists for the chemical, food, metal finishing, petroleum, strip mining, and paper industries that was promptly dubbed the Dirty Water Bill. Shuster's bill relaxed restrictions on dumping sewage and toxins into our nation's waters, weakened regulations of fish kills by power plants, removed as much as 80 percent of the nation's wetlands from federal protection, and required that the government pay landowners to protect the rest.
Don Young's Extinction Bill rewrote the Endangered Species Act to allow species to go extinct unless their current economic value exceeded the financial benefit of destroying them. The Superfund rewrite removed the central requirement that polluters pay to clean up after themselves, putting the burden instead upon taxpayers. Legislation by James Hansen of Utah created a Parks Closing Commission that would have put three hundred national parks on the auction block to the highest bidder from the timber, oil, or mineral industry. In April, the Republicans forced Clinton to sign the Timber Salvage Bill (by attaching it as a rider to legislation providing vital relief to the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing and the L.A. riots), reopening the National Forests to 1950s-style clear-cutting. Gingrich's majority leader Dick Armey promised to "close down the Environmental Protection Agency" and slashed the EPA's fiscal year 1996 budget by 34 percent, a cut that would leave the agency structure in place but all its personnel gone or paralyzed.
Big polluters drafted over a hundred bills designed to dramatically weaken or eliminate environmental laws and attached them as riders to the budget bills. The EPA Appropriations Bill became a wish list for corporate polluters, and the Interior Department Appropriations Bill became a natural resources bazaar for western timber, oil, and cattle barons where the public trust was dispensed at bargain-basement prices. The freshmen threatened to shut down the government if Clinton refused to sign them.
Dan Shaefer of Colorado, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, defended the new drafting method for its efficiency: "We go to industry and we ask industry, 'What is it we can do to make your job easier and to help you in this competitive world we have?' rather than writing legislation and having industry comment on what we write."
The 104th Congress was swinging a sledgehammer at a cornerstone of contemporary American democracy and undermining the most extraordinary body of environmental law in the world. Instead of empowering the citizenry through regulatory reform, the Gingrich revolution sought to remove power from local communities and deliver it to corporate board rooms. Emboldened by the brazen new Congress, states raced to undo environmental protection laws and regulations passed by previous legislatures. In the Hudson Valley, virtually all environmental enforcement ceased as the state regulatory agency reacted to the federal trends. In the midst of the New York City watershed negotiations, we watched the EPA's resolve to protect drinking water collapse as the agency reacted to the battering it was taking in Washington. The EPA became a piñata for upstate development interests, doling out gifts of compromised water quality at every blow. With the rapidity of a California-to-New York red-eye, anti-environmental forces across the nation pulled together a massive legislative agenda virtually overnight.
The juggernaut appeared unstoppable. National environmental groups considered the transformation of the Hudson Valley's most secure pro-environment congressional seat into an anti-environmental vote a harbinger of worse things to come. To many it looked like the age of environmentalism was over. Even our oldest friends in Congress would not take our calls. Newspapers, mesmerized by the social aspects of Newt's revolution, considered the environmental issue an abstraction. Some environmental groups were folding their tents and talking about how we had to abandon health and safety standards for a "free market system" as they watched twenty-five years of legislative work crumble in one hundred days. One national environmental leader called Bobby to announce he was going to quit his job. "They are tough and well funded," he said, "and they're winning."
Gingrich claimed that his vision simply gave voice to the majority of Americans who wanted the federal government off their backs. But the Gingrich vision and the anti-environmental agenda of the 104th Congress had in fact been written by a decades-old coalition of industry attorneys, public relations geniuses, and scientific hacks who had been waiting for this moment in the sun ever since their ignominious defeat at the hands of a mild-mannered but indomitable marine biologist named Rachel Carson.
Without living long enough to hear it proclaimed, Rachel Carson came to be regarded as the mother of the contemporary environmental movement. It is doubtful the modest scientist would have accepted the accolade. But she would have been the first to recognize that the very same interests that had attacked her 1962 book, Silent Spring, were the first link in an unbroken chain that led to the architects of the 104th Congress.
With the publication of Silent Spring, Carson riveted America's attention on the coming age of environmental horrors. Following World War II the Department of Agriculture and a robust young chemical industry were promoting DDT, the chemical that promised America the unchallenged position as food supplier to the world. With meticulous scholarship, Carson showed Americans how pesticides were exterminating their songbirds, waterfowl, raptors, and game fish, killing their domestic animals with monotonous regularity, and threatening humans with cancer and sterility. She realized that her conclusions would threaten the core financial interests of a powerful $300 million industry with strong governmental allies. Anticipating possible criticism for inaccuracy, she carefully checked and rechecked every fact, assuring that each statement had at least three references. Carson asked sixteen experts to review the text and comment on it prior to publication. She provided fifty-five pages of notes and cited specific authorities throughout the book for the various propositions.
Nonetheless, as soon as the New Yorker magazine published the first of a three-part prepublication condensation of Silent Spring in June 1962, the chemical industry mounted a deliberate and expensive public relations attack designed to destroy Carson's credibility. The Monsanto Company, a major chemical manufacturer of pesticides and PCBs, threatened to sue Carson and her publishers if the book was released, and implicated her in a communist plot to cripple American agriculture.
Other chemical companies threatened to withhold advertising from garden magazines and weekly supplements should they publish favorable reviews of Silent Spring. The industry invested millions in public relations, which paid off in supportive articles from the mainstream press including the New York Times, Time, Sports Illustrated, and Reader's Digest. The American Medical Association, one of the targets of the industry barrage, criticized Carson's book as "a serious threat to the continued supply of wholesome nutritious food..." and urged its members to contact the pesticide industry if their patients had any safety questions.
Despite these attacks, the book was a popular sensation, selling 100,000 copies by December and climbing to the top of the best-seller list where it remained for a record eighty-six weeks. Carson, dying of cancer, largely let the attacks go unanswered, gratified by the public support of many internationally known scientists.
Carson's final dramatic vindication came in a report prepared by President Kennedy's Scientific Advisory Committee, which had spent eight arduous months investigating the facts of Silent Spring. The report condemned the USDA and chemical industry scientists and recommended that the government eliminate the use of persistent toxic pesticides. The report endorsed all the principal findings of Carson's book and closed with praise for its author.
By the end of 1963, forty states had introduced pesticide legislation. But Carson's book did not just expose the dangers of toxic chemicals. It questioned the unrestrained control of the national environment by special interests, who were abetted by government allies, and ignited the generation of activists who founded the environmental movement and celebrated the first Earth Day.
The message of Earth Day resounded with the same democratic principles Carson had expressed in her final public appearance seven years earlier when she testified before Congress. With the knowledge of her impending death from cancer, she urged the committee to consider what she termed "a much neglected problem, that of the right of the citizen to be secure in his own home against the intrusion of poisons applied by other persons. I speak not as a lawyer," she said, "but as a biologist and as a human being, but I strongly feel that this is or should be one of the basic human rights."
The notion of environmental protection as a basic human right represented a greater threat to industry than the banning of DDT. For those industries benefiting heavily from environmental subsidies or reliant on pollution, environmental regulation represented a genuine threat to their profit margins. Many of these concluded that the best return on investment was not in retooling their plants, retraining workers, or research and development but by investing it in political clout to thwart the application of environmental laws.
