Will the bulk of House Republicans ever get the message that the words "conservative" and "conservation" have the same roots? Will they ever perceive that Americans, in voting for a GOP-controlled Congress last November, were not voting to drink dirty water or breathe dirty air or destroy such precious resources as the Chesapeake Bay and the wetlands that nourish and purify it?
The answer, alas, is a vociferous negative if House Republican whip Tom DeLay expresses the will of lawmakers out to eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency. He called the EPA "the Gestapo of government" during a debate that saw Republican moderates rise up to stymie such extremism only to be beaten back on a tie vote after a weekend of arm-twisting by corporate polluters, Western exploiters of public lands and anti-government ideologues of various ilk. Mr. DeLay needs to learn the history of the Third Reich before indulging in the kind of verbal overreach pioneered by the National Rifle Association.
The roll call on the EPA-killing amendments to an omnibus appropriations bill demonstrated that the environmental issue is as much regional as it is partisan. While southerners and westerners lined up with Mr. DeLay, eastern Republicans from Maine to Maryland formed the core of a 50-vote moderate bloc that defied this effort to destroy federal regulations to preserve the environment.
Of this state's four GOP House members, only Western Maryland's Roscoe Bartlett responded to the Republican whip. His constituents battling for a cleaner Potomac ought to ask him why. In contrast, high marks go to Reps. Connie Morella of Montgomery County, Wayne Gilchrest of the Eastern Shore and especially Robert Ehrlich of Baltimore and Harford counties, he being one of only half a dozen freshman Republicans to stand up against horrendous pressure.
Mr. Gilchrest, who earlier turned back an effort by anti-environmentalists to stop the National Biological Survey from using volunteers to inventory plant and wildlife species on public lands, was outspoken in condemning the GOP onslaught against the EPA. "It seems what began as an effort to scale back unreasonable restrictions has turned into a full-blown war against any level of environmental protection," he declared. "You ought to tell the fishermen in my district that the laws which protect their livelihood were 'burdensome regulations.' Try convincing them that the Chesapeake Bay is too clean."
While Republican moderates lost their battle in the House, they showed enough strength to affect the eventual outcome of the legislation.
What the Grand Old Party needs is a return to the conservationist ideals of one of its own. "To waste, to destroy, our natural resources. . . will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed." So said Republican Theodore Roosevelt.