Environmentalism

09.27.12

When the GOP Lost Touch with Conservation

Steve Chapman's obituary for (Republican) Russell Train mourns the GOP's dismissal of environmentalism:

It was not always that way. President George H.W. Bush, who promised to be "the environmental president," supported a revision of the Clean Air Act to reduce air pollution, curb acid rain and protect the ozone layer.

In 2008, John McCain proposed a cap-and-trade system to combat global warming, warning that "time is short and the dangers are great." Today, no candidate taking that position could possibly be nominated.

William Reilly, who ran the EPA under the first President Bush, sounded despairing notes when I called him to ask about the shift in his party. As co-chair of the commission that investigated the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, he was abused by House Republicans when he testified on the need for better regulation of offshore drilling. "The level of vitriol was such that I was surprised," Reilly said.

The public might not be. Environmental concerns are not the reason Romney is trailing in the polls, but they're not helping. A recent The Economist/YouGov poll found that on this issue, independent voters trust President Barack Obama over his challenger by a whopping margin of 49 percent to 19 percent.

Republicans once performed the valuable task of insisting that alleged environmental harms be proved, not merely assumed, and that solutions be market-friendly, carefully tailored and cost-effective. The give-and-take between them and Democrats yielded better remedies.

Today, they have only one response to any environmental concerns, which resembles what Mark Twain said about a cat that sits on a hot stove lid: "She will never sit down on a hot lid again — and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore."