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Public Statements

League of Conservation Voters


Thank you. I'm genuinely grateful for your kind invitation to address you today. As I have never known the satisfaction of being an honor student in the League of Conservation Voters annual report card, I now can at least content myself with the honor of your invitation.

I know that considering my ranking on your scorecard, my appearance here today may raise a few eyebrows. But I don't think you invited me because we've always agreed. I believe you invited me because despite our differences, we share a responsibility to the public we're privileged to serve.

While our political philosophies, party affiliations, and roles in public service may vary, as citizens and patriots, we should act on a common purpose -- the pursuit of a better, more prosperous nation which protects the natural resources that sustain our world and grace the quality of our lives.

Every human being desires and deserves clean air, safe water and a rich natural heritage. These blessings are our privilege to enjoy and our duty to preserve.

We are Americans before we are Republicans or Democrats. And as we all inherited a rich and extraordinarily beautiful country, so must we bequeath the same to those who will share our good fortune tomorrow.

Last November, voters sent Republicans back to Congress as the Majority party. I'm proud of that. But exit polls delivered another message--one that does not make me very proud. The electorate told us that they are gravely concerned about the Republican party's commitment to the environment. In fact, it is their greatest concern about the party's continued control of Congress, by a margin of two to one over the next issue.

Too often Republicans are perceived as favoring the interests of big business at the expense of the environment. Too often we appear more eager to swing the axe of repeal than apply the scalpel of enlightened reform. Too often we fail to articulate what we stand for as aptly as we decry what we are against.

When Republicans introduce bills to abolish the Clean Air Act or harshly dismiss valid environmental concerns as the ravings of partisan extremists, we give credence to our critics who question whether Republicans share the environmental values of the majority.

The vast majority of Republicans do share the nation's environmental values. And, most Republicans take pride in our identification with Theodore Roosevelt who believed that second only to the national defense, one of our most important public duties is to wisely husband the country's natural resources.

My party's proud heritage must be more than an expedient historical footnote. It must animate our approaches to public policy questions today. And, to those who wonder whether the party has abandoned its conservationist roots, our actions as legislators must provide a firm and convincing no.

If our obligations are not ample motivation, perhaps political preservation will be. The near death experience in 1996 for many Republicans was a wake up call which all Republicans could only ignore at our peril. And I believe many in the party have gotten the message.

If Republicans are to restore the public's trust and retain the privilege of serving as the Majority party our environmental agenda must consist of more than empty symbolic gestures or softer epithets for environmental activists.

We must lead by action, and when we can't agree with proposals perceived as environmentally positive, we must take care to respond with enlightened reason rather than indifference or hostility.

The 105th Congress offers an opportunity to prove that our actions well serve our intentions. We should work for a responsible and bi-partisan update of the Clean Water Act to reclaim America's waters with minimum cost and maximum practical results.

We should reform our superfund laws so that the scarce resources we devote to cleaning up toxic waste will serve that important purpose more successfully than they enrich the nation's more than adequate supply of lawyers. I look forward to the day when our nation benefits from the service of more environmental engineers, and fewer attorneys. Until superfund is reformed I fear that day will be a long time coming.

Also, high on our agenda must be the preservation of our nation's parks. The financial needs of our aging national park system are enormous and far exceed available resources. A good example is the Grand Canyon where the new General Management Plan calls for 300 million dollars in improvements but the park receives a yearly appropriation of under 14 million. Such a funding gap is the rule not the exception for parks across the country.

To help solve that problem, I've introduced legislation authorizing the use of entrance fee revenues to finance bonds for the improvement of parks from Alaska to Florida. Earmarking just two dollars per entrance fee at the Grand Canyon would raise $100 million immediately for vital park improvements. I ask for your help in winning passage of this legislation.

The failure to properly care for our national parks would be the grossest abdication of our conservation responsibilities I can imagine. Passage of the bonding bill is but one step we can take to sustain those extraordinary places in America that most Americans think of when they consider what a beautiful country Providence has provided them.

Solving this and other critical environmental problems demand the priority and bi-partisanship accorded to all the great issues of our day. And, it will take a concerted and cooperative effort on both sides of the aisle to achieve that end.

Engagement will not be easy. Environmental issues have been terribly politicized and, in some cases, grossly distorted. The "we versus they" mentality is an entrenched political pathology that divides our nation along many battle lines, particularly, on environmental questions. And it is not just Republicans who are responsible for that problem. The conservation movement must shoulder it's share of the blame as well.

