Democrats and Republicans Influences on Environmental Issues Since 1965 Term Paper

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Environment and the Two Major Political Parties

When one thinks of Democrats and Republicans thoughts typically run to images of two diametrically opposed platforms. Yet, despite political ranting, both parties have been concerned for the environment in which we live, for more than 40 years. This paper will look at the two parties, and their basic differences, then examine the history of environmental legislation. From this, an understanding will be brought forth regarding what efforts each party has put into protecting and preserving the environment, in the past, and what efforts are being currently put for regarding the future of environmental conservation, and how in the end, political party has little to do with whether or not someone is concerned with the environment.

The Environment and the Two Major Political Parties

Introduction:

When one thinks of Democrats and Republicans thoughts typically run to images of two diametrically opposed platforms. Yet, despite political ranting, both parties have been concerned for the environment in which we live, for more than 40 years. This paper will look at the two parties, and their basic differences, then examine the history of environmental legislation. From this, an understanding will be brought forth regarding what efforts each party has put into protecting and preserving the environment, in the past, and what efforts are being currently put for regarding the future of environmental conservation, and how in the end, political party has little to do with whether or not someone is concerned with the environment.

Basic Political Differences:

Although it is now common for politicians to run on platforms that are designed to attract as many voters as possible, giving birth to compassionate conservatives and moderate liberals, there are still some fundamental differences to the parties, in general. The Republican Party policies tend to be based on laisez-faire economics where businesses are left fairly unregulated in hopes that consumer demands will restrict their actions to what is socially acceptable. The less government involvement in one's professional or personal life the better. It follows that many Republican politicians tend to cater to businesses and business promotion, recognizing that strong businesses create a strong America. However, Democrats often feel that this attention to business needs means that issues, such as environmental protection, fall along the wayside.

Democrats, on the other, are historically focused on the needs of the people. Their belief is that by providing for those in need, eventually a strong America will grow. A plethora of government programs have been developed to meet the needs of the people, especially those who have suffered ill fortune. This compassion extends beyond the human component of society, however, and into the environment.

It is a philosophical difference in the parties, that equates to Democrats simply not trusting unregulated markets to protect the environment and Republicans opposing regulations that restrict private property rights and the free market (Witwer, 2002). Republicans favor deregulation while Democrats feel more stringent regulations must be put into place, to ensure the health of the environment. Although most environmentalists would classify themselves as liberal vs. conservative, for this reason, both parties have been instrumental in the environmental headway that has been made over the last four decades. And many times, this progress was only due to bipartisan efforts to preserve and protect the environment.

The Early Years of Environmental Conservation:

In the early 1960s, America was rapidly becoming a nation of change. Civil rights movements and anti-nuclear movements were center stage for many politicians. But, during this chaotic time, environmental conservation also became a concern.

Americans were becoming used to higher standards of living and had access to higher levels of education, changing their values. "Quality of life issues began to surface, especially as people began to question the quality of their air and water" (Paluda, 2003). It was a time of technological advancements that had never before been seen.

The petrochemical industries were thriving. And a book by Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, published in 1962, echoed the nation's growing concerns over pesticides, pollution and population growth. Citizens, who had found their political voice, sent out a call to end the pollution and environmental degradation that had been escalating.

Democrats enjoyed control of the White House from 1961 to 1969 and responded to the growing cry from concerned Americans. In 1962, the Clean Air Act was initiated and passed by Democrats, regulating factory and automobile emissions. And, in 1965, the Water Pollution Control Act was passed (Calavita, 1995). These would be the first of many steps in the effort to protect the world.

In 1968, ultra-conservative Richard M. Nixon won the presidential election by reaching out to the 'silent majority'. These were citizens who had grown weary of the tumultuous social activism of the previous decade. With this shift of the nation to the right, environmentalists were forced "to diversify their political alliances beyond the Democratic Party. (Realizing that) it was no longer a star upon which the environmental movement should hitch its wagon" (Kerr, 1997).

However, environmentalism, as a political issue, is a bit like crime. No one is against the environment, just as no one is for crime. Yet there are disparate ideas on how best to deal with the issue.

Therefore it should not be so surprising that the environment found support in the conservatives of the late 1960s and early 1970s. President Nixon helped passed perhaps one of the most important environmental pieces of legislation of the time, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (Calavita, 1995) and established the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency of now more than 18,000 employees who are dedicated to providing "leadership in the nation's environmental science, research, education and assessment efforts" ("Environmental," 2004).

It was also President Nixon who signed into law the Endangered Species Act (Kerr, 1997). And although some feared that environmental protection and economic stagnation would go hand-in-hand, the economy in the United States has nearly tripled since the passage of these historic environmental protection measures in the 1970s ("Green," 2002).

The 1980s and 1990s:

Several factors kept environmental issues at the forefront of politics through the 1980s. First was a growing concern that the United States was running out of landfill space. Recycling became a top priority for many grassroots organizations and concerned citizens, and by 1988 12% of solid waste was being recycled (Paluda, 2003).

As Democrats lost control of Congress, once again, in 1994, it began to become clear that there were four types of Republicans: Pro-Government/Pro-Environment, Pro-Government/Anti-Environment, Anti-Government/Anti-Environment, and Anti-Government/Pro-Environment. Republican Senator Job Chaffee, of Rhode Island, represents the most liberal of conservative types, the Pro-Government/Pro-Environment. His positioning, in the 1990s, was consistently that the government could have a positive effect on people's lives and regulation was useful for preserving the environment (Kerr, 1997).

In the 1990s, Senator Mark Hatfield, of Oregon, also was labeled as a compassionate conservative. He favored big government to meet social and economic objectives. However, many of his efforts, such as his effort to save the corrupt Bonneville Power Administration, often were perceived as doing the environment serious harm (Kerr, 1997).

Representative Bob Smith, also from Oregon, was what many Democrats would say typifies the Republican Party. His focus was stereotypically anti-government. And, in the 1990s, Representative Smith's actions were often anti-environment as well (Kerr, 1997).

Lastly, Representative John Kasich, of Ohio, is one of the most common types of Republicans. Representative Kasich spent his time in the House, during the 1990s, as chair of the House Budget Committee, striving to downsize the government and the governmental controls over society. However, he was also very concerned about the environment. He co-sponsored a measure to repeal the clearcut salvage logging rider, along with Democratic Representative Elizabeth Furse, of Oregon (Kerr, 1997).

In March 1989, an oil tanker, the Exxon Valdez, ran aground and spilled more than 10 million gallons of crude oil into the pristine waters of Alaska's Prince William Sound. It was an event that re-solidified society's concerns about cleaning up the environment. Yet, America had in office a President that at first glimpse appeared to be anti-environment.

President George Bush had been known for his clashes with environmental activists. He was a proponent for the extraction of fossil fuel from Alaska, as a means of reducing America's dependency on the Middle East for fuel. He had avoided international environmental treaties noting the negative effect they would have had on American businesses and on the American economy. However, this same President did care about the environment and in 1990, signed into law the Clean Air Act.

A few short years later, House amendment HR-479, proposed by conservatives, sought to gut the Clean Air Act. This amendment was vetoed by then Democrat President Bill Clinton, as was the Clean Water Act amendment that emasculated the original bill. In addition, during this time, an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act was put forth by Republicans, that punched the original act full of loopholes and was saved by President Clinton (Brodine, 2002). President Clinton was also able…[continue]

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