Theme: "The Greatest Environmental President." Really?

          Nowhere has the Clinton-Gore campaign drawn a deeper rhetorical line in the sand than over the question of the environment. Understandably so. Poll after poll shows that the voters take green issues very seriously and adjust their support of candidates and parties accordingly. No one knew this better than the now-exiled Clinton strategist Dick Morris. Back at the start of this year, he began telling his boss that enviro issues were political dynamite, particularly with the all-important swing contingent, Republican women.

          So this year Bill Clinton and Al Gore have been pounding home this message: A vote for Republicans is a vote for environmental pillage. Rallying to the support of the White House have been all the major environmental organizations. The approving chorus reached its crescendo at the Democratic convention in Chicago, when the penultimate day of the proceedings was reserved for hour upon hour of commination and raillery against Republican rapists of nature.

          That same day the League of Conservation Voters, formerly headed by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, sounded the final trumpet with its ringing declaration that "Bill Clinton's environmental record in office is one of the best of any president." Clinton's running mate prompted even greater exuberance from the League: "Al Gore is without question the most committed environmentalist ever to hold the office of vice president."

          The League--an influential organization--had already drawn considerable attention this year, with a well-publicized intervention in the tight Oregon Senate race held to fill Bob Packwood's seat earlier this year. The League threw its weight behind the Democrat Ron Wyden and later claimed it had given him the winning edge. A couple of months later, the League issued its Dirty Dozen list of enemies of nature up for reelection this year. All but two are Republicans and the League, despite denunciations about the corrosive influence of big money on the political process, is committing more than a million dollars to campaigns against them.

          The League of Conservation Voters is run by Deborah Callahan, who was groomed for this position by stints at two large environmental foundations: the Charlottesville, Virginia-based W. Alton Jones, where she served as program director, and the Brainerd Foundation of Seattle, which she ran as executive director for a year. Indeed, the League's board of directors is loaded with representatives from the foundation world with links to the Democratic Party, including Deborah Tuck (Ruth Mott Foundation, part of the General Motors financial empire), John Hunting (Beldon Fund), Franklin Loy (German Marshall Fund), Denis Hayes (Bullitt Fund, Seattle media mogul's money), Winsome McIntosh (McIntosh Foundation, A&P grocery store fortune), Wade Greene (Rockefeller Financial Services Foundation), Theodore Roosevelt, IV (Lehman Brothers Fund), and John Harris (Changing Horizons Foundation).

          Nothing better illustrates the political corruption of the national environmental movement than these frenetic endorsements of Democrats, starting with Clinton and Gore. This year the big green groups have become nothing more than a PR operation of the Democratic National Committee. During the Democratic Convention the Sierra Club's chief lobbyist Debbie Sease (and a member of the League of Conservation Voters board) was cheerleading for the Clinton presidency on NBC News. "Clinton had a strong serve, a weak follow-through, and a very impressive finish. His record at playing defense is very good."

          To cite Clinton as a committed environmentalist is, by any objective standard, a sick joke. We need go no further than the founder of the League of Conservation Voters, America's senior green crusader, David Brower. In June Brower stated categorically that the Clinton-Gore record on the environment "is worse than the Reagan-Bush record."

          It's a startling statement, but a valid one. The 1993-94 Congress, with Democrats controlling both houses and the White House, produced fewer pro-environment laws than any Congress since Eisenhower's time. Within months of taking office the Clinton administration backed off promises to reform mining, grazing, and logging practices on federal lands. Directly betraying specific campaign pledges in Ohio, Al Gore announced that the toxic waste incinerator outside East Liverpool would be fired up.

          By the end of that congressional session, before the Gingrich takeover, the Clinton team had engineered the resumption of logging in ancient forests, sold out the Everglades, and forced through the North American Free Trade Agreement, without a doubt the most destructive environmental legislation since the Green Revolution began in the Nixon era.

          The League of Conservation Voters makes a particular point of all the "excellent appointments of champions for the environment." These supposed champions honored by the League include Carol Browner (head of the EPA), Tim Wirth (undersecretary of state), and Babbitt himself. The trait common to all these appointees is that they have used their environmental credentials to shove vile legislation and executive orders down the throats of their former colleagues.

          From her first day in office Browner targeted the Delaney Clause, a piece of legislation dating from 1958, much hated by the food and chemical industries because it prohibited known carcinogens from processed foods. Four years later, in alliance with the Republicans, she had her way. Wirth has been point man in free trade matters, and thus has supervised the annulment of U.S. environmental laws on dirty gas, dolphin-safe tuna, and the import of deadly PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) from Canada and Mexico. As secretary of the interior, Babbitt has overseen the administrative dismantling of the Endangered Species Act. Thanks to a series of Munich-type concessions, mining companies, real estate developers, and timber companies can now legally destroy previously protected habitat.

          For every Republican targeted in the League's Dirty Dozen, there are two Democrats easily as bad. As for the League's ecstasies about the vice president, we should remember that the person supervising the appalling environmental performances of the past four years has been Gore. The appointments were his and his is the fundamental philosophy: negotiated retreats in the face of corporate pressure and an abandonment of efforts to prevent pollution, which is now to be "managed" through "market forces" and technological fixes.

          One final disaster: As the national green movement abandons itself to political hucksterism, it loses all pretense to objectivity and all claims on popular trust. The League never mentions one independent candidate, Ralph Nader. With good reason. In any comparison with Nader and his organization, both Clinton and Gore would not survive scrutiny for a moment.

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