As environmentalists put together today's 31st anniversary of Earth Day, they are a victim of their own success - basically accomplishing what they set out to do three decades ago: Making the public sensitive to environmental concerns, cleaning up the nation's air and water and preserving much of nature's natural beauty.
Cars spew less pollutants, jets use less fuel and forest land is expanding. To be sure, there's always more to be done. Keeping the Earth clean is like housework, it never quite gets all done.
Even so, the environmental movement has fallen on hard times. Its primary cause celebre now is global warming - an unproven theory that the ice caps will melt and radically change the Earth's environment. The change will quite possibly endanger the existence of humans and other species unless, of course, we do right now what the Greenie zealots tell us to do.
Global warming gets a lot of play in academia and the elite media, but for most Americans its Draconian remedies are seen less as an environmental benefit than as a threat to the economy. They're right. President Bush would be nuts to listen to the Greenies.
With their goals largely achieved, and the public unmoved by global warming, what was formerly a non-partisan environmental movement is now evolving into a partisan political campaign aimed at aiding Democrats and hurting Republicans.
Many Earth Day celebrations today will be demonizing President Bush for, among other things, rejecting the Kyoto accord on global warming, delaying proposed arsenic standards, weakening the Endangered Species Act, and seeking to open some federal lands to energy development.
What the critics don't say is that the U.S. Senate voted 95-0 against Kyoto when President Clinton submitted it and only one nation has ratified it anyway. Bush is being realistic to scrap it. The Clinton administration called off the Endangered Species enforcement dogs well before Bush arrived. They were getting to be too expensive and wildly unrealistic.
The worst rap on Bush is the arsenic standards. It has become a signature issue that Democrats hope to run and win on next year. The misinformation campaigners say Bush OK'd adding arsenic to the nation's drinking water. In truth, he's keeping the same level of arsenic that existed until President Clinton lowered it just as he left office.
It was a purely partisan political act designed to embarrass Bush and it has worked wonderfully, enabling Democrats and Greenies to define him as the enemy of a healthy environment. Never mind that if he'd let the Clinton arsenic regulations stand countless communities, including some in our own area, would go broke trying to reach the unrealistic standards.
More recently Bush has endorsed some of Clinton's last-minute regulations. One extends Environmental Protection Agency authority to construction and excavation in wetland areas that might result in harmful discharges and another expands the businesses that must report toxic lead emissions from their operations.
This is not an anti-environment administration; it is one that is trying to preserve realistic environmental regulations while getting rid of the unrealistic ones. In short, the president is just doing what he's supposed to be doing.
But you can bet that won't be the message at many Earth Day celebrations.
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