News & Politics
Conservatives Digging In Against Earth Day 2000
March 31, 2000
Every year the run-up to Earth Day makes April "the cruelest month" for anti-environmentalists. As we approach the thirtieth anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, thousands of people are getting ready to celebrate at an Earth Day Network-sponsored event on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Many others will be spending the day cleaning-up their neighborhoods, parks, and beaches. A small group of conservatives will be either looking for a quiet place to hide, or attempting to commandeer the issue by launching some pro-environment-sounding anti-environmental initiative.In early April, Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush (Our environment President?) presented his first environmental proposal. He also took the time to attack Al Gore's environmental record. He purposefully criticized Gore's book Earth in the Balance, saying, "I think the vice president is probably going to have to explain what he meant by some of the things in his book, to share with us the philosophy behind some of the standards in the book." Gore's book, which is set to be re-released, was also the target of some scathing remarks from Texas Congressman Dick Armey, who in an April 6th in the House kept waving the book around, like it was the Republican Party's little Red Book. Bush, by the way, later acknowledged that he had not read Gore's book.Bush's environmental plan consists of a six-point program aimed at speeding the clean-up of brownfields. Brownfields, while not yet a household term, began to seep into the nation's consciousness because of the movie Erin Brockovich. (Brockovich took on the Pacific Gas & Electric Company when she discovered a cover-up involving contaminated water in a California community which was causing devastating illnesses to its residents). Jonathan H. Adler, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and long-time critic of the environmental movement, liked Bush's plan, saying that it would accelerate "the cleanup and redevelopment of 'brownfields' around the country by increasing regulatory flexibility and easing up on draconian liability standards that discourage developers from investing in brownfields." Adler believes that Bush is on the right track, and in order for him to "capture the moral high ground in the environmental debate," he must "challenge the premise underlying the vice president's commitment to central ecological planning by the EPA."As might be expected, Bush's proposal was roundly criticized by the Sierra Club, who in a press release ("George W. Bush: The Polluter's Governor") claimed that his proposal would "weaken the Federal Superfund law for cleaning up abandoned toxic waste sites." "Bush's promises on the environment are as credible as Rick Rockwell saying 'til death do us part'," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director. (The Sierra Club has extensively documented Bush's abysmal environmental record (see http://www.sierraclub.org).Fast-tracking brownfields cleanup by bringing it under the jurisdiction of individual states is an idea that didn't just fall from the sky. In many ways it mimics the debate over welfare reform and echoes many of the devolution proposals coming out of conservative think tanks over the past several decades. Challenging the Environmental MovementRight-wing think tanks and industry associations are the major players behind the movement opposing environmental regulation and attacking environmentalists. These groups are devoting a great deal of time, energy and money to the issue of global warming, where both regulation and actions by environmentalists intersect.A new vehicle for trying to convince policy makers, opinion makers and the public that global warming is a myth concocted by rabid environmentalists has recently been developed by the conservative Heartland Institute and New Hope Environmental Services Inc., who merged their two publications into Environment & Climate News (ECN) -- "the monthly publication for new-era environmentalists.".What happens when a little-known, but important right-wing think tank combines forces with a long-time anti-environment organization? First off, you get a powerful marketing tool for the anti-environment movement; a publication that had a guaranteed circulation of more than 40,000 at launch-time.And you get a collaboration that is particularly notable because it brings together the abundant resources of two time-tested and well-funded free-market, anti-environmental operations.Climate JusticeEnvironmentalists are hoping that "climate justice," a relatively new construct, will resonate with community and grassroots activists like "environmental justice" has. Climate justice is the movement aimed at addressing what Greenhouse Gangsters vs. Climate Justice, a new report by the Transnational Resource and Action Center (TRAC), calls the "politics of petroleum, [which] continues to undermine democracy while fostering human rights violations and environmental disasters across the Earth." Climate change "has the potential to radically damage entire ecosystems, agriculture, and the inhabitability of whole countries." The TRAC report adds that "the vast majority of the world's climate scientists and a growing body of evidence say [that]...global warming is a real threat. No longer does the scientific debate focus on if global warming will happen, but rather how soon it will occur and how bad it will be."Not included in this "vast majority" are the folks at ECN. Their raison d' etre is spelled out in a column by Frederick D. Palmer, President of the Greening Earth Society (GES) and General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of Western Fuels Association, Inc. partners in this publication venture. Palmer claims that "scores of studies compiled by GES scientific advisors and others [document that] increased atmospheric carbon dioxide content has led to an explosion of productivity in the biosphere [which includes] unexpected and large growth in the forests in the world...increased ground cover, leading to more abundant wildlife and diversity of species; and most important, a huge increase in food productivity all around the world."He argues that "professional environmentalists are engaged in an effort to convince us all that the vision of apocalyptic global warming Vice President Gore outlines in his book...is correct and therefore, we should welcome the efforts of the world's government to tax, cap, and limit the industrial evolution of the human community." Palmer says that "an informed citizenry, acting in their enlightened self-interest, can stop this rush to regulation."The Heartland InstituteIf the name of the game is influencing public policy and shaping the political debate, then the Heartland Institute has created a perfect vehicle for accomplishing these goals. They call it PolicyBot, "the world's fastest, most complete, most reliable, and easiest-to-use source of public policy solutions."Writing an op-ed piece and looking for research to blow a hole in the theory of