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Dean And The Environment

I haven't read Howard Dean: A Citizen's Guide to the Man Who Would Be President yet, but the quotes in this David Broder column reinforce my feeling that Dean is fairly unexceptional, as Democrats go, in terms of his environmentalism:

The chapter on his environmental record, titled "Green and Not Green," by Hamilton E. Davis, the former managing editor of the Burlington Free Press, is a model of balance. "A clear fault line runs down the center of Howard Dean's stewardship of Vermont's environment," Davis writes. "On one side is his strong support for the purchase of wild land that might otherwise be subject to development; during his 11 years as governor, the state bought more than 470,000 acres of such land. . . .

"On the other side of the fault, however, is Dean's record on the regulation of retail and industrial development. His critics charge that his preference for the interests of large business over environmental protection sapped the vitality from the state's regulatory apparatus, especially Act 250, Vermont's historic development-control law, and from regulations pertaining to storm water runoff and water pollution."

Dean's position here is likely to be appealing as a moderate-sounding stance that's far enough left that he has ground to call Bush on his atrocious environmental record (though the very political convenience of it makes me wonder how deep his principles run). Protected lands remain one of the more popular forms of environmentalism precisely because they don't intrude into the places people are already using. It's regulations like car emissions controls, that reach into a person's private property and lifestyle, that make people start really thinking the government is overreaching. Businesses don't like either form of environmentalism, but protecting land mostly impacts industries directly dependent on natural resource extraction, whereas regulating development has a broader shadow.

But I would prefer the emphasis in environmental policy to be just the opposite of what Dean has done. I think buying and preserving land is great (provided your successors don't give away the use rights to mining and logging companies), as people who have read my posts on land trusts will recall. But I'm wary of a model of environmental protection that sees nature as something "over there" that should be preserved as a separate entity unto itself. The major environmental challenge of the 21st century is learning to live with nature, not simply protecting nature from humans. Doing that means dealing with issues like sprawling development, industrial impacts on non-protected environments (human habitats), and urban impacts such as stormwater runoff.


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