Acomment in last week's column sparked comments. OK, howls of protest.
The piece quoted Sheriff Mike Winters, who was decrying the environmental damage done to Southern Oregon forests by marijuana grow sites operated by Mexican drug cartels, and wisecracked in an aside that it was the first time in memory a Republican had fretted so about the environment.
That was hyperbole. The party invites it. Is it literally true? Of course not.
"What about Tom McCall?" somebody asked.
What about him, indeed. These days the two-term Oregon governor, a Republican, is best remembered for a 1971 remark asking people to visit Oregon again and again, "But for heaven's sake, don't come here to live."
Not very politic. But McCall's legacy goes light years beyond snappy sound bites. From 1966 to 1974, he spearheaded environmental efforts that would benefit Oregon for ages to come (environmentalists make great ancestors).
There was the country's first bottle bill, a cleanup of the Willamette River (OK, some of these battles never end), a law guaranteeing public ownership of the state's beaches, and the state's first-in-the nation land-use planning system (again, some of these never end), which introduced the urban growth boundary around the state's cities.
McCall replaced Portland's ugly riverfront freeway with a 37-acre park (now known as Tom McCall Waterfront Park) running along the banks of the Willamette. He was behind the creation of SOLV, the environmental group that over the last four decades has given an estimated $60 million worth of services to clean up Oregon beaches and riparian zones, plant native species and remove invasive plants.
It is no exaggeration to say that absent Tom McCall, the Oregon your children's children will inherit would be a vastly poorer place. None of McCall's victories came easily. Each measure faced fierce opposition from powerful interests, and some of the fights were as bitter as today's.
McCall wasn't the only green Republican. Teddy Roosevelt was one of the heroes of the modern environmental movement, creating dozens of wildlife refuges, including the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge complex just a short drive from the Rogue Valley.
The Environmental Protection Agency was created by Republican President Richard Nixon. Former Gov. George Pataki of New York fought for the environment and after leaving office formed an environmental consulting firm, the Pataki-Cahill Group, which has worked on the climate change issue (anathema to the national Republican Party).
Many rank-and-file Republicans tell pollsters they favor a cap on carbon emissions. There is even a group called Republicans for Environmental Protection.
But to be fair, many Republicans in Washington have fought to weaken the EPA ever since Nixon created it. When Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann have mentioned the EPA in the present campaign, it's to attack it with the old canard that it "destroys jobs." Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain said they would abolish it. Ron Paul would pull the plug as well.
Every Republican presidential candidate opposes limiting greenhouse emissions. And Republicans for Environmental Protection is not connected with and gets no support from the Republican National Committee.
The remark about environmental fretting wasn't aimed at Tom McCall Republicans. Rather, it was aimed at a party that in the past 24 months in Washington has acted as follows:
- Sought to limit the government's ability to enforce environmental regulations with HR 10, the REINS act.
- Pushed through the House a law to strip the government of the power to regulate coal ash and give it to the states and permit them to treat it as municipal garbage.
- Fought for the Keystone XL pipeline to bring dirty oil from Canada across fragile ecosystems.
- Claimed falsely to have the support of several green groups in efforts to block safeguards designed to protect Americans from mercury.
- Tried to delay power plant cleanups and to require the EPA to consider the economic impact of clean-air regulations rather than just health impacts.
- Introduced legislation to exempt the Border Patrol from all environmental laws.
- Held 170 anti-environmental votes in the last two years, including 91 targeting the EPA, 71 trying to block actions to prevent pollution, 61 to weaken the Clean Air Act. Others have sought to block action on climate change and de-fund clean energy initiatives.
- Fought alongside industry lobbyists this week to prevent the Obama administration from adopting new rules limiting mercury emissions from power plants, although some plants already have adopted the tougher standards with no problems. Update: Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) on Wednesday vowed to kill the anti-mercury measure after the Senate's holiday break.
Somewhere, Tom McCall is shaking his head. He took his environmental stewardship as seriously as grim death, literally. Dying of prostate cancer in 1982, his last effort was to lead the fight against a ballot measure that would have undone Oregon's land-use planning system.
Asked whether he were afraid the stress would hasten his death, he said maybe it would, then added, "But if the legacy we helped give Oregon and which made it twinkle from afar — if it goes, then I guess I wouldn't want to live in Oregon anyhow."
Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. If you have comments or suggested topics for the column, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.