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Politics shouldn't get in way of conservation

by Asheville Citizen-Times Tuesday, Sep. 23, 2003 at 6:55 PM

The environment shouldn't be a partisan issue -- clean air and water are essential for survival. So in response to the anti-environmental zeal of Gingrich and his supporters, Martha Marks co-founded Republicans for Environmental Protection America.

Politics shouldn't g...
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Politics shouldn't get in way of conservation

By Asheville Citizen-Times

Sept. 22, 2003 11:10 p.m.

Many people have come to view "conservation" as another word for "impediment."

"Tree-huggers" want to stop development and business and industry. When they get their way, they cost companies profits and cost people jobs.

To be both a conservative, who supports business and free enterprise, and to be an environmentalist is almost mutually exclusive in their view.

But that's not the way Martha Marks sees it.

Like other Republicans, Marks was happy to see her party take control of the U.S. House in 1994. It was an historic victory, the first time Republicans had held the majority since 1952. But the following year when the House elected Rep. Newt Gingrich speaker and she began to see some of the environmental policies on the Gingrich revolutionaries' agenda, she decided it was time to speak out for the conservation ethic that appeared to be endangered in the "conservative" party.

In response to the anti-environmental zeal of Gingrich and his supporters, Marks co-founded Republicans for Environmental Protection America, or REP America, to speak up for Republicans who care about the environment and to encourage her party's leaders to reclaim a "wonderful history of Republican environmentalism" that dates back to Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.

Beginning Thursday, Marks will be in Western North Carolina for three days to speak about two issues that have regional and national importance, air quality and the preservation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and to encourage citizens to become actively involved in preserving the environment.

Her organization, which has about 2,500 members in 47 states, gives the Bush administration a grade of D on its policies regarding air quality and public land.

But Marks points to the fact that conservation of public land began with Republicans. In 1864, Lincoln set aside the first land in what would later become Yosemite National Park. In 1872, Grant set aside the land that became Yellowstone National Park. President Theodore Roosevelt was one of the greatest conservation presidents. And, she says, it was President Dwight D. Eisenhower who took the first steps to set aside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

All the landmark environmental bills during the 1970s - the National Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act - were signed by Republican presidents.

"The Republican Party was where conservation and environmental protection began," Marks said last week during a telephone interview.

Her organization also makes the point that, contrary to the view that environmental protection is an impediment to business, it's good for business. For example, reducing energy consumption is an efficiency that reduces costs and increases profits. Conserving resources also demonstrates fiscal responsibility. On its Web site, REP America points to Florida's Kissimmee River, where the Army Corps of Engineers made channels that created an environmental disaster and are now spending millions more to put it back like it was.

The WNC Alliance, an environmental organization that seeks bi-partisan solutions to regional environmental issues invited Marks to WNC this week. She will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Arts Center in downtown Hendersonville, at 7 p.m. Friday at the Performing Arts Center in Highlands, and she will be the keynote speaker Saturday at the annual WNC Alliance membership meeting at Warren Wilson College. All three events are free and open to the public.

The environment shouldn't be a partisan issue. Clean air and water are essential for survival. Preserving the beautiful wild places that are our natural heritage is essential for the survival of our sense of self as a nation. WNC Alliance is to be commended for bringing Marks to the North Carolina mountains to remind us that no matter what our party, we all have a responsibility to be part of caring for the resources we depend on.


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