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Environment

03/25/02 12:00AM By Madeleine M. Kunin

These are tough days for environmental protection. With the spotlight on terrorism, war, and the economy, there is no national outcry against the attrition of sound environmental policy.

President Bush set the tone of his administration when he dismissed the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty, saying the U.S. would sit this one out.

Why?

It would cost jobs.

Each day there has been another hole shot into the wall of protection. The latest forced the resignation of a top EPA official who said new rules proposed for the Clean Air Act would make it harder to crack down on industrial polluters.

Add to that the vision of park rangers wearing respirators while checking in a long line of snowmobilers at Yellowstone National Park, and the determination to allow drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Area.

It's enough to make you choke.

The congress, this past week, hasn't been much better. They refused to increase renewable energy by 20% over the next 18 years.

All this assures greater energy dependence on foreign sources and makes breathing just a little bit harder.

Here in Vermont there is a polarized debate about keeping 22,000 acres of Champion Lands in its natural state, and deciding on the level of stream pollution permitted by new development.

The common thread in all these debates is jobs vs. the environment. This is President Bush's mantra and he deeply believes it.

The environment was not to be taken seriously, according to Vice President Cheney, who said concern for the environment was "a personal virtue".

Jobs vs. the environment, was the call to arms from the automobile industry when they rallied the congress to oppose higher fuel efficiency standards last week.

Senator Barbara McCulski was recorded on NPR saying that higher mileage standards "would drive a knife into the heart of labor."

Tough talk.

But is it true?

Not necessarily so, but we're stuck with the rhetoric.

The reality is that if we calculate the true costs of environmental degradation, the costs of doing nothing are exceedingly high and the costs of taking action are lower than predicted.

I recall when the bottle ban was being debated in Vermont, labor and industry locked arms and produced a study, which said that Vermont would lose thousands of dollars in jobs to New Hampshire. It never happened.

And Vermont corporations like IBM have saved millions of dollars by investing in recycling of their toxic chemicals.

Investing in the environment creates as many or more jobs than it loses.

Our biggest challenge is to change the debate. It's not the environment vs. jobs.

It's jobs and the environment.

We need both, and we can and must have both to live in a healthy and secure world.

This is Madeleine Kunin.

--Madeleine Kunin is a former Governor of Vermont.

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