Environmentally friendly GOP fights political divide

ON THE BAY

December 06, 2005

"I am a total Republican, and I'm totally angry," says Susan Finlay. We're seated in her home overlooking the Little Choptank River, where she and her husband, Luke, are hosting a gathering of environmentally concerned Republicans.

As Finlay talks, you realize that to care, as she does, about both environmental and Republican ideals these days is to be deeply conflicted.

The Bush administration and the Republican leadership of Congress have weakened clean-air regulation, denied global warming, defunded science, undercut the Environmental Protection Agency, attacked public land preservation and set the stage for more decades of polluting energy generation.

No state has escaped the trend. Look at recent environmental voting scores of Maryland's legislators (2003 and 2004), as compiled by the nonpartisan League of Conservation Voters.

In the Senate, out of a possible 100, Republicans averaged 18 percent, compared with Democrats' 89 percent. In the House of Delegates, it was Republicans' 32 percent, compared with Democrats' 92 percent.

Bob Ehrlich, our Republican governor, got a D-plus from the league on his first two years in office.

The solution is not simply returning more control to the Democrats - trust me, they're hardly the gold standard for environmentalism.

There's also a real need to resurrect conservative thought on environmental protection, which nowadays is largely suppressed by the ideological conservatism that has captured the Republican Party and polarized the environmental debate.

"If you go to environmental gatherings and say you're a Republican, you get this feeling you are a pariah. I have just walked out of a lot of meetings," said Ron Tillier, a leader in the citizens group Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge who came to the Finlays' gathering.

A case in point: It's no secret that liberal environmentalists have often alienated rural landowners, hunters and fishermen - all of whom should be their natural allies in fighting development and supporting water quality.

A recent magazine piece by Theodore Roosevelt IV, whose presidential great-grandfather put the Republican stamp on conservation, thoughtfully examined how environmentalists could bridge this gap.

But such views are easily lost in today's deeply partisan politics.

Roosevelt, an investment banker and lifelong Republican, is a member of REP - Republicans for Environmental Protection. Their founder and president, Martha Marks, was the featured speaker at the Finlay home.

REP was formed in 1996 after Newt Gingrich and the 104th Congress mounted an unprecedented attack on environmental laws. It's dedicated to the notion that "conservation is truly conservative," Marks says.

"There's nothing wacko about preserving the beautiful places where we live," she says. "Also, there's often an overlap between fiscal responsibility and high environmental ratings. A lot of the fiscal boondoggles are also environmentally destructive."

With 2,500 members and chapters in nine states, REP is not big. "We're never going to be big," Marks says. "I tell people not to switch parties because we have more of a bully pulpit on Republicans and environment if we hang in there.

"But we've had so many who come in and become members who are disaffected, and they eventually say, `You know, I'm just not feeling Republican anymore.'"

REP publishes The Green Elephant, a Newsletter of Conservative Thought; also Conservative Environmental Policy, a bulletin that works to counter the anti-environmental message coming from many conservative think tanks.

Marks says polls clearly show a majority of Republicans care about the environment and are dissatisfied with how their party is handling the issue.

So how does the present sorry state of affairs get turned around?

"Frankly, as long as they're winning elections, it's going to be hard. I don't want to sink the good ship GOP, but they need to take a beating somewhere," Marks said.

It's critical not just to oust anti-environmental Republicans from office, but to elect more environmentalist-conservatives.

I think back to the first two decades (the 1970s and '80s) that I covered the Chesapeake Bay, and to the Republicans who played key roles in its preservation:

Arthur Sherwood, a founder of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias; Maryland state Sen. Porter Hopkins; EPA administrators Russell Train and William Ruckelshaus; Congressman Rogers C.B. Morton.

All would be or have been marginalized by the bipartisan divide that exists today.

twh@intercom.net

To contact Republicans for Environmental Protection: info@repamerica.org, or www.repamerica.org.

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