By funneling huge sums of money to compliant politicians, the pesticide industry evaded regulation of its deadly products by having its political foot soldiers insert a "cost-benefit" analysis provision in the federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodentide Act (FIFRA). This provision made it next to impossible for the EPA to remove a pesticide from the market. In the thirty-some years since Carson's book was written, only sixteen of six hundred chemical pesticides used on foods have been removed. Today we use ten times the amount of pesticides that we did at the time when Rachel Carson died.
The pesticide industry wasn't alone with the incentive and capacity to manipulate the political process to advantage. Over the coming years, similarly affected industries lumber, coal, power, tobacco, mineral, oil, and automobile would pay hundreds of millions of dollars in direct political contributions to industry-friendly candidates, industry lawyers, public relations geniuses, and trade associations to promote their antiregulatory political agenda. These investments played a key role in creating the advent of the 104th Congress.
The techniques used by the pesticide industry in their attempt to discredit Rachel Carson have been refined and widely employed to advance industry's anti-environmental agenda. The pioneer of corporate public relations campaigning has been the tobacco industry. In 1958, the public relations firm Hill and Knowlton helped create the Tobacco Institute, which today is a $20-million-a-year effort that has successfully shielded an industry that kills 10 percent of its customers from regulations that might interfere with corporate profit taking. Other industries also employ PR firms to promote stories portraying environmentalists as hysterical and antihuman or driven by sinister socialist agendas, and to argue that environmental protection will cost jobs and destroy the economy. They create phony think tanks and front organizations and retain crackpot scientists to persuade the public that global threats from overpopulation, ozone layer depletion, pesticides, depleted fisheries, or global warming are illusory.
By 1990, according to PR Watch, U.S. businesses were spending an estimated $500 million on hiring the services of anti-environmental PR professionals and "greenwashing" their corporate image. That number doubled to $1 billion by 1995. That year, the top fifteen firms took in $100 million in environmental PR.
Among the most successful greenwash consultants is E. Bruce Harrison who, in 1962, at age thirty, served as the pesticide industry's "manager for environmental information" charged with orchestrating the smear campaign against Rachel Carson and Silent Spring. Harrison, now the president of his own company, has written a book on greenwashing: Going Green: How to Communicate Your Company's Environmental Commitment, which uses corporatespeak to teach polluters how to use scientific misinformation, emotional appeals, front groups, and mailings; how to recruit doctors and scientists; how to create grassroots groups to serve as "objective" third parties in the battle to defend corporate profit making.
Harrison's company does $6 million worth of annual greenwashing for the likes of Coors, Clorox, R. J. Reynolds, Vista Chemical, Uniroyal and General Motors, Dow Chemical, Union Carbide, Monsanto, Laidlaw Waste Systems, Ford, and AT&T.
Probably the best-known greenwasher is Burson-Marsteller, which took in nearly $18 million in 1993 on its environmental PR projects. Burson-Marsteller (B-M), the world's largest PR firm, made its bones whitewashing Argentina's "dirty war," Ceausescu's murderous Romanian regime, and South Korea's human rights abuses. Exxon and Union Carbide hired B-M to "greenwash" the Valdez spill and the deadly Bhopal chemical explosions, respectively. In 1990 Bobby battled the company in Quebec, where B-M is pushing Hydro-Quebec's efforts to drown the largest wilderness area in eastern North America, and two years later on Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia, where B-M's client, MacMillan Bloedel, is cutting the earth's largest intact coastal temperate rain forest against the wishes of Indian owners. In Clayoquot Sound, B-M has helped to create phony grassroots groups on behalf of the Canadian timber industry to persuade the public that old-growth harvesting is sustainable and that the government should deregulate the industry.
A prime tactic of each of these firms is to discredit environmentalists who oppose the client's interests. In 1994 Bobby gave a speech to Canadian forestry activists and NRDC members in New York City on forest protection in British Columbia. Two public relations officials from B-M's timber industry-funded "grassroots" group attended the speech and then reported a phony version to an industry-friendly reporter. The reporter published the fake statements, critical of Prime Minister Harcourt and the British Columbian people, as if he had attended the speech and provided them to the Vancouver Sun, another Burson-Marsteller client. Before he was even aware of the controversy, Bobby had been officially declared persona non grata by the government of British Columbia.
In August 1991, Greenpeace obtained a revealing memo prepared by Ketchum Public Relations for its client, Clorox Corporation, for dealing with new studies showing that the chlorine derivatives in its household products were highly carcinogenic. Among the tactics recommended by Ketchum to counter anticipated criticism from environmentalists and the press were labeling environmentalists as "terrorists" or "irrational," suing "unalterably green journalists" for slander, enlisting the support of unions to defend Clorox in the name of saving jobs, and dispatching teams of "independent" scientists to serve as "ambassadors" to the media and government officials.
Over the past decade, industry has spent hundreds of millions creating phony groups with deceptive names to carry on lobbying and public relations or to pose as scientists or experts in order to persuade Americans that the environmental crisis is a myth. In 1976, public relations firms created the U.S. Council of Energy Awareness, with a $20 million annual budget paid by the nuclear industry, to promote commercial nuclear power.
The deceptively named Citizens for the Environment (CFE) has no citizen membership but gets its support from a long list of corporate sponsors who use the organization to lobby against the Clean Air Act and all other environmental regulations. The Environmental Conservation Organization is a front group for land developers and other businesses opposed to wetlands regulations. The Evergreen Foundation is a timber-industry front group that tries to promote the idea that clear-cut logging is beneficial to the environment. The National Wetlands Coalition, whose logo features a duck rising off a wetland, is a coalition of oil drillers and large real estate companies opposed to wetlands regulations. Citizens for Sensible Control of Acid Rain is a phony grassroots front opposed to all controls of acid rain. Created by paid public relations consultants for the oil and electric industry, this group was the biggest-spending political lobby in Washington in 1986.
There are hundreds more of these groups. They pop up wherever there is an environmental controversy. In 1992 Riverkeeper was forced to trademark the "Keeper" name because it became so attractive to polluters organizing phony grassroots groups. For example, the upper Delaware Riverkeeper was organized by real estate developers in the Catskill region with the stated purpose to fight water quality regulations on the upper Delaware. More recently, the notorious polluter Con Edison tried to create a "Bronx Riverkeeper" as a corporate mouthpiece.
Using these front groups, industry bombards Americans with a steady stream of propaganda on radio and television talk shows, editorial pages, and hard-news outlets, while keeping both audiences and news reporters ignorant about the true source of the misinformation. Most Americans are shocked to learn that the famous "America the Beautiful" television ads that ran during the 1970s and 1980s featuring an American Indian shedding a tear over a littered street was a critical element of a stealth campaign to derail Bottle Bill legislation in the United States. "America the Beautiful" is a corporate front group of the aluminum and glass industry that was able to use its nonprofit status to garner over $550 million in free air time at taxpayer expense. The weeping Indian ad was meant to shift the guilt about pollution from the bottling industry to the consumer.
Most of these front groups are letterhead organizations with no membership, but in some cases the industries have organized a kind of hybrid grassroots organization that relies on paid professional organizers and a large flow of dollars.
The tobacco industry, which kills 400,000 of its customers annually in America alone, can claim credit for perfecting the use of grassroots front groups. The National Smokers Alliance, created by Burson-Marsteller with millions of Philip Morris dollars, has become the model for corporate grassroots campaigning. The alliance uses full-page newspaper ads, direct telemarketing, paid canvassers, free 800 numbers, and newsletters to bring thousands of smokers into its ranks each week. By 1995, the NSA claimed a membership of three million smokers. The campaign's game is to rile up and mobilize a committed cadre of foot soldiers in a grassroots political operation directed by Burson-Marsteller to produce the illusion of broad public interest and participation opposed to tobacco regulations.
