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As elections approach, the public can expect a chameleon-like phenomenon - politicians who rarely favor environmental legislation transforming themselves into environmental candidates. ``Something we see more and more often are candidates with poor environmental records spending campaign time and resources to tell the public they are good on the environment,'' says Reid Wilson, political director of the Sierra Club.

``Greenscam'' is what others have dubbed this activity.

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Though the term has been applied to campaigns in either party, environmentalists have been on alert since President Bush bandied affection for the environment so effectively in 1988. Republicans have thus come in for special scrutiny.

``If the Republicans run people not committed to the environment ... I'll be there saying `here's a greenscam,' '' says Jim Maddy, executive director of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). Mr. Maddy, whose organization compiles a score card of voting on environmental bills, recommends checking voting records since ``everybody is an environmentalist these days.''

One of several greenscams Mr. Wilson cites was a TV ad run by GOP Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott in his 1988 campaign. It featured Mr. Lott canoeing down a stretch of river he worked years earlier to designate wild and scenic.

Yet Lott has ``one of the worst [environmental] records in congress,'' Wilson says. The LCV score card for 1989 gives Lott a 10 percent rating.

A Lott spokesman rebuts the charge, saying the LCV system is flawed. Lott, in a statement, said he is ``puzzled'' by the rating.

``We must strike a balance in protecting the environment and keeping the economy growing,'' Lott said.

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