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GOP Feuds Over What It Means to Be 'Green'

Factions look to take up mantle of Theodore Roosevelt: Republican and conservationist.

If Teddy Roosevelt were around today, where would he stand on the environment?

As a good Republican, would the former president side with the current congressional leadership? Or as a leading conservationist who set up 50 wildlife refuges, would TR be more likely to sign up with the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters - groups that generally oppose GOP lawmakers?

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The question is more than academic, and it's one that is causing a family feud among Republicans around the United States seeking to improve the party's environmental image.

On one side is a grass-roots organization made up of several thousand local officials and other card-carrying Republicans in 47 states. Begun in 1995, it's called Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP). Group leaders have been invited to address party organizations around the country, and they've met with top officials at the Republican National Committee.

They've also acted as party gadflies, frequently criticizing some fellow-Republicans while voicing support for the minority of GOP lawmakers who tend to vote in what is generally perceived to be a "greener" manner. "We're definitely a presence," says REP co-founder Martha Marks.

On the other side is a just-formed group called Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates. CREA's stated goals are "local solutions over Washington mandates, sound science over emotionalism, and common sense over extremism."

A different model

In addressing the group's kick-off fund-raising dinner last month, House Speaker Newt Gingrich called for a "conservative, practical, cooperative, high-tech, volunteeristic method" of environmental protection in contrast to "the Al Gore left-wing model [that] is centralized, bureaucratic, adversarial, litigious, noneconomic, [and] antitechnology."

CREA has begun awarding Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Awards - dubbed "Teddies" - to fellow Republicans who do something noteworthy to protect the environment.

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But critics say this new group is more image than substance. They note, for example, that CREA's steering committee includes registered lobbyists for the petroleum, mining, automaking, firearms, and alcoholic-beverage industries. The host committee for the group's fund-raiser included Reps. Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, Richard Pombo of California, and Don Young of Alaska - lawmakers who consistently score near the bottom of the League of Conservation Voters' environmental ratings.

Battle over riders

Recently, the feud has focused on legislative riders - last-minute amendments to appropriations and other bills - that could reduce federal spending on environmental protection while increasing such things as logging in national forests.

Writing in The Washington Post this week, Republican Sens. Slade Gorton of Washington and Larry Craig of Idaho argue that "these amendments are an important way for Congress to save taxpayers from wasteful agency spending." Senators Gorton and Craig assert that legislative riders "enjoy a long-standing precedent because of their use by Republican and Democratic Congresses alike to rein in the excesses of Republican and Democratic administrations alike."

Ms. Marks of REP, on the other hand, says this is "essentially an attempt to sneak through under cover things they know wouldn't pass in the light of day."

"I think most people would prefer their legislation to be cooked up front," she says.

Apparently, so do most Republicans. According to a recent survey conducted by pollster Celinda Lake, 69 percent of respondents - including 68 percent of those who identified themselves as Republicans - said President Clinton should veto any legislation that includes "riders which relax environmental legislation." Even among Republicans, only 16 percent said Mr. Clinton should sign such bills.

Ms. Lake generally works for Democrats, and this survey was commissioned by the Wilderness Society. But Republican pollsters are getting similar results. A national survey by Republican pollster Richard Wirthlin last fall found that two-thirds of those questioned "place themselves squarely in the pro-environmental camp."

"Since its extremist beginnings 30 years ago, environmentalism has matured, gaining popular support and becoming part of the mainstream," Mr. Wirthlin reported. So mainstream, in fact, that Republicans now head both the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters.

"I know firsthand how important and publicly popular it is to be a Republican and a good conservationist," says Mike Hayden, the head of the League of Conservation Voters. "Outside of Washington, the environment is not a partisan issue - it's a quality-of-life issue."

Tapping Teddy's legacy

This is no doubt why Republicans across the GOP spectrum are trying to assume the mantle of Teddy Roosevelt.

No one knows for sure where TR would fit into Republican politics on the environment today, but the position of his great-grandson and namesake is quite clear. When Theodore Roosevelt IV is not busy as managing director of Lehman Brothers in New York, he's active as a board member of the Wilderness Society and the League of Conservation Voters.

Friends say Mr. Roosevelt is "not amused" that his great-grandfather is being cited by the CREA as its hero.

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