While environmental politics should be about rendering rational and effective public policy from diverse and strongly held views; today, it is much more the sport of inflammatory rhetoric and hysterical hyperbole, insulting sound bites and provocative headlines. Making a point has taken precedence over making a difference for both sides of the debate.

Too often, those who hold opposing views are demonized as the enemy and the public is given false choices. The effect taints political discourse and undermines the pursuit of rational public policy.

For instance, some would have us believe that we must choose between a healthy environment or vibrant economy. Our economic and environmental fortunes are not mutually exclusive. They are inextricably linked.

A vigorous economy affords us the ability to focus resources on ever more effective pollution control and to set aside lands for conservation. And, a healthy environment provides the natural resources necessary to sustain economic well-being and the opportunity to enjoy it. The public rightfully distrusts those who would sell us the philosophical snake oil that we can have either a strong economy or a healthy environment, but not both, and we must choose between them.

The ceaseless posturing, exaggerated superlatives, and the relentless bombardment of irreconcilable "facts", places at risk the public's confidence not only in Congress but in the environmental movement. Such a fate is unworthy of a great nation which aspires to be greater.

Just as the public is less likely to trust Republicans when we denounce our environmental protection regime as entirely excessive, conservationists lose credibility when they suggest that no standard is too high, no restriction too great, no cost too much.

Just as Republicans squander credibility when we indifferently brush aside genuine environmental threats, environmentalists risk becoming irrelevant when they eagerly denounce even the most justifiable reforms of failed programs as evil conspiracies to "gut" environmental law.

Above all, nothing does more to erode public confidence and undermine efforts to address legitimate environmental concerns, than when the conservation movement's less responsible elements make predictions that prove false or misleading. We are all painfully aware of the instances when that has happened.

Unfortunately, just as political parties are often defined and caricatured by their more extreme elements, so are political movements.

The tragedy is that the American people are understandably calloused. When so many issues are described with sky-is-falling hyperbole that bears scant relationship to the truth, credibility is the last casualty. And when extremely serious problems do arise, the public is less ready and willing to believe and rally to the cause.

Trust is a fragile commodity in politics that is easily squandered and difficult to restore. And, when it is lost, so are our chances to accomplish the necessary and sensible reforms we profess to be the object of our labors.

One of the greatest privileges I have as a public servant is to travel and talk with many people across the country. Wherever I go, I hear the same complaint, political rhetoric is too strident; positions too hardened and the debate too partisan. They believe that political discourse is more fiction than fact and serves the special rather than the public interest. Americans also believe that much of what's wrong in Washington is because of the influence of money, and they're right.

Congress has squandered the public trust because of the money chase. I urge you to take care that this cancer affecting the halls of Congress does not take root in your board rooms as well.

Politicians must spend an obscene amount of time, energy and imagination chasing dollars to retain their office. Interest groups must do the same to remain financially viable and relevant. Advocates of every persuasion have learned the same lesson, harshness and hyperbole attract public attention and money.

Take a look at the fundraising appeals from some members of Congress as well as those from the offices of some environmental organizations. They appear to share an attitude that if you want to separate a fool from his money, scare the hell out of him.

It's more cost-effective to demonize your opponent than to inspire people to your cause. Why persuade by reason when exaggerated and false accusations stir the masses. If your cause is just, your means need have no intrinsic virtue. Facts are devices and all truth is relative.

No doubt, these solicitations which go to millions of Americans are very effective. But, they have a consequence. Ultimately, they contribute to the partisanship, gridlock, and the utter alienation of the people whom we profess to serve.

I do not argue that serious political differences should be papered over. They must be fully aired. People who stand for public office or would influence public policy should be judged by their positions. That is a virtue of self-governance--we are accountable to one another. But, when differences are manufactured, debate unduly personal, or when money reins over truth and the public interest, we treat virtue as a vice.

That's why I support genuine campaign finance reform so that campaigns can be more a contest of ideas, fairly and openly fought, and less the telemarketing fraud they are fast becoming.

Whether Congress is controlled by Democrats or Republicans, money buys access. There can be little doubt that reducing the role of money in politics will have a greater impact on environmental issues than any other policy area, and may be the single most important environmental initiative this Congress. I ask for your strong support.

But, I ask you to do something more. Just as members of Congress must take a critical look at the way we pursue power and reform for the good of the country, you have an obligation to do the same.

I hope that you will earnestly examine how the money chase among environmental groups gives rise to the same corruption plaguing Congress.

The environmental community plays a vital role in our society. You must continue helping the nation remain steadfast in our conservation ethic and Congress faithful in exercising the stewardship responsibilities with which we have been vested. But just as Congress must be less partisan in conducting the people's business, so must the environmental movement.