The tobacco industry's success has helped make "Astro Turf organizing" an industry unto itself. Dozens of PR firms specialize in organizing "grassroots" support for the oil, chemical, and extractive industries and for big mall developers. "Company employees usually form the core of any Astro Turf environmental group," James Lindheim, Burson-Marsteller's director of public affairs, told Joyce Nelson of Chemistry and Industry magazine in 1989. "Don't forget, the chemical industry has many friends and allies that can be mobilized...employees, shareholders, and retirees. Give them the song sheets and let them help industry carry the tune."
Industry fronts adopted the tactics that authentic grassroots groups developed during the 1970s telephone, fax, and letter-writing campaigns; research reports, public testimony, lobbying, forming political coalitions. They also use advertising, press releases, public testimony, bogus surveys, and public opinion polls, and generally disseminate disinformation to the press and hate-radio jocks. They use telemarketing techniques that, for the right price, can flood a congressional office with thousands of phony "constituent" letters and telegrams: in a single day. These groups not only deceive the public and some politicians but also support certain politicians who want to do industry's bidding and need "grassroots support" for political cover.
Beginning in the late 1980s, industry money and a cadre of professional grassroots organizers and charismatic leaders from the radical right helped create a hybridized grassroots movement that would help industry take over Congress and make naked anti-environmentalism politically acceptable even in the Hudson Valley.
The new movement found its roots in the American West where stockmen, large farmers, and mining and timber companies have dominated the political landscape for over a century. Western historians call them "boomers." Teddy Roosevelt called them "land grabbers." Today they are known as "welfare cowboys."
The boomers grew fat exploiting subsidized water and grasslands originally made available to their forebears by a federal government eager to encourage western pioneering. They cut timber below cost and dug minerals for free at great loss to U.S. taxpayers.
They made billions each year denuding National Forest lands, turning public lands into desert, sucking salmon streams dry, robbing our nation's mineral wealth and leaving behind thousands of miles of polluted streams and great expanses of wilderness poisoned with deadly mine wastes. The boomers converted their federally subsidized economic sucCess into a political power base that maintained their System of socialism for the rich. The unfortunate workers employed in these destructive industries became the frightened armies of their movement.
In 1976, the Carter administration adopted legislation requiring federal land managers to start granting equal priority to all uses of federal lands including those that compete with grazing and mineral extraction. At the same time, hunters, hikers, and fly fishermen began taking an increased interest in desert land. Their subsidies threatened, boomers declared that these federal land policies amounted to a "war on the West." Wealthy ranchers and miners demanded greater access to public lands for grazing, logging, and mining. The cattlemen and timber companies who started what came to be known as the Sagebrush Rebellion were largely successful because they managed to broaden their constituency with an antiregulatory, antilabor, and anti-environmental rhetoric that had great appeal in certain western communities where hostility to government and dependence on federal subsidies are deeply rooted. They found that with large amounts of money, they could organize this discontent into a political force that would support their continued profit taking.
The first westerner to contribute serious funds was the Colorado brewer Joseph Coors, whose fortune relied heavily on federal natural resources subsidies and pollution-based profits. Coors was one of the largest polluters in Colorado. He cut the initial $250,000 check that opened the right-wing Heritage Foundation, which would help construct the philosophical underpinning of the anti-environmental Wise Use movement. Heritage's function is to produce at lightning speed short, concise policy analyses of fast-breaking issues. These simple position papers go out to thousands of news directors and journalists, congressional offices, public officials, and, more recently, talk-radio jocks. Through clever invocations of patriotism, Christianity, and laissez-faire capitalism, Heritage offers pithy philosophical justification for national policies that promote the narrow interests of a wealthy few.
Not surprisingly, Heritage claims to advocate open markets and property rights, but its agenda is more pro-pollution than anything else. The foundation dismisses global warming, acid rain, and other environmental crises as "benny pennyism." In a recent forum, leading conservatives writing in Heritage's Policy Review urged their followers to "strangle the environmental movement," which they named "the greatest single threat to the American economy." Heritage's prominence as the leading voice for pollution-based prosperity helped it attract giant donations from the automobile, coal, oil, and chemical companies and right-wing foundations that currently contribute $23 million toward its annual funding.
Just as the Heritage Foundation became an imitation of a think tank, Coors founded the Mountain States Legal Foundation in 1976 to mimic the work of public-interest organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, which fought the frontline legal battles for the environmental movement. Funded by major companies such as Phillips Petroleum, Marathon Oil, Amoco, Shell, and Chevron, it filed nuisance suits to block efforts by environmentalist unions and racial minorities that might slow the companies' easy profits.
That alliance between wealthy western extractive industries and a radical right-wing antigovernment element helped Ronald Reagan win the presidency and laid the foundation for building the Wise Use movement. "I am a Sagebrush Rebel," candidate Reagan declared in 1980.
After Reagan's inauguration, the people who had funded the new institutions such as the Heritage Foundation and the Mountain States Legal Foundation found themselves with immeasurable power. Heritage became known as Reagan's "shadow government." Its opus "Mandate for Change" became the blueprint for the Reagan revolution. Joe Coors was one of the most prominent of the right-wing millionaires who now constituted Reagan's "Kitchen Cabinet." Reagan gave them an office in the Executive Office Building directly across from the White House where they set priorities and recruited appointees.
Coors handpicked his Colorado associate Anne Gorsuch Burford to administer the Environmental Protection Agency and her husband, Colorado rancher Chuck Burford, who for years had vowed to destroy the Bureau of Land Management, as head of the BLM. For the post of Secretary of the Interior Coors chose James Watt, president of Mountain States Legal Foundation. Watt was a proponent of "dominion theology," an authoritarian Christian heresy that advocates man's duty to "subdue" nature. His deep faith in laissez-faire capitalism and apocalyptic Christianity led Watt to set about dismantling his department and distributing its assets rather than managing them for future generations. He explained to the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns." Watt believed that environmentalism was a plot to delay energy development and "weaken America," and dismissed environmentalists as "a left-wing cult which seeks to bring down the type of government I believe in." As secretary, Watt sold off public lands and Water and mineral rights at what the General Accounting Office called "fire sale prices."
Similarly, Anne Gorsuch Burford enthusiastically cut the EPA's budget by 60 percent, crippling the agency's ability to enforce the law. She purposely destroyed the Superfund program at its birth, reducing it to a welfare program for industry lawyers. She appointed lobbyists fresh from their hitches with the paper, asbestos, chemical, and oil companies to run each of the principal agency departments. Her chief counsel was an Exxon lawyer; her enforcement chief was from General Motors.
Toward the end of the Reagan era, however, the Sagebrush Rebellion began to collapse under its own internal inconsistencies and unpopularity with the public. Western hunters and fishermen, who had formed the populist base of the rebellion, realized that privatization of federal lands would fence them off from public resources. By 1983, more than a million people had signed a petition demanding Watt's removal. After being forced out of office, he was indicted on twenty-five felony counts. Burford and twenty-three of her cronies were forced to resign from the EPA following a congressional investigation of sweetheart deals with polluters, including Coors. Her first deputy, Rita Lavelle, was jailed.
The indictments and resignations put a temporary damper on the boomers, but they soon recouped in a new iteration, the Wise Use movement, born in August 1988, at a three-day conference at the Nugget Hotel in Reno, Nevada. The meeting's 250 sponsors were a motley assortment of right-wing funders and subsidy-grubbing lobbies: the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's American Freedom Coalition, the NRA, Exxon, Du Pont, Boise Cascade, Louisiana Pacific, the beneficiaries of cheap federal lands (the Farm Bureau, the Cattlemen's Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, and the Idaho Wool Growers Association), James Watt's Mountain States Legal Foundation, Reed Irvine's Accuracy in Media, as well as fifty off-road vehicle (ORV) clubs funded by Japanese manufacturers.
