While environmental protection may not be high on the agenda for many Republicans, for U.S. Congressman Christopher Shays, R-Conn., it is an issue that warrants bipartisan support.
“We need to reach beyond the Democratic caucus,” Shays said. “Success in the past has come when there are substantial number on both sides who want environmental progress.”
Shays gave a lecture Thursday afternoon in Sage Hall at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies about the importance of leadership and dialogue between political parties in creating effective environmental law. The lecture is one of 14 in a semester-long series titled, “Politics and Environment in the 2004 Election Year.”
For Shays, who has served in Congress for 17 years, one of the most important factors in promoting environmental awareness is strong leadership.
“There has been little effort in leading a world desperate to be led,” Shays said.
Despite numerous bills passed by the Bush administration that have claimed to help the environment, Shays said that many have actually done little or have been detrimental.
“This year we had an incredible chance for a forward-looking energy policy,” Shays said. “Instead we got quite a bad bill, which makes fiscal and irresponsible environmentally reckless decisions for the benefit of a few very profitable industries.”
Shays cited numerous bills, including the Clear Skies Initiative, which he said does not regulate the No. 1 greenhouse gas — carbon dioxide. Shays, who is vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, also discussed the Energy Policy Act, which he said claims to conserve natural resources but actually does more to help industries.
“[The Energy Policy Act] includes $23 billion in tax breaks to promote greater use in coal power plants, encourage deep water drilling in Gulf of Mexico and renewed interest in nuclear plants,” Shays said.
Shays is the chairman of the U.S. chapter of Global Legislators for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE), which promotes informed environmental policy.
While Shays is very supportive of regulating industrial waste, he also emphasized the importance of listening to the opposition.
“You are not being a true environmentalist if you don’t know the argument against it,” Shays said.
Shays also stressed the importance of environmental issues by making a comparison to slavery. In the same way that one cannot imagine past generations using slaves, Shays said, future generations will have a similar attitude about us neglecting the environment.
“Looking back, we wonder how people could own slaves,” Shays said. “History will not be kind to us.”
James Speth, dean of the environment school, said he was intrigued by the necessity of a bipartisan policy.
“It was very provocative and challenging,” said Speth. “He’s right that there is going to be a sharp division on environmental issues in the presidential campaigns.”
Heather Kaplan MEM ’04, one of the organizers of the lecture, said she hopes people like Shays will raise awareness about the environment for Democrats as well as Republicans.
“We look to people like Shays as a hope for the future, to bridge the gap between parties,” Kaplan said.
Other speakers in the “Politics and Environment in the 2004 Election Year” lecture series include Bobby Kennedy Jr. and former Vice President Al Gore. The series aims to examine environmental problems from an academic and political perspective.
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