Just as Congress should not squander its credibility if we are to make a positive contribution to the nation's well being, neither should you. The League of Conservation Voters has power, and your environmental rankings of elected officials have influence.

I care about my environmental record, and I'm proud of it. I don't regard poor LCV scoring as a badge of honor. I consider it a shame when someone believes that the sum of one's environmental record can be accurately judged by a handful of votes, some of which have very dubious relationships to conservation.

I'm not proud of every vote I've cast. Some I wish I could take back. But, there is a broader story to tell. Something is terribly wrong when a member of Congress spends months and years working to enact wilderness bills, expand conservation areas, cleanup power plants, and resolve environmental conflicts in their state. But, because he or she voted for a balanced budget resolution, opposed abortion counseling as part of family planning, or, voted to continue debate on an environmental issue, he or she is branded an enemy of conservation.

Incidentally, it's more than a little ironic and telling that the same year Ed Norton, President of the Grand Canyon Trust, and former LCV board member, so graciously referred to me as the "Grand Canyon's best friend in Congress", I received a failing grade on my LCV report card.

I hope you will examine the accuracy, fairness and partisan implications of the LCV report cards, so that the public is given a fairer, broader picture of the environmental record.

Perhaps in the 105th Congress we can find our inspiration in the example of a hero of mine, and a statesman of the highest virtue, Mo Udall, whose grace and wisdom should inspire every American.

Mo once taught a freshman Congressman from the other side of the aisle a valuable lesson. He reached across party lines to enlist me in the effort to tackle environmental problems in our home state.

It would have been easy for Mo Udall to ignore me. He was a 20 year veteran of the House and a national icon serving in the majority party. I was a Republican back bencher lucky and thankful to be recognized by other House freshmen, much less a Committee Chairman.

But Mo didn't ignore me. He was too big for that. He cared too much about results to allow any colleague to dwell in obscurity and the periphery of power if he could help in a good cause, even where it would have been more politically advantageous to hatch disagreements than seek consensus.

I've tried not to forget Mo's example, and for the skeptics who might think "bipartisanship" and "cooperation" are just saccharine bromides, the proof tells a different story.

Contrary to the predictions of many naysayers, Mo's faith in the pursuit of cooperation and consensus enabled us to enact landmark legislation placing several million acres of pristine Arizona lands into the Wilderness Preservation System. The issue was a political powder keg in the state where many hostile factions clamored for war. The chances of success were remote.

But, Mo Udall brought the Arizona Congressional Delegation together. Some he reasoned with gently. Others he had to shove a little harder. It wasn't always easy and it wasn't always fun but it worked, and the force of Mo's character and virtue brought diverse groups together and moved mountains.

Mo Udall gave his colleagues and constituents an example of decency, vision, comity and good humor. That example inspired his colleagues and constituents, and in the end made something very good happen.

That same formula of bringing together people of good faith, but different perspectives, has been employed to win other major environmental victories in our state. It was used to forge consensus on the cleanup of a large power plant polluting the Grand Canyon, to reduce noise from overflights at the park, repair the environmental damage caused by erratic flows from the Glen Canyon Dam, and preserve magnificent public lands for the enjoyment of this and future generations.

The success of Mo's example is why earlier this year I introduced legislation to create the National Environmental Conflict Resolution Center. The center would be housed within the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy. The institute will serve as a forum for the resolution of conflicts, so that in the spirit of Mo Udall, Americans can find ample opportunity to work together to meet our stewardship responsibilities. Passage of this bill would be a fitting tribute to Mo and everything he stood for in his long and honorable career. Perhaps the Center can be place where we can practice Mo's example for the lasting good of our country and the benefit of future generations.

Just as we have disagreed in the past, we will have our disagreements in the future, some of them will be serious and contentious. But, like Mo, may they always be principled and open to understanding, resolution and mutual respect.

In closing, I would like to remember the words of the intrepid Grand Canyon explorer and conservationist, John Wesley Powell. Before embarking on his trip to brave the uncharted rapids of the Grand Canyon, he said...

"We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown...We have an unknown distance to run; and an unknown river to explore. What falls there are...what rocks beset the channel...(and) what walls rise over the river we know not."

Those words echo forth from the past as prelude to our own journey into the future--the Great Unknown.

But, with good will and stout hearts, we too can negotiate the distance we must run, together, with honor and success for us all, and for anyone who appreciates how good God is to let us live in this, the loveliest part of His wonderful creation.

Thank you for listening to me.

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