global warming? Need supportive statistics to argue for more prisons and the efficacy of "three strikes initiatives?" Searching for model legislation that advances privatization at the state and national levels? Concerned about budget and tax issues, civil rights, health care policy, or education? Documentation on all these issues and much more is available online at Heartland's PolicyBot.Over the years, Heartland has evolved into one of the most important state-based conservative policy groups. Founded in 1984 by Joseph L. Bast, Heartland spent its early years as a no-frills, conservative, free-market, tax-exempt research organization applying, "cutting-edge research to state and local public policy issues" - but not really distinguishing itself.In 1996, Heartland created a new program and immediately moved to the head-of-the-class. It linked the conservative advocacy of a think-tank with state-of-the-art technology to become one of the Right's leading information clearinghouses. If ever a trendy phrase -- "just-in-time" information delivery -- had meaning, it was illustrated by Heartland's PolicyFax project. Now, like many other political organizations, Heartland is moving its voluminous document retrieval service online.PolicyBot allows you to access more than 7,000 public policy documents from more than 300 conservative think tanks, policy institutes and industry associations. In order to access the documents you must register online with Heartland. Once registered, you scroll to your area of interest and find a large selection of documents, which usually provide useful statistics, and are succint summaries of complex research. The environment section lists hundreds of articles covering a broad range of issues including: air quality, chemicals, endangered species, energy, environmental justice, forestry, free-market environmentalism, global climate change, ozone depletion, regulatory reform, and sustainable development. Heartland's "WebGateway" links to participating organizations.Every elected official in the United States (regardless of position), significant media workers, and researchers from all the other think tanks received Heartland's print catalogue and updates free of charge. In place of the bulky 300-page catalogue, Heartland now blast-faxes special issue-oriented alerts to its mailing list on a daily basis. It also makes its other serial publications -- School Reform News and Intellectual Ammunition -- available online.Western Fuels Association/Greening Earth SocietyCLEAR (the Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy and Research) describes the Western Fuels Association (WFA) as "a non-profit cooperative which provides coal to member electric utilities" and one of the most prominent industry associations that continues to dispute the dangers of global warming.WFA's 1998 Annual Report WFA explains its half-million dollar shortfall in 1997 by pinning the loss "entirely [on] our advocacy in the area of climate change. The Board of Directors continues to provide financial support to programs designed to turn back efforts by the Clinton Administration to dial-out coal-fired generation in the U.S. energy supply mix."WFA launched the Greening Earth Society on Earth Day 1998 to counter the environmental movement's work around global warming. GES aims to "promote the optimistic scientific viewpoint that mankind is a part of nature, rather than apart from nature," and spread the good news that "using fossil fuel to enable our economic activity is as natural as breathing."Both Western Fuels and Greening Earth work out of the same offices in Arlington, Va. Fred Palmer has leadership responsibilities for both organizations. CLEAR says that Palmer has previous experience working for a "corporate front group," as former vice-president of the Information Council on the Environment (ICE), which was run by Edison Electric, The Southern Company and Western Fuels Association."Will Do Science For Money"Many of the scientists touted by WFA/GES will be regular contributors to ECN. Some have a long history of financial support from corporate entities. Two who are specifically singled-out in the introduction to the first issue by ECN Publisher Nikki Smart, are Dr. Patrick J. Michaels and Dr. Robert C. Balling.Ozone Action (OA), a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit group focusing on global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion, has documented the financial rewards these two men have received from corporate front groups. In addition to corporate money, Balling, according to OA's Ties That Bind, received "significant levels of funding since 1989 from the Kuwait government, foreign coal/mining operations and Cyprus Minerals Company," an ongoing funder of other "wise use" operations. Dr. Balling has earned close to $200,000 from the British Coal Corporation and the German Coal Mining Association.Dr. Michaels is former publisher of the WFA-funded World Climate Review, which became the World Climate Report prior to merging with Heartland's Environment News. Ozone Action's research documents that Michaels received a $63,000 grant from Western Fuels Association for research on global climate change; $49,000 from the German Coal Mining Association; $40,000 from Cyprus Minerals Company; and $15,000 from Edison Electric Institute.There's little doubt that industry-sponsored ventures like Environment & Climate Review can muddy the waters on many environmental questions and slow down the process of seriously dealing with issues like global warming. In the long run, says environmental consultant Doug Linney, these efforts will fail.Linney is president of The Next Generation, an Oakland-based consulting firm which works with groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Environmental Defense Fund and the California League of Conservation Voters helping them develop strategy on core environmental issues. He recognizes that Environment & Climate News might pose an "immediate threat because we don't have the resources that these folks have. Nor do we have the capacity to reach so many influential policy and opinion makers." "However," Linney adds, "despite these efforts, which often gives political cover to politicians who are unclear on the concept, the future debate over global warming will be waged on the grounds of trying to figure out solutions to the problem."Bush's announcement, noted Bonner Cohen, senior fellow at the conservative Lexington Institute, was "the opening salvo of what promises to be an issue that will occupy a tremendous amount of time between now and November." And to help you sort through all the issues that might be coming up, the conservative Pacific Research Institute has just published its Index of Leading Environmental Indicators 2000, which "tracks trends in air and water quality, soil condition and land use, toxic risk, sustainable development, and other hot-button issues" (http://www.pacificresearch.org).Bill Berkowitz is the editor of CultureWatch, at www.igc.org/culturewatch, a monthly publication tracking the Religious Right and related conservative movements.