The Environment as a Political IssueBy Stewart Truelsen
In this election year Americans can count on hearing a lot about the environment. The political rhetoric is enough to add to global warming. But stop a minute and ask yourself this. Is the environment really the most pressing issue today?
On Earth Day, President Clinton wanted to make a strong environmental statement, so what did he do? He announced a plan to cut noise pollution from sightseeing flights over the Grand Canyon. He and Vice President Gore also took part in a photo opportunity where they cleaned up some twigs and branches left by a winter storm along a Maryland waterway.
If noise pollution over the Grand Canyon is considered an environmental problem worthy of the president's attention, then we must be running out of major environmental problems. Even environmental groups found themselves saying the president's actions on Earth Day were small steps. They are small steps because the big steps have already been taken.
Every industry in America can point with pride to progress made in curbing pollution and protecting the environment. Certainly agriculture can. According to USDA's National Resources Conservation Service, "Farmers have made tremendous progress in the last 10 years in reducing soil erosion on the nation's most highly erodible cropland." The agency also praises farmers for efforts to preserve wetlands.
If only small steps remain to be taken on the environment, the same cannot be said of other issues confronting America. These include federal spending, taxes, entitlement programs, regulatory relief, crime and drugs. The progress on these issues lags far behind progress on the environment.
Many new faces were elected to Congress with the hope that they could successfully address these issues. Instead, this Congress has been branded by Vice President Gore as "the most anti-environment Congress in the history of the United States."
The reason for that label is that some of the freshmen and other members had the audacity to suggest we need fewer environmental regulations and could cut spending at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Globally, a lot more remains to be done to safeguard the environment, particularly in poorer nations. The U.S. has a role to play in facilitating these efforts.
But watch out for politicians who make a big issue out of the environment this election year. They are doing so because they don't want to talk about the problems of the nation for which they don't have answers.
Stewart Truelsen is director of broadcast services for the American Farm Bureau Federation.