Environmental movement to fight GOP rollback of laws


WASHINGTON -- The environmental movement's most concerted campaign in a generation is about to get under way as environmental groups around the country work to make the 25th anniversary of Earth Day spark a rebellion against a broad rollback of environmental legislation.

Trying to influence lawmakers of both parties as they meet with constituents during the congressional recess, the groups are reviving all the usual organizing tools of a movement that came of age in 1970.

They are also using new lobbying tactics that evolved after the first Earth Day, when millions of people took to the streets and helped persuade Congress to pass dozens of environmental laws in the ensuing decades.

With the Republicans who control Congress trying to make fundamental changes in those laws to reduce regulatory costs, leaders of large environmental groups said they had two goals for the Earth Day celebrations on the weekend of April 22: to spread the word about congressional plans to as wide an audience as possible, and to persuade lawmakers that mainstream public opinion does not support the environmental course Congress has taken this year.

It is an attempt fraught with political danger. If the public does not respond or if Congress senses greater strength among those who want the regulations changed, the environmental movement risks being relegated to the fringes of the debate just as legislation to roll back regulations comes before the Senate. That is where environmental groups believe they have the best chance of stopping provisions already passed by the House.

"This ultimately comes down to a battle for the center," said Geoffrey Garin, a pollster at Peter D. Hart Research Associates who helped design the environmentalists' campaign.

The Republican leadership, especially in the House, argues that November's elections showed a shift away from what they call extremist environmental policies.

But environmental groups say they believe that most people did not vote for a Republican Congress to turn back environmental regulations and that most people do not recognize the extent of the environmental changes moving through Congress.

More significantly, they say, polling and focus groups suggest that the views of environmentalists are basically shared by mainstream voters, including independents. And, they say, voters become angry when they are told that corporate interest groups are lobbying for changes to environmental laws that would provide financial benefits to businesses.

Across the country, as members of Congress are at home on holiday until after Earth Day, groups are planning rallies and concerts, campus seminars, petition drives, letter-writing campaigns, phone calls and faxes and other lobbying efforts.

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