Helping restore bipartisanship Default: A group called Republicans for Environmental Protection is trying to move the GOP back into the business of protecting the environment. REP was formed after the party ceded its role in the 104th Congress.

On The Bay

March 27, 1998|By Tom Horton | Tom Horton,SUN STAFF

FROM GREENPEACE to Motorless Otsego, the latter opposed to boat pollution in the New York lake atop the Chesapeake Bay's watershed, I get newsletters of every environmental stripe.

But my recent favorite has to be the Green Elephant, from a fledgling group called Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP).

Republicans badly need to set about restoring the bipartisanship that characterized the environmental movement for most of its modern history.

Republicans come most frequently to mind when thinking of origins of the current Chesapeake Bay restoration effort some 20 years ago.

They include stalwarts such as former Maryland Sen. Charles McC. Mathias; former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Russell Train; the late Arthur Sherwood, a founder of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; and former Pennsylvania Gov. Richard L. Thornburgh, who involved his state in the cleanup though it owns none of the bay -- just a huge portion of its watershed.

Even now, Maryland Republican Reps. Constance A. Morella and Wayne T. Gilchrest are great on environment and the bay.

But they are exceptions. Beginning with Ronald Reagan and culminating with Newt Gingrich and the Republican-led 104th Congress of a couple years ago, the GOP defaulted on environment to the Democratic Party, scarcely a green monolith itself.

It was in reaction to the 104th Congress, which tried mightily (and mostly unsuccessfully) to dismantle protections for wetlands, clean water and endangered species, that REP was )) founded by Martha Marks, a suburban Chicago county commissioner.

Marks, who recently won her primary election with 70 percent of the vote over a more pro-development opponent, put me in touch with Tony Cobb. A resident of Southwest Baltimore, Cobb is working to organize a regional REP chapter.

He is an administrator at the National Center for The Blind here, and an inveterate bird-watcher, attracting everything from downy woodpeckers to peregrine falcons (seeking pigeons) to his 100- by 50-foot back yard in Irvington.

"I suppose we're kind of a curiosity for some in the environmental movement," Cobb says. "Republicans for Environmental Protection sounds like an oxymoron to people these days.

"[But] nothing is more conservative than conservation of our precious natural resources."

REP, he says, is taking pains not to become "an anomaly a splinter group representing one point of view.

Nationally, REP's members run the gamut, from moderates to members of the Christian Coalition, "who think neglecting environment is offensive to God," says Cobb. Many members, he says, tend to be fiscal conservatives, an area where there seems to be common ground with environmental groups.

For example, REP backs the Green Scissors Coalition of taxpayer and environmental groups, which works to eliminate subsidies to mining, timbering, agriculture and development along eroding coastlines.

REP supports the regulatory reform so touted by Republicans, Cobb says; "but not this 'either-or' stuff [such as development or environment]. There is such a thing as sensible reforms that use market-based incentives."

REP's modest newsletter, which appears quarterly, is worth reading by Republican or Democrat for its thoughtful perspectives on issues that have been turned into divisive, partisan "hot buttons."

On property rights, an issue Republican congressional leaders have used to attack environmental laws, the newsletter has this to say:

"Pollution invades the property rights of all of its victims. And it infringes on their freedom by imposing costs on them that they should not have to pay.

"In other words, if the conservative principles of the free market, property rights, and individual freedom had always been followed, most of our air and water pollution would never have been permitted in the first place."

Does Cobb feel the Republican Party has learned anything since the 104th Congress?

"Yes, they can read the polls that show 55 percent of Republican voters don't trust their party to do right for the environment. And on his good days, Newt realizes that they blew it a couple years ago."

But dominated by conservatives from the West and South, the GOP doesn't seem to have reformed, he says.

Recent evidence is several pieces of environmentally destructive legislation attached by Republicans as "riders" to the must-pass disaster relief for New England, California and Florida moving through Congress.

How about Maryland Republican gubernatorial candidate, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who essentially defaulted the environmental issue to Gov. Parris N. Glendening in the last election?

"She has an environmental task force," Cobb says. "I think she's genuinely trying to find a balance between economic development and those of us who want to be sure we don't wreck the place. But it's tough. There are those in the party who still want to dismiss the environmental issue."

REP, whose membership nationwide is in the hundreds, has only a dozen or so Maryland members. It is hardly a decisive influence.

But it's a credible and much-needed start for a party with a proud heritage to reclaim, and a clear majority of members who in polls want strong environmental protection.

For more information, call Cobb at 410-644 6352 (his residence); or write REP AMERICA, P.O. Box 7073, Deerfield, Ill. 60015; or try its Web site on the Internet, http: //

Pub Date: 3/27/98

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