The conference produced a booklet outlining the twenty-five goals that constituted the Wise Use agenda, including proposals to open all wilderness areas and national parks to mineral and energy production; rewrite the Endangered Species Act to remove "nonadaptive species such as the California condor"; make anyone protesting corporate activities liable for civil damages; allow immediate oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and immediate clear-cutting of Alaska's Tongass National Forest; maintain all subsidies to mining companies; transfer control of federal water resources to the states; extend pesticide patents; and grant new rights for industries to sue environmentalists who are blocking corporate activities. In other words, Wise Use meant Corporate Use.
The Reno conference's organizer and Wise Use's principal architect was Ron Arnold, a former public relations director for big lumber. Writing in a lumber industry trade journal several years earlier, Arnold had outlined the strategy that would become the heart of the Reno conference. Industry must "destroy the environmental movement by employing the same activist techniques that have been so devastating in environmentalists' hands." Arnold was convinced that by using industry money and new communications technologies, it was possible to create not just an industry front group of the kind the PR firms were building but a genuine movement that would "orchestrate public hearings, to sue in the courts, to lobby in Congress, to pressure administrations and in general, to out Sierra Club the Sierra Club." This could be done by organizing the thousands of people outside and within industry who have a direct economic stake in eliminating environmental protection.
By using its vast financial resources, Arnold urged, industry could control its destiny in the courts and Congress, actually dictating favorable legislation through its grassroots arms "guided by signals from the forestry industry's professional lobbyists."
After the Reno conference, Wise Use proponents began targeting small communities in the East and West with propaganda that made the environmental movement a convenient scapegoat for rural poverty actually caused by the contractions in the timber, ranching, and extraction industries. Again and again, industry-paid organizers distorted complex economic situations into a simple, yet erroneous, ultimatum jobs versus owls.
Following Reno, hundreds of small Wise Use groups began to pop up across the West. Usually they focused on some local issue protecting development, lumber, mining, or grazing. While a few had genuine grassroots support, most were industry front groups posing as grassroots movements. Though small in number and dependent on constant funding by industry, these "grassroots" groups had a disproportionate impact because of their access to tremendous industry resources, the right wing's network of think tanks, and sympathetic hate-radio jocks like Bob Grant and Rush Limbaugh. They fought to exempt industry from toxics laws, to open wilderness and national parks to clear-cutting and lumber extractions, and to prevent wetlands from being protected. At the same time, they gave industry and politicians the cover they needed to pretend that there is a real national debate over the objectives of the environmental movement.
In the eastern states where rural communities were less accustomed to giant federal handouts, Wise Use groups funded by developers and mall builders discovered their most potent weapon in "private property rights" or "unconstitutional takings" the notion that by passing laws to protect the public, government was stealing private property.
The property rights emphasis represented a key strategic shift for the Wise Use movement. It was, according to Tarso Ramos, executive director of the Western States Center, who monitors Wise Use, "a strategy to move beyond the rural West and find issues that would tap into the larger demographic base in suburban America." In the property rights issue, the Wise Use movement found a way to wrap its agenda in the American flag. Wise Use could now characterize its concerns as a "little guys" issue, by focusing on the protection of the "private property rights of small landowners" building and zoning codes, wetlands laws, and coastal zone and beach erosion statutes.
"As an organizing strategy, takings is a kind of deviant genius," Tarso Ramos said. "It automatically puts environmentalists in the position of defending the federal government and appeals to anyone who has ever had any kind of negative experience with the federal government, which is a hell of a lot of people."
The Wise Use "property rights" strategy found supporters in the Delaware River watershed and the Delaware County section of the New York City watershed. During the New York City watershed negotiations, the watershed towns and their attorneys examined every significant land use issue through this new lens of "property rights." The Builders Institute, a Westchester developer's group, sued to hold up our watershed agreement on the theory that restrictions on pollution represented a "taking" of their property rights. Although such suits were mostly meritless, they had a chilling effect on state and local officials. In December 1994, a popular proposal by Ulster County, New York, residents to declare the Catskill Mountains to be a biosphere reserve suddenly encountered resistance during a hearing conducted by the Ulster County legislature. The proposal was withdrawn when property rights advocates Shouted it down as part of a conspiracy to establish a one-world government known as the New World Order.
The most important vector for carrying the Wise Use property rights movement's anti-environmental agenda into a central plank of the new Republican Party's agenda was the so-called Christian Right.
From its inception the Wise Use movement has been closely linked to a handful of powerful right-wing authoritarian Christian leaders who have brought the anti-environmental movement grassroots support and money, and anointed industry self-interest with a kind of moral legitimacy. For instance, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, which owns the right-wing Washington Times, underwrote the costs of the Reno Conference and provided seed money for dozens of Wise Use groups.
But Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition packaged the most effective attack. Robertson's special contribution to right-wing theology was to substitute environmentalists for communists as the new threat to democracy and Christianity. Robertson's cosmology posits a diabolical role for environmentalists. Robertson believes that an international conspiracy by Jewish bankers and environmentalists, which now controls the United Nations, is poised to impose the New World Order.
In his 1991 best-seller, The New World Order, he vilifies the federal government as an alien nation waging war on the family and disarming America through gun control laws. Environmentalists are the evil priests of a new paganism that will be the official state religion of the New World Order. These ravings would hardly be worth mentioning had they not played such an important role in fueling the ideological underpinnings of the anti-environmental movement and the zealotry of its followers. His aggressive anti-environmental proselytizing has opened the door for Christian extremists and white supremacists from the fringe who enthusiastically adopted the issue for their own purposes. But Robertson has also helped make anti-environmentalism acceptable within the ranks of the fundamentalist clergy and the mainstream of the Republican Party. The Christian Coalition, with 1.7 million members, now dominates the party in eighteen states and enjoys substantial power in fifteen more. Beginning in 1991, Robertson and the Christian Coalition's executive director, Ralph Reed, put their media and organizational clout at the disposal of the Wise Use agenda. While Robertson made anti-environmentalism a principal theme on his Christian Broadcasting Network talk shows, news hours, and documentaries, Reed gave seminars to corporate PR executives, coaching them to use electronic technologies and phony grassroots organizing to foil environmentalists who interfere with corporate profits.
Robertson's brand of paranoia has always had a place in American politics, from the populist movement to Father Coughlin to the John Birch Society. That paranoid tradition has been able to achieve limited political power based upon the intensity of its proponents but until 1994, it was never able to achieve the kind of real power that only comes from money. Suddenly the extractive and chemical industries, their profits threatened by new environmental laws, saw the right wing's anti-environmentalism as a key to continued profitability and donated the funds that sent its candidates to Congress.
While industry made itself an expert at distorting the political process, it also distorted truth at its most fundamental level. Although the scientific paragon strives only for truth, individual scientists are often captured by monied interests. On the Hudson River, from Storm King to Westway, we have seen industry money corrupt talented scientists, and "respectable" consulting firms produce the most outlandish conclusions to justify their client's rapacity. Figures don't lie, the saying goes, but liars figure.
It is therefore not surprising that industry uses the same techniques to corrupt science on a grander scale. Using tricks perfected by the tobacco industry in its successful strategy to shield its product from forty years of scientific bad news, industry and its right-wing allies have produced motley collections of creationists, assorted hired guns, and "biostitutes" to persuade the public that there are no environmental crises.
