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Cleaning the Air

Cleaning the Air
Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute and
The Heritage Foundation
January 12, 2001
Becky Norton Dunlop

America is a great country because America is a free country, and America is a beautiful country partly because of Americans who not only espouse conservative philosophy, but also have been good conservationists throughout the years.            

I’ve fought in conservative battles in a number of fields -education, federalism, welfare reform, private property, privatization, outdoor recreation, and the family.For most of these issues, I managed task forces for Ed Meese, President Reagan’s Attorney General who served as Chairman of the President's Domestic PolicyCouncil. It seemed apparent to me that conservative ideas were winning the hearts and minds of the American people. Then I spotted a new battle, a battle I considered vital to the country, and a battle we were not yet winning.

I joined Secretary Don Hodel's management team at the Department of the Interior the last two years of the Reagan administration and during the transition for President Bush.There I became even more convinced that the environment was liberalism’s last bastion of command and control in the American political system.That’s not to say that conservatives have won and institutionalized victories in the other areas. But conservative ideas are making progress, because, intellectually, the American people are on the conservative side in those areas.

Conservatives had neglected environmental issues because we had focused almost all of our attention on many of those other areas that have seemed vastly more important to preserving our liberty. The environment had increasingly become an area around which the command and control liberal establishment, the people who believe in collectivist government, began to gather.Those who are now active in the extremist environmental movement are those who believe that all power should be centralized in Washington, D.C. in the federal government.They do not trust people. They do not trust governors. They do not trust state legislators. And they certainly do not trust the private sector.They want to have all power collected and dispensed by the federal government; that is, to their way of thinking, by themselves and their friends and political allies.

Then there are those who believe in a socialist form of government, that government should own the land, that the private sector will damage the land and that capitalism is synonymous with environmental exploitation and degradation.That group of people also makes up a major part of the radical environmental movement of today.

Finally, there are the people who have a religious conviction about the environment. Some people actually think that human beings, you and me, are not valuable, at least not as valuable as rocks and trees and other critters.Do you realize that the laws in our country exact a more severe punishment for destroying condor eggs than for destroying another human being?And government is aggressive about this enforcement.

These are basically the three groups that make up the environmental extremists -the politicized “party of government” partisans, the socialists and the pantheists- and they have been very, very successful.For they, through the earnest efforts of their handmaidens in the national news media, have essentially captured the hearts and minds of the American people.But those of us who believe strongly that private property rights are a core element of the American system of liberty have begun to fight back.

We have learned many lessons in our conservation and environmental stewardship practices, all of which have been advanced by education and science.Yet these two areas are where the liberals really fall down on the job.They’re not interested in providing citizens with more scientific education, which is why we have had some challenges.

After serving with Don Hodel, a great mentor, I associated with Citizens for a Sound Economy, which was starting to educate its members on the environmental issue.Those of you who think about this issue will understand that a growing economy and an improving environment go hand in hand -not something you will hear the “Green” activists say. While helping with the Citizens for a Sound Economy project, I also began supporting the National Wilderness Institute, an environmental organization that acts on sound scientific principles, something completely foreign to such officials as Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Al Gore, and others who rely on pseudo-science and fear mongering as the basis for their brand of environmental activism.Do you remember when we had the Alar scare in this country? Whom did the liberal leaders in the Congress bring in to testify?Meryl Streep -the actress.But, Meryl Streep -the scientist?I don't think so, how about pseudo-scientist?

The liberals' objective was to frighten our people -every mom and every child in America. They succeeded, absent scientific evidence, in destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of families involved in the apple industry.They succeeded by scaring children. And all of us know that what our moms used to tell us, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” which was good advice and good science.

I wrote my book, Clearing the Air, after four years with Governor George Allen of Virginia as his Cabinet Secretary for Natural Resources.During that time the battle was engaged, conservatives were determined to demonstrate that our philosophy was good for the environment and good for the people.

When George Allen had a press conference to announce me as his Natural Resources Secretary, the Washington Post reporter, whom I didn't know, but assumed was going to at least give us a fair chance, said, "How old are you, Becky?" I hadn't heard him ask that of any of the men. And I said, "Well, a gentleman never asks that question of a lady."I thought, "A soft answer turneth away wrath.""Well, I'm not a gentleman," he retorted.

The next question the press asked was, "Is Becky a payoff for the Christian Right?"I make no bones about the fact that I'm a committed Christian.In my statement accepting my position, I not only thanked all the people, I thanked God, the Creator of our natural resources. But George Allen did not let me answer that question. He said, "Becky Norton Dunlop is a payoff for the citizens of Virginia.”                  

Let me tell you, when you get that kind of support right off the bat, you're loyal. For four years, my office was under constant attack from the liberal environmentalists, and George Allen never wavered in his support.

