Unfriendly Criticism

After the 1994 congressional elections that gave the Republicans temporary control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1948, national environmental policy came under sharp attack. Based largely in the House of Representatives and presaged in the "Contract with America," the attack came from a general animus to regulation, a feeling that the federal government was simply too large and powerful, and had a strong preference for the rights of private property. Much of the force behind the attack came from congresspersons from western states. They were often influenced by, and spokespersons for, a loose coalition of antiregulatory forces referred to as the "Sagebrush Rebellion." As discussed in Chapter 17, a large part of all land west of the Mississippi is owned by the federal government and managed by federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management. As a result, logging interests, grazing interests, mining interests, and others whose incomes derive from the use of public lands constitute a powerful antiregulatory force. This force gains support from a general ethos of rugged individualism which figures heavily in the political culture of many western states. An extreme manifestation of this attitude occurred on January 2, 2016 when a group of armed protestors seized land and buildings on the federally owned Malheur National Wildlife Preserve in Oregon. The incident ended several weeks later with one death, a number of arrests, and the likelihood of subsequent prosecutions.

Many groups and individuals interested in scaling back federal environmental regulation in the West organized as the "Wise Use" movement. The movement, well named from a public relations standpoint, took positions on a variety of regulatory and control issues, claiming "wise use" to be a combination of commercial use and environmental conservation. Clearly the movement was not beloved by environmentalists. In controversies such as the one in the northwest over the needs of the timber industry versus the preservation of the habitat of the spotted owl, the movement could be counted on to adopt a relatively pro-industry position. The Wise Use movement was another weight on the antiregulatory side of the balance.

The wave of referenda and legislation on takings (see Chapter 5) that came in the wake of the Kelo decision is part of the same antiregulatory mindset. Environmental regulation tells people what they must do and what they must not do with their property and their businesses, and that will often occasion great resentment. After the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) it is quite possible that the EPA is more often resented and vilified than any other agency of the federal government.

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