Phony scientific research in the guise of the Council for Tobacco Research has long shielded tobacco products from the legal prohibitions imposed on other deadly and addictive drugs.
In the late 1980s, "cigarette science" became the corporate public relations strategy of other industries interested in raising phony scientific doubts about a health or environmental threat. Polluting industries and right-wing foundations began investing billions of dollars in phony scientific research. They funded a series of right-wing think tanks that cranked out scientific and economic papers designed to persuade Americans that pesticides are harmless and global warming a myth. These papers have claimed that Mount Pinatubo, not chlorofluorocarbons, caused the ozone hole; caribou "love the pipeline"; trees are the principal cause of air pollution; the Northern California forests are filled with "thousands of spotted owls"; cigarettes don't cause cancer; clear-cutting is good forest management; dioxin is harmless; and overpopulation is not a problem.
Employing the tactics devised by the Heritage Foundation, these think tanks gave business and the Far Right the capacity to circumvent the university system that was the traditional source of scientific research. Industry found that "scientists" came cheaper than lobbyists and began stabling them in Washington think tanks where they concentrated less on science and more on reducing corporate self-interest to palatable platitudes.
Instead of laboring on scientific research, these scientists produce two-page ideologically based briefing papers that are usable by the political system. The "science" is often erroneous and oversimplified, but a congressman can read it on his way to the airport and recite it in a speech. Busy journalists are grateful for the slick, easy-to-understand packaging. "At the shallowest level it's a cheap deception of the general public," says scientist Michael Oppenheimer. "You create high-sounding credentials and talk in tones that seem scientifically sensible while all the time you are just fronting for a political agenda."
One pro-nuke think tank, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, was founded in 1985 purportedly "to protect our fragile environment." C-FACT uses tax-deductible industry money to crank out "scientific" papers opposing garbage recycling, energy conservation, federal air and water quality standards, pesticide control, and efforts to protect the ozone layer; it fights to repeal the Endangered Species Act. These skeptical pronouncements are regularly repeated in the Moon-controlled Washington Times, in the Christian Coalition publications, and in the mainstream media.
Another oft-quoted source of misinformation is the Marshall Institute, which was the most aggressive promoter of Star Wars during the Reagan era and now publishes half-baked papers challenging ozone depletion and global warming. Marshall's seven-man board includes representatives from Lockheed and the Electric Power Research Institute, a research and lobbying arm of the electric power industry. These and dozens of other phony science groups work alongside PR firms to promote their environmental positions with the press and policy makers.
Among the most versatile sources of industry-sponsored counter-science is Fred Singer, a retired University of Virginia professor who makes his living posing as a neutral scientist while spouting pro-industry pronouncements on topics as diverse as whaling and fuel efficiency in automobiles. Singer's Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) receives funding from the western coal industry, Exxon, Shell, ARCO, UNOCAL, Sun Oil, and others Who profit from the burning of fossil fuels. SEPP's goal is to discredit global warming, ozone depletion, and acid rain as politically motivated fantasies. Singer claims that the peril of global warming is a fiction, or, eventually, that it will benefit the planet by increasing agricultural production. Conversely, he argues that environmental regulations "have catastrophic impacts on the world economy, on jobs, standards of living, and health care."
Singer is often quoted in the mainstream press as an expert on ozone depletion. A June 13, 1994, Business Week editorial, based on an interview with Singer, concluded that the chlorofluorocarbon ban resulted from "ozone depletion hysteria" and "speculative theorizing." Business Week identified Singer as "the University of Virginia scientist who invented the satellite ozone monitor" and says that Singer "has noted that no global reduction of ozone levels has been detected."
True, Singer was at the forefront of satellite probe technology during the late 1950s, but a computer search of peer-reviewed journals yields not one article by Singer on the ozone controversy in the last quarter of a century. He does not appear at recognized scientific conferences where ozone depletion is discussed. Instead, Singer publishes his work in pamphlets and press releases for public consumption.
While mainstream scientists publish quietly in peer-reviewed scientific journals like Nature and Science, reaching a tiny number of interested specialists, Mobil Oil pays for Fred Singer to appear on op-ed pages, television programs like Nightline, and before Congress.
Another master of the anti-environmental counterscience movement is Panamanian-born writer Rogelio Maduro, an editor of Lyndon LaRouche's periodical 21st Century and Technology, and coauthor of The Holes in the Ozone Scare, also published by LaRouche. LaRouche is a right-wing paranoid who believes the Queen of England runs the world drug trade and that the KGB in cahoots with Jewish overlords is using environmentalism to achieve a new world order; only LaRouche possesses the genius to avert this disaster. Rogelio Maduro is LaRouche's staff science advisor. He claims that DDT, PCBs, and CFCs are victims of slander concocted by sinister environmental "catastrophists" bent on depriving the world of refrigeration, malarial control, a reliable food supply, and safe electricity in an effort to reduce world population to facilitate the takeover.
Maduro's bizarre and demonstrably erroneous theory that ancient volcanic eruptions, not man-made chemicals, caused the Antarctic ozone hole has made him a darling of the New Right. His theories have been trumpeted by right-wing gurus like the late Dixy Lee Ray and Rush Limbaugh. Maduro's convoluted fantasies are the basis of the environmental chapters in Rush Limbaugh's national best-seller, The Way Things Ought to Be.
Relying on Maduro's ravings, the right wing-dominated Arizona legislature passed a statute in 1995 allowing the manufacture of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons within the state in direct violation of federal laws and the Montreal Protocol, the international agreement to phase out production of ozone-depleting chemicals.
In September 1995, Republican Whip Tom DeLay sponsored a bill that would effectively repeal the Montreal Protocol. A more moderate bill by Representative John Doolittle, a California Republican, would push back the ban from 1997 to the year 2000. Later DeLay, Doolittle, and California Republican Dana Rohrabacher, Chairman of the House Science Committee's Energy and Environment Subcommittee, announced three special hearings on "Scientific Integrity and Public Trust." The ironic purpose of these hearings was to put an end, "once and for all, to faulty science" by environmental advocates.
During one heated exchange about the proposed bill, Indiana Democrat Tim Roemer asked DeLay if he'd read the Executive Summary of the World Meteorological Organization's 1994 assessment of stratospheric ozone science widely considered the most authoritative examination of the ozone problem. DeLay said he had not read the paper. "My assessment is from reading people like Fred Singer," he trumpeted. John Doolittle also cited Fred Singer, who had earlier testified before the committee that policy makers had been "misled or bamboozled" by "twisted" science on ozone depletion. When Doolittle was asked whether his conclusions were based upon any peer-reviewed research, Doolittle replied with a verbatim quote by Rogelio Maduro in a recent article in LaRouche's Intellectual Review, "I do not get caught up in the mumbo-jumbo of peer-reviewed articles."
Thus, mainstream scientific findings about global warming, acid rain, and the ozone hole are attacked by fringe scientists like Singer and Maduro, who are in turn promoted by right-wing hate-radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh or by media hungry for a boxing match, and finally by government officials on the industry payroll. By using scientific "confusionists," the largest corporations on earth, for relatively small amounts of money, can control public perception of the planet. Writing about scientists like Singer in Harper's magazine in December 1995, author Ross Gelbspan observed that "Their dissenting opinions are amplified beyond all proportion through the media while the concerns of the dominant majority of the world's scientific establishment are marginalized. By keeping the discussion focused on whether there is a problem in the first place, they have effectively silenced the debate over what to do about it." They have thus succeeded in creating an impression that scientific understanding is on the same level as political opinion: that one opinion is as valued as the next, and since there is no objective truth, there is no more validity in acting to solve environmental problems than there is in not acting. "I can produce as many scientists who say that there's not global warming as they can produce scientists who say there is," says Rush Limbaugh. Through such efforts, the search for truth devolves into the kind of know-nothingism that characterized the 104th Congress.
