By Kate Alexander
PHILADELPHIA – The “kinder, gentler” platform ratified by the Republican party this week includes an environmental plank that Rep. Wayne Gilchrest said represents some progress but is little more than rhetoric.
But Gilchrest, a longtime supporter of environmental protection, said that any movement to temper the party’s environmental agenda gives him hope that the party is moving toward greater support for environmental protection.
“Lip service is better than no service,” said Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville.
The Republican Platform 2000 maintains the party’s fundamental environmental positions, including a call for government compensation when private property rights are abridged, reduction of federal land holdings and opposition to the Clinton administration’s approach to global climate change. But the opinions in this platform are couched in less combative language than previous platforms.
State Sen. Chris McCabe, R-Howard, who sat on the platform committee for Maryland, said the document spoke to the importance of balancing economic growth and conservation, particularly through personal rather than governmental efforts.
“Fundamentally, I do not think the platform has changed its environmental plank … it still represents the party’s belief in property rights but recognizes that conservation of natural resources is important,” McCabe said. “The tone is just more positive, less confrontational.”
Jon Robinson, vice chairman of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, lauded Gilchrest for his support of local environmental concerns, but said the vast majority of Republicans have done a “horrible job.”
“Until there is a change and both parties stop selling out to the highest bidder, the environment will continue to take a beating. While the Democrats have a long way to go, they have been much better than the Republicans,” Robinson said.
The Sierra Club’s national arm has endorsed Vice President Al Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.
Gilchrest said the platform indicated a movement toward “thoughtful, sophisticated” debate rather on environmental issues rather than dogma, a process initiated by George W. Bush’s campaign. He called it a starting point at which the party can begin a dialogue on all issues.
“The (milder) positions are an indication of the influence of Bush … that he will not go back on environmental issues but go forward,” Gilchrest said.
But Robinson said it will take more than gentler language to signal greater Republican support for environmental issues.
“Until I see specific proposals, I think it is just smoke and mirrors … (and) I am not going to place too much credence in the platform,” Robinson said.