Some of the stories I tell in the book are about our battles with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. I'm certain that the Allen Administration was not one of Carol Browner’s -Clinton's head of the EPA- favorites. I had serious disagreements with folks I thought were wrong, or far too liberal on issues with which we were dealing.But I was always civil and I think that is an important attribute for success. I had an open door policy, by which environmentalists were invited whenever they wanted to visit with me. Their approach was slightly different.About two months after I took office, a group of environmental activists got together in a private meeting in Northern Virginia and had a discussion on how they were going to deal with the Allen Administration.You see, we were nice to them, as well as civil, and had said, "We will invite you to participate in all our meetings.You just won't be the only ones invited and you won't be running the show."There was no legitimate complaint about being excluded because they were not.However, they announced to the press that they were never invited to meetings.That's exactly their style of operation.

To effectively deal with such people and their agenda, one must operate from a principled position.So, let me give you a few principles that guided me.These principles were not kept secret, but were openly announced and discussed for four years.I wrote articles about them and referred to them in every speech I gave.

Principle One:People are our most important and valuable natural resource.People live on this planet and should be allowed to use its natural resources. We must also conserve our resources and seek to enhance them. We will educate our people and use good science, but it's the people themselves who will come up with solutions for every environmental challenge we face.The Allen position was that we were not going to engage in mandates, funded or unfunded, and we were not going to tell people how to live their lives. We were going to involve them and when we found environmental problems, we're going to help them develop solutions.

Principle Two: Renewable natural resources are resilient and dynamic and respond positively to wise management.We need to have management, no question about it; however, resources are dynamic and resilient.

I like to use the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia as an example.Fifteen years ago, people didn't want to go out into the Chesapeake Bay because it was in such bad shape.Today, the Bay is crowded on the weekends. The same goes for the Potomac River and the Anacostia River, right here in Washington, D.C. And then there’s the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, which actually caught fire twenty years ago. Today, the most expensive real estate in northern Ohio is on the banks of the Cuyahoga River.

Principle Three: If we apply wise management, we improve our natural resources. How does America have the wherewithal to improve natural resources?From a growing economy! When people have jobs, when they have money, and when their families are cared for, they look around and see what else they can improve.

The most promising new opportunities for environmental improvements lie in extending the protection of private property and unleashing the creative powers of the free market. It’s been proven time and time again throughout history and around the world.

Principle Four: Make real efforts to reduce, control, and remediate pollution to achieve real environmental benefits. How many environmental groups do you know that raise money and with that money hold meetings? And has anything from those meetings really improved the environment?No, it just does not happen.

Liberal extremists are not interested in improving the environment. Because what happens when things get better?Bureaucracy is reduced in size. You would think after eight years of the Clinton-Gore-Browner administration with its heavy environmental focus that someone, any one of them, would be pointing to a success. Instead, every speech they give is about how many environmental problems we have. What have they been doing? They've been having meetings.

Principle Five: The learning curve is green.What do I mean?Every day, we learn something new and our new information and new technology allow us to use less of a given natural resource.We use less natural resources to make Coca-Cola cans because we have new technologies.Our cars get better mileage.As for the timber in our forests, we get more and more board feet from a tree and we use every part of that tree. The list goes on and on.

Principle Six: Management of natural resources should be conducted on a site and situation-specific bases. It's logical. The same things that affect air quality in Washington, D.C., are different from the things that affect air quality in Phoenix, Arizona.

Principle Seven: Science should be employed as a tool to guide public policy. But it was not always in Carol Browner's EPA.We could give you example, after example, after example, where her decisions were based on political science, not sound science.

How many of you were in town when we had the pfisteria scare?You would have thought that the world was coming to an end because of pfisteria.And EPA and the environmental extremists were so eager to find pfisteria in Virginia.And they couldn't, but I'll tell you, they sure were out there looking.They had pfisteria in the waters of Maryland -where, by the way, Parris Glendening, Mr. Green, is the governor.But in Virginia, we had managed our natural resources. We had worked with our businesses on environmental quality, and we did not have the same problems that they had.

The reason, incidentally, could have nothing to do with managing resources or working with businesses.It could be entirely a natural phenomenon. There are some things mankind can't control, so one looks for ways to manage natural resources based on best available sound science.

The final conservative environmental principle -which you might expect coming from me- is that environmental policies that emanate from liberty are the most successful.Where do people in the world turn today for solutions?Our country.We have technology, we're on the cutting edge, we're always looking for new and better ways to improve our quality of life. Because we have a free enterprise system, we have entrepreneurs who are always looking for solutions for environmental challenges. We’re Americans!

These principles stood us in good stead during George Allen’s governorship in Virginia.The quality and condition of the environment improved significantly, and the economic success and “pursuit of happiness” that our citizens enjoyed had never been greater or more widespread.

Conservatives learned that we can win the hearts and minds of the people on environmental issues when we demonstrate that we are eager and able to apply our conservative principles to improving the quality and condition of the resources important to environmental quality.

This is a lesson that conservatives need to appreciate in the months and years ahead.