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The Environment

THE environmental movement has two "mothers" - esthetics and necessity. The United States in the 1970s became enamored of what was, to many, a fad. Serious environmentalists took advantage of the opportunity to spread their gospel and their warnings.

For this Americans and, indeed, all inhabitants of the planet owe them thanks.

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In the intervening years we should have learned at least two hard lessons: Cultural and economic costs must be accepted if the goal of averting ecological disaster is to be fulfilled, and environmental protection is everybody's duty.

Despite this, environmental preservation and protection is unlikely to be a determining issue in this year's presidential election. It is difficult to focus on spotted owls and fouled streams when Dad has been laid off at the tractor factory and Mom's job as a supermarket cashier falls short of meeting the bills.

But those who care about the environment will continue to seek commitments from office-seekers to support legislation that addresses their concerns.

What drives the environmental debate is, for the most part, the huge appetite of the US - and of the rest of the industrialized world - for energy. The resources that provide that energy are getting too expensive, both in terms of price and in terms of the damage they do to the quality of life for all Earth's inhabitants, human and otherwise.

Voters should weigh the costs and benefits of policies espoused by those seeking office - particularly those seeking the presidency, Bill Clinton and George Bush. As in other areas, the occupant of the White House sets the tone for environmental protection.

It is to be hoped that the candidates for president, as well as other offices, will provide reasonable, adequate, and sincere views on environmental issues.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Bush-Quayle ticket has so far had less to say - both in speeches and by their actions - on the subject than the Democrats. The Republican record of the past 12 years has generally been one of constant battle with environmental regulation.

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Vice President Quayle's Council on Competitiveness, for example, has sought to weaken the impact of the Clean Air Act - the passage of which are Mr. Bush's main claim to being an "environmental president."

The Republican platform gives much less attention to the subject than does that of the Democrats.

The following are paraphrases of key statements of environmental policy from the party platforms. The candidates should be expected to take positions on these statements, and voters should measure them against their own principles.

Democrats. The US must become a leader in the fight against global warming, agreeing to limit carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000; it must be a world leader in replacing ozone-reducing substances. The planet's biodiversity and its forests should be preserved. Developing nations must be shown how to preserve their environments. Explosive population growth must be controlled. We will protect our old-growth forests, preserve critical habitats, provide a "no net loss" wetlands policy, an d oppose new offshore oil drilling and mineral exploration in environmentally critical areas.

Republicans. The US has taught the world three vital lessons: Environmental progress is integrally related to economic advancement; economic growth generates the capital to pay for environmental gains; and private ownership and economic freedom are the best security against environmental degradation. Recreation, ranching, mining, and oil and gas exploration and production on public lands can be conducted in a way compatible with conservation. Public lands should not be locked up and put off-limits to res ponsible uses.

In the environmental arena, as in other policy areas, a critical difference between Democratic and Republican positions involves the proper use of governmental power.

Two fundamental goals appear at odds: economic growth and protecting the environment. Neither can be ignored. Environmental protection costs something, but it also adds value.

The best policy will safeguard the environmental heritage of future generations while avoiding unreasonable burdens on today's businesses.


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