Campaign 'greenscamming' alleged Conservationists say candidates distort environmental records

Campaign 1996

November 02, 1996|By Frank Langfitt and Timothy B. Wheeler | Frank Langfitt and Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

In a recent campaign flier, Western Maryland Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett appears strolling along the C&O Canal with one of the nation's best-known environmentalists, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

State environmental groups say there's something wrong with this picture.

The flier, they say, implies that Bartlett is a strong defender of natural resources, a notion they find absurd. Bartlett, according to the League of Conservation Voters and Clean Water Action, has the worst environmental voting record of Maryland's eight House members and two senators.

"I was so absolutely appalled," said Nancy Davis, chairwoman of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, referring to Bartlett's use of the photo. It shows "disdain for the voter, thinking you could fool them with a single picture when your votes are totally opposite."

The Sierra Club says the photo is one of several methods that incumbents unpopular with environmental groups have used this year to convince voters that they are concerned about protecting natural resources.

Sierra, a national environmental organization, calls the practice "greenscamming" and says it has occurred in races nationally and in Maryland's 2nd District contest between GOP Rep. Robert. L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democrat Connie Galiazzo DeJuliis.

"They are trying to mask an anti-environmental voting record by saying nice things and taking pretty pictures," said Daniel J. Weiss, Sierra's political director. "They are trying to be green by association."

Bartlett, who is running in the 6th District against Democrat Steve Crawford, disputes the groups' assessment of his record. He said they have only rated him on a narrow selection of bills and have ignored his other pro-environment votes.

Bartlett cited his support in February for the farm bill, which, among other things, provides farmers with technical assistance to protect water and soil quality. He also said that the League of Conservation Voters takes a big-government approach to environmental protection while he prefers giving states more power.

"I'm very interested in the environment; it's all a matter of perspective," said Bartlett, who added that his weekend home in West Virginia relies on solar power. "I don't even kill insects when I can avoid it."

Ehrlich also dismissed criticism of his record. "My purpose is not to please every liberal, far-left environmental group," he said.

The photo of Babbitt and Bartlett was taken while Babbitt toured the canal to examine flood damage last spring. Bartlett said he used it in his campaign literature to show his support for the canal. The picture, though, irked state conservation groups because the two men have little in common when it comes to the environment.

Bartlett, for instance, voted last year to require Babbitt to review National Park Service operations and make recommendations for improvements, such as closing parks.

Bartlett was also the only member of the state delegation who voted to relax regulations for discharging waste into streams and rivers and to restrict the federal government's ability to prohibit development on wetlands.

Evaluating 13 votes over the past two years, the League of Conservation Voters gave Bartlett a score of 12 out of 100.

Clean Water Action, a national group that focuses on keeping water safe, clean and affordable, gave him a six.

By contrast, Clean Water Action gave Democratic Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore and Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County scores of 94, the highest in Maryland's House delegation.

The League gave scores of 100 and 89, respectively, to Democratic Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski.

The environmentalists also cite another instance in Maryland of what they consider misleading advertising, a television commercial by Baltimore County's Ehrlich that touts his vote against weakening the landmark Clean Water Act. Despite the vote, the League and Clean Water Action gave Ehrlich a rating of 31 and 29, respectively, citing his support for a bill to temporarily bar the government from imposing many regulations.

Ehrlich, though, notes that he has backed the positions of both groups on several occasions.

He singled out his opposition to attempts to limit the Environmental Protection Agency's power to enforce anti-pollution laws.

"They were huge votes, and they were unbelievably close votes and I got a lot of pressure from some members of leadership to vote the other way," Ehrlich said.

Conservationists say the desire of some members of Congress to appear green is rooted in polls showing voters more concerned than usual about the environment. This year, a bipartisan poll found that Americans believe by a 3-to-1 ratio that current laws aren't strong enough to protect the nation's land, water and air.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, Maryland director for Clean Water Action, said those trying to appear more environmentally friendly seem to be drawing ideas from a 1995 Republican memo advising them to become involved in conservation efforts. The memo suggests they organize tree plantings, participate in beach cleanups and become active in the local zoo.

Pub Date: 11/02/96

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