NWF View - Values That Americans Hold Dearly

Values that Americans hold dearly

12-01-1996 // NWF Staff

Two years ago, in November 1994, the most explicitly anti-environmental Congress in history was elected. Both the new Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, and a large plurality of the freshmen class immediately took aim at environmental regulations and the agencies that enforced them, with the widely publicized intention of "getting the federal government off our backs.".

As soon as the election results rolled in that year, the National Wildlife Federation commissioned a poll to find out exactly what the electorate had in mind for the environment when they sent the 104th Congress to Washington. What we found then, and what has been borne out by events since, is that whatever voters were choosing when that Congress was elected, they were not voting to overturn two decades of environmental progress..

This past summer, with the presidential elections approaching, we asked Peter Hart, a pollster who works for Democratic candidates, and Vince Breglio, who does similar work for Republicans, to work together on a new poll that would survey voter attitudes about the environment. What they found heartened all of us.

In the poll, 54 percent of those who said they would vote in November stated that the environment was very important for them in their choice of a candidate; 75 percent named the environment as a high priority issue. Repeating a question we had asked in 1994, we again queried respondents as to whether environmental regulations go too far, are about right or don't go far enough. Forty-nine percent thought that such regulations do not go far enough, an increase of about 8 percent from 1994.

The poll also asked about a number of specific issues, including the right to know about toxic emissions, reintroducing endangered species and charging higher fees for public lands use. A majority of respondents chose to conserve our resources, despite the poll's evenhanded presentation of those issues..

These poll results are reflected in Congress' inability to inflict the damage that was envisioned two years ago. No "takings" bill to allow private interests to claim taxpayer dollars every time an environmental regulation reduced the theoretical value of their land ever reached the President's desk. The so-called "Dirty Water Act" passed the House, but died in the Senate. The budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department were not slashed. Dozens of threats to the Endangered Species Act, from special interest exemptions to radical redefinitions of the Act's authority, were defeated..

Although at this writing the results of the 1996 elections are not in, we at NWF believe most elected officials from both parties have learned that the environment is a core value for the majority of Americans, who will not tolerate its sacrifice to special interests. It is a good time to say a heartfelt thank you to our members, and to every citizen for whom sensible conservation of the places and wildlife we love are the real traditional American value.

Mark Van Putten
President & Chief Executive Officer
National Wildlife Federation

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