Big Greens and Beltway Politics

As business and environmental groups attempt to influence government environmental decisions, only one side consistently comes out on top. You don’t have to dig too deep into campaign contributions to see who hands over more money to candidates and both major political parties. Oil and gas companies hand over millions more dollars to special interest groups and presidential campaigns than do environmental organizations. And their investments pay off quite well. Rarely is there an environmental victory that comes out of Washington. On contrary, big oil companies win time and again. Certainly there are not many policy wonks that keep an eye on Washington who would deny that campaign contributions influence public policy.

This may well be the ill fate of the environmental movement–attempting to play ball with the big boys in Washington. Will they ever be on par with the likes of Enron or others who virtually write our environmental and energy legislation year after year? It has long been my belief that the Sierra Club and rest of the big environmental groups, along with the Democratic Party itself, that do the most harm to environmentalism. It’s not the Republicans. If anything, the Republicans have been the best mobilizers of environmentalists by rallying people against their policies, even though many of the same policies were present during Democratic administrations.

As these groups consistently pander to the Democratic Party, they simultaneously refuse to hold the Dems feet to fire despite their gross inadequacies. During the 1990s, President Clinton passed the Salvage Rider bill as well as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), both of which blatantly undermined environmental policies in the US and set the stage for Bush’s own forest plan and trade platform. Nary a word was said by environmental groups about such egregious legislation that was proposed during Clinton-time, — but all were up in arms over Bush’s plans. And why is that? As the Democrats have let the Sierra Club and others through their front chamber doors, they have effectively slammed their ideals behind them, holding these groups hostage inside a corrupt political system. Environmentalism has consequently become less about action and more about DC power plays. Could you ever imagine any big enviro group turning their back on a Democratic candidate, despite the candidate’s actually environmental record?

Lesser-evil politics always prevails.

And this is why the Republican anti-environmental policy initiatives are most successful. Not only are they pampered (along with the Democrats) by big industry; they also face little in the way of opposition from their Democratic counterparts. And it is not just about big money. Certainly the big gas and oil companies can hand out more loot than environmentalists–that’s not even an issue–but they can also play the political game better and always have. Environmentalists find few, if any, allies in Washington. This isn’t just because they aren’t donating enough cash or endorsing the right candidates–all the candidates are the wrong candidates. Period. Environmental politics should be about principle. It should be about who can bring about the greatest change. Politics in Washington is so utterly corrupt that environmentalists would do better by turning their backs on the parties and sleaze that consistently go against their interests.

That is why public participation in drawing up environmental legislation fails so dramatically and so often. It isn’t the public that the two big parties have in mind; it’s the industries that fatten their campaign coffers. In Oregon 22,000 public comments were submitted to the US Forest Service about the proposed logging of Biscuit national forest last year. Even though the anti-logging comments far outnumbered the pro-logging comments, you know who won outright. It wasn’t the public. And who is going to hold these folks accountable? Surely not the Democrats who supported the legislation, two of whom (Sen. Wyden and Feinstein) actually rewrote it for President Bush, along with Mark Rey who wrote Clinton’s brutal Salvage Rider. The Sierra Club, who so gallantly and emphatically endorse candidates every election season, will still prop up the Democrats as the least worst of the two parties in Washington. And until they break down the stodgy gates that entrap them in Washington, environmental policy will continue to be manipulated by big business.

When will Democratic leaders begin to heed the advice of environmentalists, if environmentalists support them sans specific demands? When will they listen if environmentalists support them just because they aren’t Republicans? As long as the big environmental groups in Washington go along as they have for the past two decades, nothing will ever really be accomplished environmentally in Washington, no matter how much money any of enviros hand over to the Democratic machine.

JOSHUA FRANK edits the radical news blog www.BrickBurner.org and is the author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, published by Common Courage Press (2005). Josh can be reached at BrickBurner@gmail.com.



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JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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