September 3, 2003

September 3, 2003 | Commentary on Energy and Environment

A Bad Environment

The environment in the United States is about to get worse.

Not the environment around us-air, water, soil. That has been improving steadily for decades. I mean the political environment.

This fall, the Senate will open confirmation hearings for Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, President Bush's selection to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

 

One of the Democrats aiming to replace Bush fired the first shot. "The American people deserve to know whether Gov. Leavitt shares the same disregard for clean air, clean water, land conservation and global warming as the president," Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut announced.

 

Expect more attacks over the coming weeks, since that's what always seems to happen to EPA nominees who don't march in lockstep with the radical environmentalist agenda.

 

Now, I've disagreed with Leavitt in the past. When he was chair of the National Governor's Association back in 2000, he pushed a plan to impose state sales taxes on products purchased over the Internet. That would have greatly expanded the power of state governments, by allowing them to tax residents and businesses in other states. It was a bad idea, and I'm glad Congress shot it down.

 

But on the environment, Leavitt has some good ideas. He was the co-chairman of a 13-state coalition known as the Western Regional Air Partnership. That group, with the support of the EPA, is working with businesses and governments to reduce power-plant emissions and improve the air quality in several National Parks.

 

Imagine that-governments and businesses working together to solve a problem. Leavitt's method is so unusual he had to coin a term to describe it: "Enlibra." According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Enlibra "emphasizes cooperative problem solving between environmentalists, business and federal, state and local decision makers."

 

"There is no progress polarizing at the extremes," Leavitt said recently while standing alongside Bush. "But [there's] great progress when we collaborate in the middle."

 

Such an approach would be a real breath of fresh air in Washington, a welcome switch from the finger pointing, bureaucratic dictates and lawsuits that represent business as usual.

 

Of course, many environmentalists reside at the extremes Leavitt mentioned. They depend on a series of "crises" to keep funds pouring in, so they aren't willing to compromise on anything-even if by compromising they might end up solving a problem. If you don't believe me, just ask Patrick Moore, former director of Greenpeace International.

 

"We have an environmental movement that is run by people who want to fight, not to win," Moore wrote in the British newspaper The Mail on Sunday in May 2000. On his Web page, Moore adds, "The politics of blame and shame must be replaced with the politics of working together and win-win."

 

Sounds a lot like Enlibra.

 

There's no reason we can't all work together toward the admirable goal of a cleaner environment. After all, we're better off when the air we breathe is cleaner, when the water we drink is purer, and when the planet we depend on is unpolluted.

 

One important way to achieve those goals is to give states more control over their environment. After all, state governments are on the front lines of the battle against pollution. It's in their best interest to protect air, water and land within their borders. As Leavitt has shown, it makes sense for EPA to work with the states, rather than simply issue top-down directives and expect states to follow them.

 

Pragmatists like Michael Leavitt are crafting ways for all of us to work together for a better planet. Let's give him a chance to succeed.

Ed Feulner is the president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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