At the same time that congressional leaders were glorifying aberrant scientists and parroting the industry line that "more study is needed" before taking legislative action on problems like global warming and toxic pesticides, they were using their budget knives to assure that "more study" would not soon occur. The Republican Congress hastily gutted scientific research budgets in a way that will long erode our country's ability to discern the truth. On October 12, 1995, the House approved a $21.5 billion science budget that explicitly prohibited the EPA from conducting any research on global warming. Congress also cut funding for non-military science by 33 percent, slashing NASA's Earth Observing System program, vital to comprehensive monitoring of the Earth's climate and biosphere, by $332 million.
It also cut designated funding to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which funded seventeen programs at sixty universities to study the impacts of toxic chemicals on human health. And, in an era when the richest U.S. fisheries are being depleted or closed, Congress proposed cutting research on fish populations by 60 percent and eliminated the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's vital research program on zebra mussels, an imported European mussel that has already cost billions in damage to U.S. public water systems and natural habitats and is now threatening the New York City water supply and many others. Congress cut in half its alternative pesticide research program and eliminated the Department of Interior's research divisions including the National Biological Survey, which researches national issues like wildlife migration patterns and wildlife diseases.
Perhaps the most significant cut of all was one that went largely unnoticed by the media or the public. During the last week of September 1995, Congress permanently shut down the Office of Technology Assessment, the research agency founded in 1973 to ensure that congressional decision making was founded on good science. One of Washington's smallest agencies (with a $22 million budget and two hundred employees), it played a pivotal role in many policy debates affecting space programs, the military, medical policy, and the environment. No other organ existed to assist Congress with impartial advice on the many technical and scientific decisions it makes. The message was clear: Congress preferred to get its science from Fred Singer and his press releases. "If you believe in a rational universe, in enlightenment, in knowledge, and in a search for the truth, this Congress is an absolute disaster," one scientist told us.
In 1994, industry's years of investment in political organizations, greenwashing, front groups, think tanks, and phony science paid off by laying the groundwork for the most anti-environmental Congress in the nation's history. We watched, almost helplessly, as twenty-five years of environmental legislation was eviscerated by industry's champions on Capitol Hill. The new Congress avoided debate on the merits of the bills by rushing them out of committee, concealing them as riders on appropriations bills, or making themselves masters of what Ralph Nader called "the fabricated, phony, incomplete anecdote." It was a trick perfected by the Wise Use movement in its effort to "give anti-environmentalism a human face." Ron Arnold and his followers had learned that by invoking anecdotes about the small landowner, logger, or rancher they endowed corporate self-interest with the moral prestige of victimhood. "They came up with an outrageous anecdote invoking a one-in-a-million problem where some farmer goes to jail because he filled a wetland," Oklahoma congressman Mike Synar told Bobby. "Then they exaggerate it. They convince the public through sincere repetition that this is a national problem." Recognizing the power of the parable, Tom DeLay and his antiregulatory point man Congressman David McIntosh of Indiana bolstered their case for drastic regulatory reform by falsely claiming that OSHA required bricks to be treated as hazardous substances and that the city of Anchorage was required to add fish guts to its sewage effluent because it wasn't "dirty" enough under federal regulations. The anecdotes were repeated indignantly on the floor and recited in television, radio, and newspaper ads. According to an often-repeated story, dentists were required to confiscate baby teeth as hazardous waste. Outraged congressmen warned that government bureaucrats were out to abolish the Tooth Fairy.
The most potentially devastating anti-environmental legislation passed by the House was the Regulatory Reform Bill. Majority Leader Robert Dole, who was pushing his own version in the Senate as his principal initiative for drumming up industry support during primary season, had hired Kyle McSlarrow, a partner in the law firm of Hunton and Williams, as his chief counsel in drafting the bill and ushering it through Orrin Hatch's Judiciary Committee. Hunton and Williams was the principal lobbying firm for the oil, chemical, mineral, and power industries. We frequently faced them in litigation against Mobil Oil and the electric utilities on the Hudson. The House version of Regulatory Reform, which passed on February 7 as part of the Contract with America, gave industry veto power over all future environmental laws. Hunton and Williams' Senate version was even worse. It made current environmental legislation unenforceable and explicitly gave industry immunity from investigation and prosecution for violations of all health and safety laws. The legislative loopholes that Hunton and Williams drafted for their clients were so arcane and complex that Orrin Hatch's Republican committee staffers, charged with managing the bill, were unable to explain the provisions to minority counsel. At the Senate markup, the committee was forced to call in three senior partners from Hunton and Williams to explain the bill to the minority staff Phil Weich, Senator Kennedy's chief of staff, led a walkout from the session. Beginning on January 6, Hunton and Williams senior partner Turner Smith sent out lobbying solicitations to polluters across America promising a "quiet behind-the-scenes intervention" in drafting special antiregulatory provisions. Georgia Pacific, the nation's largest wood products processor, arranged to insert a special provision designed to kill an ongoing Justice Department prosecution for Clean Air Act violations at twenty-six of its paper plants. The company's counsel told the New York Times that putting the exceptions in the legislation "was easier, quicker, and cheaper than litigating."
The bill was worth billions to regulated industry. The oil and chemical industries were salivating over a provision that repealed laws requiring employers to protect workers exposed to toxic material at the workplace. Among the bill's staunchest supporters were tobacco companies, which were fighting new regulations intended to curtail teenage smoking. The Dole bill also pleased meat and poultry industry lobbyists by blocking the Agriculture Department Safety Inspector system designed to keep deadly E-coli bacteria out of the nation's meat supply.
Under the direction of attorney Kyle McSlarrow, the industry groups mounted a campaign of similar intensity to the one that drove Regulatory Reform through the House in February. The Senate's Democratic leadership seemed to collapse under the barrage of phone calls and industry pressure.
It was clear that the bill would easily pass on a floor vote, but President Clinton had promised to veto and environmentalists thought they might have the forty votes needed to sustain a filibuster if Democratic leadership took on the issue. By midwinter Bobby was making regular trips to Washington, D.C., on behalf of Riverkeeper and the NRDC to lobby political leaders to oppose the environmental rollback in early spring. Minority Leader Tom Daschle told Bobby, "We know this is a bad bill, but that's not what we're hearing from our constituents. If you want us to stand up to it, you've got to get some [constituent] activity going. We can't do anything unless you get out your troops." Our troops, however, were in disarray. We were running in front of the congressional steamrollers and being crushed. Even our most dynamic leadership was in despair. Surveying the damage, NRDC Executive Director John Adams commented, "They are young and mean and powerful, and everything they believe is exactly the opposite of what I believe. It's two different Americas. And they are rolling over us."
During the first votes on Newt Gingrich's Contract with America only a handful of Democrats remained loyal to environmentalism. Even when the Clean Water Act was gutted, Democratic stalwarts like Barney Frank voted with the Republicans. "Clinton moved to the right," John Adams recalled. "He signed the Timber Salvage and Unfunded Mandates. For a time there waslust no sign for hope or rescue."
