Environmentalists Look to 'Green
up' Presidential Contest
By Edward Hoogterp
NewHouse News Service
April 12, 2004
LANSING, Mich. -- In a presidential election year dominated
by war and economics, environmental groups are determined
to transform such topics as clean water, forest preservation
and global warming into voting issues, especially in key
electoral states like Michigan.
The problem, according to Carl Pope, national executive
director of the 700,000-member Sierra Club, will be how
to be heard over the "shouting" of multimillion-dollar
television ad campaigns sponsored by both major parties.
"We cannot break through on paid television,"
Pope said in a recent visit to Michigan. Instead, Sierra
Club and other groups will use education programs and
personal contacts to raise the profile of an issue where,
they contend, the public is already on their side.
"... Our job is to point out to people that, A,
we all know what we want; and, B, we're not getting it,"
Pope said. "We don't have to have sewage on our beaches.
We don't have to have mercury in our fisheries."
National polls indicate that environmental issues tend
to favor Democrats.
Pope and others say pro-industry policies promoted by
the Bush administration have ended decades of progress
toward cleaner water and air.
But a spokeswoman for President George Bush's re-election
campaign said the president isn't conceding the issue.
"The environment will be an important part of this
campaign because President Bush has an impressive record
on these issues," said Jennifer Millerwise, a deputy
director of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Michigan. "If
you look at air quality, climate change, national parks,
national forests and a host of other issues, the president
has led and we've seen results."
Environmental advocates dispute those accomplishments.
The president's call for more support for national parks,
for example, has gone largely unfunded, according to the
nonpartisan National Parks and Conservation Association.
And several groups say the administration's market-based
plan for reducing mercury emissions does too little to
protect public health.
Mercury is a potent toxin that can cause brain damage
and birth defects. It is released in small amounts through
the burning of coal, and ultimately tends to accumulate
Lana Pollack, head of the Michigan Environmental Council,
said such issues as mercury emissions could make a difference
in several close states, particularly if Republican environmentalists
cross over to vote for the Democratic candidate.
"I think it's going to be an issue," she said.
"It won't be as high as jobs and it won't be as high
as the mismanagement of foreign policy, but it will count."
Pollack noted that federal rules regarding tax-exempt
donations prohibit many nonprofit organizations from active
political campaigning. Instead, those tax-exempt organizations
will continue the educational programs they sponsor year
Noah Hall of the National Wildlife Federation said surveys
indicate that environmental protection laws are generally
favored by both Republican and Democratic voters.
A recent Michigan poll conducted for the wildlife group
showed voters rated the environment as an important issue,
but did not put it at the top of the list.
"The economy and jobs was at the top. Education
was second," he said. "The environment, clean
water and the Great Lakes beat out concerns over everything
from gay marriage to welfare reform."
Hall, of the National Wildlife Federation, said environmental
protection bipartisan support among its 4 million members
is about evenly divided along party lines. But he said
the national membership is showing frustration over Bush
administration policies, especially on such issues as
wetland protection, oil and gas drilling, and mercury
emissions, which directly affect anglers and hunters.
"A large part of our constituency is hunters and
anglers who did support Bush in 2000," Hall said.
"He came into office with overwhelming support of
the nation's sportsmen. He's done all he can to lose that
support. His own advisers and pollsters are telling him
Hall gave the administration credit for moderating a
proposed wetland policy last year, after a group of outdoor
sportsmen met with the president.
"He recognized how important the sportsman vote
is to his campaign for re-election and he took action,"
Hall said. "Whether it's too little or too late remains
to be seen."