To hear Tom Daschle tell it, Republicans in Congress actually want more waste in our nation's streams, in our lakes and on our shorelines and more pollution in our air. In a recent PBS debate, for example, Daschle accused Republicans of opening the halls of Congress to business and industry lobbyists in an underhanded attempt to damage the environment.
There is a term for what the Senator said: lying. How can a sitting member of the United States Senate, much less the Senate Minority Leader, accuse fellow Members of Congress of plotting to destroy the environment and expect to be taken seriously? After all, everyone needs clean air and clean water -- even Congressmen. What's more, business and industry groups clearly did not support the GOP's environmental reform agenda because they have some sadistic desire to destroy the planet, but because they saw an opportunity to either increase their profits or reduce their losses.
Naturally, Senator Daschle is free to argue against GOP environmental and regulatory reform initiatives. He's even free to suggest that these initiatives, if approved, could have dire consequences for the environment. But there is a world of difference between suggesting that there may be dire consequences and saying that dire consequences is what the GOP intended all along.
Unfortunately for the GOP, Senator Daschle and environmental groups are being taken seriously. Americans are increasingly becoming convinced that the GOP is conducting an all-out jihad against the environment.
How did the Republicans get in such a fix? They failed to respond to the charges in the first place. The GOP may have thought it was enough simply to be doing their best to help Americans harmed by excessive regulations. For example, senior citizens like Lois Jemtegaard of Skamania County, Washington.
Lois Jemtegaard owns a 20-acre parcel of land that had been county zoned for a single-family home. When she needed money to repair her home, located on another lot, she decided to sell the parcel. Unfortunately, Jemtegaard's land was included in the Columbia River National Scenic Area and thus sharply regulated. Under federal rules, her parcel of land may only be used for timber or agricultural purposes -- purposes for which it is completely unsuited. As a result, the parcel is now of little value.
Other Republicans may have believed that they would somehow be innoculated from charges they were against the environment because they were working for reforms that would add flexibility and common-sense to federal regulations. These are reforms that might have helped one Arkansas father who now faces possible jail time because he took steps to protect his child from potentially deadly snake bites.
After Tom Holloway's son was bitten by a copperhead snake that came from adjoining property that had become overgrown with vegetation, Holloway acted quickly to ensure that it would never happen again by cutting the grass on the land. He had every reason to believe that his actions were not only potentially life-saving, but appropriate given that the neighborhood had a covenant requiring property owners to keep their lawns trimmed. Unfortunately, Holloway's untidy neighbor in this case was the federal government. For cutting the grass, he was charged with "unauthorized modification of vegetation cover on federal lands."
Perhaps still other Republicans believed they would be cut some slack because the were fighting to give local governments just a little more input into environmental decisions. That might have saved citizens of the town of Manson, Iowa a considerable sum.
For 75 years, Manson, Iowa had enjoyed quality, additive-free water with no adverse health effect. Despite this record, the city was ordered to reduce the natural level of flouoride in its drinking water by less than one milligram per liter to comply with federal standards. This required a reverse osmosis treatment plant that cost $700,000. Water rates had to be raised by over 45% just to cover the plant's operational costs followed by a property tax hike to pay off a water bond needed to build the plant.
In any event, the GOP was clearly wrong to take charges against its environmental agenda lightly and Democrats clearly wrong to make outlandish, inaccurate charges about that agenda.
But perhaps turnabout is fair play. If the GOP is the anti-environment party, doesn't that mean that the Democrat Party -- as the stories above help illustrate -- is the anti-human being party? If the national news media were as forgiving of Republican rhetorical flourishes as they have been with those of the Democrats, the GOP could make the charge stick.
David A. Ridenour is Vice President of The National Center for Public Policy Research.