Our allies became pariahs in the House. Republican Sherry Boehlert, a confirmed environmentalist from New York's Adirondack Region, found himself enduring derisive comments from his radical colleagues as he worked the House floor. Even John Kasich, the most moderate and thoughtful House leader, dismissed Boehlert as irrelevant because of his environmentalism. "Sherry is not one of the accepted Republicans," he told Bobby.
The newspapers and press were, if not cheering Gingrich on, simply ignoring the issue. Environmentalists had been successfully painted as radicals and were generally ready to accept defeat. Some national leaders talked about disposing of our environmental laws and starting from scratch. The national groups had lost touch with their grassroots membership and revenues had been dropping for years.
Meanwhile, Republican after Republican rose to extol the virtues of the Regulatory Reform Bill. When Paul Simon asked for an opportunity to speak against the bill, the Senate leadership told him, "We can't get you floor time." With stalwarts like Simon unable to take the floor, the moderates like Bob Kerrey, Chuck Robb, Jay Rockefeller, and Kent Conrad, whom we counted on to support a filibuster, were wavering. During spring recess in Palm Beach, Teddy Kennedy told Bobby that the bill was a fait accompli.
On May 31, 1995, Pat Robertson's 700 Club sent out a fact sheet to all Capitol Hill Republicans that took note of environmentalists' statements that Congress was dismantling the bulwark of America's environmental laws and answered the charges with the simple quote from Genesis 1:28: "And God blessed them; and God said to them, fill the earth, and subdue it."
At that point, environmentalists were still shell-shocked and only beginning to regroup. Twenty-six national environmental and health groups had organized under the NRDC's John Adams as the Green Group. The new group's secret weapon was Gregg Wetstone, who lost his congressional post as environmental committee counsel during the January purge and moved to the NRDC where he began putting together coalitions and nailing down a strategy for the counterattack. A group of foundation and individual funders led by Pew charitable trusts had given them $3 million to educate the public about the congressional attack on environmental laws. The environmental coalition started producing fact sheets to counter industry lies and phony science. Bobby joined the Sierra Club, the NRDC, and others in visiting editorial boards and selling them on our issue. Bobby began a whirlwind tour, speaking to over fifty thousand people in eighty cities and towns to inform Americans about the assault on their environmental rights. We strongly believed that were the American people aware of Congress's assault on environmental protection, they would rise up against it.
Bobby continued his regular trips to Washington to meet with Senate and House leaders and White House officials in an effort to help derail the rollback of environmental protections. In each meeting he related the plight of the Hudson's commercial fishermen, who had lost hundreds of jobs from the kind of pollution that would revisit the Hudson Valley if the Regulatory Reform Bill was enacted. In virtually every one of his meetings, it was this story of the fishermen that convinced the senators and congressmen to pause and listen. The Republican House had so successfully used "victim of the system" anecdotes to cast environmentalists as unfeeling bureaucrats and environmental groups as "just another inside-the-Beltway special-interest" that many of the politicians had forgotten that environmental pollution has very real human victims and that environmental laws are meant to protect people. Bobby's affiliation with the fishermen gave him a special standing to demand a response from political leaders. In other words, the fishermen gave environmentalism its human face.
On the local level, Riverkeeper shifted easily to guerrilla warfare, sounding the alarm on our home ground and mounting local campaigns against Sue Kelly. We called her office, sent letters, and denounced her vote at our Spring Shad Fest, an annual convocation of over one thousand Hudson Valley environmentalists and political leaders, which she and Governor Pataki attended. Hudson Valley environmentalists, including Scenic Hudson and Clearwater, also sent a deluge of faxes to local papers and picketed Kelly's offices. Bobby and Westchester County's other congresswoman, Democrat Nita Lowey, held a press conference condemning Kelly's votes. When she voted for Bud Shuster's Dirty Water Bill, and called her environmental critics "extremists" in a letter to the editor of the Putnam Courier, the formidable Hudson Valley environmental community was outraged. Over Memorial Day recess, Sue Kelly rushed back to the district to soothe her angry constituents. At a series of packed meetings across Westchester and Putnam Counties, Kelly tried to explain her vote on the Dirty Water Bill to seething constituents. When we appeared at one of her informal "meetings" and complained about the devastating effect of her votes on fishermen and the water supply, Kelly kicked us out. Our expulsion caused a firestorm of protest and more negative stories in the Hudson Valley press.
The buzz among political insiders was that Kelly's anti-environmental stand would cost her reelection. When Kelly sought to establish an environmental advisory committee, John Cronin, Larry Rockefeller of the NRDC, and Tensie Whelan of the New York State League of Conservation Voters refused to serve and released their rebukes to the local media. The League of Conservation Voters had strongly endorsed Kelly's candidacy the previous autumn. Now Whelan equally strongly denounced the freshman congresswoman, saying, "She has not lived up to her promises."
Kelly got the message. After voting wrong on the first six environmental bills, she voted right on the next ten. Gregg Wetstone saw her on CNN and called us to thank us for turning her around: "Your congresswoman is now a great environmentalist," he said. "It's like she had a brain transplant. She sounded like an NRDC board member." In early October 1995, the New York Times ran an article on the remarkable transformation of Sue Kelly. It was our first glimpse of the potential for victory.
We were delighted to find that we weren't alone all over New England and the Pacific Northwest, local environmentalists had gathered from their disarray to organize, punish, and persuade congressional members over recess. Finally the media began to cover the story. The New York Times published a front-page article on March 31, 1995, detailing how industry had been allowed to write the Dole bill. Isolated articles and editorials began to appear in the Washington Post and other papers. The New York Times and Washington Post ran a series of investigative reports and editorials exposing how federal environmental statutes were all being rewritten by regulated industries.
When Dole called for a vote on the Regulatory Reform Bill on July 17, he failed to mobilize the sixty votes necessary to end debate. Seven votes shy, Dole pulled the bill from the floor to give himself time to find a compromise.
The final vote was on Thursday, July 20, 1995. A last-minute change of heart by influential Senator Chuck Robb gave environmentalists forty-two votes, just enough to thwart Republican efforts to end a filibuster. But Robb and Dole were scrambling frantically to engineer a compromise.
Cartoonist Garry Trudeau administered the coup de grace, devoting the first week of August to a hilarious lampooning of Dole's bill in his Doonesbury cartoon. The cartoon depicted Dole's Senate packed with industry and tobacco lobbyists drafting legislation. By the week's end the strips were being passed around the cloakroom by nervous senators. "The bill is dead, you guys killed it, and Doonesbury is burying it for you," Senator Kennedy reported to Bobby in a call from the Senate cloakroom on August 9.
Beginning with the Doonesbury strips the national press began waking up to the industry takeover on Capitol Hill. The mainstream press raised the specter of an E-coli epidemic. Now Dole's bill was nationally criticized as part of an industry drive to repeal rules protecting Americans from contaminated meat and dirty air and water. The president, sensing a political home run, publicly condemned the bill by saying that it would assure "more tragedies like what happened to Eric Muller," the California boy who died after eating an infested hamburger. Dole's positive numbers dropped six points during the debate as the senator was portrayed in Doonesbury and in op-ed press across the country as leading the charge to dismantle environmental protection and sidetrack rules that would protect Americans from contaminated meat. Our victory over the Dole bill turned the tide in the battle. The press began to scrutinize a legislative process that had been hidden in the smoke-filled corridors. For the first time since November, the public began to understand that its environmental rights were being stolen. Bad press derailed the Dirty Water Bill and the Superfund rewrite as well as Don Young's Extinction Bill.
