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Great Lakes Article:

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 in fish.

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 round.

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 that."

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."

This information is posted for nonprofit educational purposes, in accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1,Sec. 107 copyright laws.

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