Heritage Foundation offers timely advice to political candidates

Published July 1, 2000

The Washington, DC-based Heritage Foundation has recently released its Issues 2000 — The Candidate’s Briefing Book, a massive tome offering careful analysis of more than a dozen key public policy issues facing candidates in the November election.

Chapter 5 of the book, “The Environment: Promoting Community Stewardship,” was written by Angela Antonelli, director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at Heritage and a contributing editor to Environment & Climate News.

Says Antonelli of the importance of environment issues in November’s election, “Conservative candidates need to demonstrate that greater protection and improvement of America’s natural resources can be achieved through policies that rely on positive incentives, responsibility, and accountability . . . rather than the punitive, heavy-handed, and top-down regulatory approach currently found in Washington.”

Environment best addressed locally

According to a January 1999 survey conducted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), 66 percent of Americans believe state and local governments would do a better job than the federal government solving local environmental problems. Moreover,

  • 73 percent believe people should decide for themselves what type of transportation would best fit their needs and lifestyles.
  • 76 percent think state or local government or private groups and individuals should be responsible for policies that address “urban sprawl.”
  • 59 percent support a non-regulatory, incentive-based approach to protecting endangered species.

The federal government has, nevertheless, created a huge regulatory bureaucracy over the last 30 years to address water issues, endangered species, air quality, and public lands. According to the Heritage Foundation report, the five agencies that control these issues–EPA, the Department of Energy, the Forest Service, the Department of Interior, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency–boasted a combined FY 2000 budget request of $39.6 billion.

In The Heritage Foundation report, Antonelli describes a new approach to environment policy-making, one that would be positive, pro-growth, pro-human, and pro-nature. She calls it “conservationism,” espousing “a passionate belief in the wise use of resources and a respect for nature’s wonders that is balanced by an understanding of the importance of free-market incentives and property rights in solving environmental problems.”

Today’s environmentalist out of touch

By contrast, Antonelli says, environmental activists are “radical, hopelessly negative, and wholly out of touch with how most Americans view the environment.” A survey conducted by Georgetown University Professor S. Robert Lichter and Smith College Professor Stanley Rothman appears to bear her out.

Questioning a cross-section of leaders of 16 environmental organizations as well as the general public, Lichter and Rothman found:

  • 61 percent of Americans think government regulation of business is harmful, compared with only 6 percent of environmental activists.
  • 40 percent of Americans believe that corporations balance the bottom line and public interest, but only 19 percent of environmental activists believe this.
  • 34 percent of the general public say taxes should be increased to protect the environment, compared with 74 percent of environmental activists.

As Newsweek editor Gregg Easterbrook observed, “Politically, environmentalism has become a refuge of anti-growth and counterculture sentiment.”

Fear: Tool of the radical environmentalist

Today’s radical environmentalist groups, notes Antonelli in the Briefing Book, use “fear to raise money and advance their agenda.” For example:

  • The Alar pesticide used by apple growers was claimed by the Natural Resources Defense Council to be carcinogenic. In fact, “the probable risk from Alar was 3.5 lifetime cases of cancer per trillion population.”
  • A scientist at the World Wildlife Fund linked the pesticide DDT to breast cancer in a 1996 book. A year later, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study finding no evidence of a link to cancer.
  • Environmentalists claim increases in the incidence of childhood asthma are due to increased air pollution. But air quality in the U.S. has improved, while the incidence of asthma has increased. A Cato Institute study points to other explanations, including exposure to indoor allergens such as dust and cockroaches.

Just the facts, please

The Briefing Book offers a wealth of environment-related data, including several statistics that contradict popular beliefs:

  • According to EPA, between 1970 and 1997, emissions in the U.S. of every major air pollutant except nitrogen oxide fell–even though the economy was growing, the number of vehicle miles traveled increased by 127 percent, and the population increased by 31 percent.
  • According to the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, “Since the end of World War II, the amount of land set aside for parks, wilderness, and wildlife has grown twice as fast as urban areas.”
  • Studies of tree rings, ice cores, and ocean sediment cores indicate the Earth’s temperature was considerably warmer 1,000, 3,000, and 6,000 years ago than it is today.
  • According to Bruce Ames, a biochemist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Center at the University of California at Berkeley, naturally occurring pesticides in organically grown food are present in the human diet in concentrations 10,000 times greater than mad-made pesticides.
  • According to a 1997 National Wilderness Institute report, of the 27 “endangered” or “threatened” species delisted since passage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), not one had been removed because its improved numbers could be attributed to specific ESA activity. Seven had been delisted because they were extinct, and nine because erroneous data had been used to justify their original listing.

For more information

The full text of Issues 2000, in HTML and Adobe Acrobat’s PDF format, can be found at The Heritage Foundation’s Web site at http://www.heritage.org/issues. The publication is also available as a softbound book ($27.95) or on CD ROM ($16.95); place your order on the Heritage Web site or call its publications department at 800/544-4843.