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Logs and Votes

Both presidential candidates head toward the fall campaign with a healthy respect for the "green" vote. Environmental concerns may not determine November's results, but they can be swing elements, nudging voters one way or the other.

Touring the Northwest recently, Bob Dole staked his claim to the region's timber, range, and property-rights vote. With some audiences, a well-placed negative reference to endangered species - or to their chief champion, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt - can bring down the house. Mr. Dole knew the applause lines.

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But he also knows the limits of that appeal. The same timber-salvage measure that brings cheers in logging country can sour the suburbanites who value national forests for scenic pleasure and recreation. And Dole is counting on suburban votes.

In fact, such a "salvage" measure passed Congress last year, waiving environmental regulations and opening the way for expanded clear-cutting of Western forests. It infuriated environmentalists and gave all politicians involved (including President Clinton, who opted to sign the bill this "rider" was attached to) a black mark among green-minded voters. Efforts to repeal the rider, on the congressional agenda this fall, should send ripples through the presidential campaign.

But the timber rider is one skirmish in a larger battle. Republican "revolutionaries" earlier in this Congress had the country's basic structure of environmental regulation squarely in their sights. What emerged, however, was largely a victory for bipartisan moderates and the broad middle ground of Americans who favor continued vigilance against pollution and loss of natural and scenic resources.

Those rushing to protect such pillars of environmental law as the Clean Water Act included more than a few Republicans. Both principle and pragmatism dictated their stand.

Most Republicans and Democrats agree that environmental protection is a legitimate realm for governmental action. At the same time, there is a growing consensus that the economic interests of individuals and businesses should be considered when applying environmental law. A tone of reasonableness is entering the debate. May the candidates reflect it.

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