Western hook-and-bullet types, regarded by Republican congressmen as core adherents of the Wise Use agenda, bridled at the giveaways of public lands and moneys to the welfare robber barons. Alaskan fishermen flew to Washington to successfully block Senator Frank Murkowski's bill to clear-cut the Tongass National Forest. On October 18, Ron Moody, president of the Southeastern Montana Sportsmen's Association, called on hunters and anglers in Montana to rise up and say "no way" to legislation cosponsored by Montana's Senator Conrad Burns to transfer Bureau of Land Management lands to the states.
By December, Tom DeLay was openly admitting that the Republican leadership had miscalculated in their environmental assault. "I'll be real straight with you," he told the Wall Street Journal. "We have lost the debate on the environment. I can count votes."
On October 18, a widely read Time/CNN poll showed the American public firmly opposed to the Republican's environmental agenda: 63 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of Independents, and 61 percent of Democrats opposed weakening of environmental laws.
The polling was no surprise to the poll-savvy House leadership. As early as March 1995 Gingrich's pollster, Frank Luntz, had found almost identical numbers. "I've warned my clients that they are not in the mainstream when it comes to the environment," Luntz told Bobby during a candid moment following a debate. "Americans want regulatory reform, but if you mess with their air or water, God help you. They feel that clean air and water are inalienable rights."
On November 2, 1995, in the "environmental vote of the year," the House, in open revolt against Gingrich and DeLay, voted to strip the seventeen anti-environmental riders from the EPA appropriations bill 227-194, with 63 Republicans voting in favor.
The win was a stunning demonstration that environmentalists could once again mobilize the grassroots quickly. The Sierra Club, U.S. PIRG, and the Green Group delivered eighty-five mail sacks to political leaders on Capitol Hill the day before the vote. Altogether they generated one million signatures by Americans demanding back their environmental rights. The defeat, Gingrich's first on a major bill, shocked Republican leadership. One in four Republicans voted against it. A badly shaken John Kasich, an Ohio Republican, told USA Today that Republicans needed "a whole reassessment of what we are doing on the environment."
By January, the tide had turned completely. A poll that month by Republican pollster Linda Divall found that 55 percent of Republicans no longer trusted their party to protect the environment. Thirty Republican moderates publicly attacked Gingrich for a year of "missteps" on the environmental issue that they said "hurt the people and the party." It was the first open rebuke of the Speaker from within his own party. President Clinton, an inveterate poll watcher, saved his only harsh words in an otherwise conciliatory State of the Union Address for the Republican attack on the environment. The president recognized the enormous advantage that the Republicans had handed him and claimed environmentalism as a central element of his presidential campaign.
The environmental movement was once again a vibrant grassroots campaign. When the Washington State legislature approved a "takings" bill, environmentalists quickly mobilized to get the initiative on the ballot and then motivated Washington voters to reject it two to one. A week after the State of the Union, Oregon congressman Ron Wyden ratcheted the environmental issue into an election victory for Bob Packwood's abandoned U.S. Senate seat. Wyden, who won by twenty thousand votes credited his victory to his strong environmental stands. The Sierra Club alone turned out fifty thousand voters to the polls.
Contributions and membership subscriptions to the national environmental groups were soaring. By February, eighty-five thousand new members had joined the NRDC, mobilized by anger at the Republicans. For the first time since the 1970s, the nationals were firmly in touch with local people and their concerns.
But even as we were celebrating, the seeds of future battles were germinating. Minutes of a December 12, 1995, strategy session of American Petroleum Institute lobbyists, one of the masterminds of the regulatory strategy, recorded senior staff agreeing that "there will be another Regulatory Reform fight in 1997. Industry will want relief again...but this time the industry needs new spokesmen and new strategy."
They blamed the "extremely anti-environmental" radical Republicans for being too open in "seeking a general rollback of environmental regulations" and in their efforts "to abolish EPA." They concluded that industry made a mistake in betting all its money on the radicals. "The Republicans are too easy to shoot down as serving special industry interests when they argue for changes in environmental policy. Corporate welfare is a continuing 'running sore' for the Republicans." The minutes contain repeated observations that industry itself is a poor spokesperson for industry because it is not trusted.
The memo concludes that industry must develop new spokesmen to lead the regulatory reform battle: a trusted business leader, a New England Republican moderate, a religious leader, or perhaps a local environmental leader who could "bypass the national organizations." Al Moore, the API secretary, observes that new leaders "should say that they are not cutting the EPA budget to harm the environment. They are cutting because EPA is wasting money and catering to special interests like the ethanol lobby," or say that the changes in the regulations are "necessary to maintain effectiveness." They should employ antiregulatory anecdote. "Industry should humanize stories about people hurt or unemployed by regulation....We need horror stories to say that we cannot afford such a foolish system."
The petroleum institute's stealth strategy was quickly adopted by the chastened-but-not-changed 105th Congress to disguise a new round of anti-environmental mischief.
A March 1997 memo, "Citizens for a Sound Economy," advised lobbyists and the new Congress to push "efficiency" but not "cost-benefit analysis," a phrase that might remind voters of the "traditional relationship that exists between the GOP and business." Recalling the regulatory reform debacle, the right-wing think tank urged that the better pitch is not "reform...it is modernizing"; and don't attack "extremist" environmentalists, says the memo, but "be nonthreatening." Anti-environmental legislators were quick to integrate the advice. Speaking to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association on March 20, 1997, Senator Larry Craig of Idaho a Wise Use icon warned fellow Republicans against talking about "changing or reforming" environmental regulations because most Americans believe such regulations have improved the country. Craig said he had "adjusted [his] own vocabulary" to employ more palatable terms like "modernizing and improving" when he tries to sell anti-environmentalism to the public.
By May 1997, environmentalists were once again fighting pitched battles in the House and Senate against anti-environmental Republicans seeking to roll back the Endangered Species Act and Superfund and promoting a "Pave the Parks" rider that would have deregulated road construction on all federal land. As of this book's publication, environmentalists are battling a Frankenstein-like regulatory reform bill patched together from the moribund pieces of the Dole/Gingrich bill.
Anti-environmental radicals like Helen Chenoweth and Billy Tauzin mounted a series of ferocious personal attacks on Republican moderates, especially Sherry Boehlert, who crossed them by opposing an insidious slashing of the Endangered Species Act that the Republicans attached to an emergency funding bill for flood victims in the Dakotas and California_Republican Don Young, chair of the House Resource Committee publicly threatened retribution against the moderates and promised to oppose any positive environmental legislation that might reach the House floor. Speaker Gingrich sided with the anti-environmentalists, telling Capitol Hill reporters that he would make moderate Republican Boehlert "irrelevant to GOP environmental policy."
We were discouraged by these reminders that this was a battle that would never end; our enemy would return after each defeat in a new guise.
At the same time we were heartened by our own strength. In early March, when the Cattlemen's Beef Association ran newspaper ads suggesting that cattle grazing helps preserve clean waterways, leaders of the American Fisheries Association, the Bass Anglers Sportsman's Society (BASS), the Izaak Walton League, and Trout Unlimited jointly released a public rebuke asking the cattlemen to "listen to the better angels of their nature" and to "put more effort into good works as opposed to public relations." An industry-funded poll in March 1997 showed the highest percentage of Americans ever 79 percent believed the environmental laws should be maintained or made stronger. We could count on a solid core of 54 Republican moderates and 172 Democrats on every environmental floor vote. And most importantly, the links between the national groups and the local groups is stronger than ever and the hunters and fishermen are back where they ought to be, among the strongest supporters of the environmental agenda.
Copyright © 1997 by John Cronin and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.