The reaction of certain key environmental groups to U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s success this week in securing permanent funding for a critical conservation fund is predictable but revealing in a way that makes one weep for the state of politics in this country.
Gardner, you will recall, went to extraordinary lengths last December, on the eve the shutdown, to arrange a deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to orchestrate a procedural move that would ensure a vote on a public lands bill package that included restoration of funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a package which the Senate approved a few days ago. The LWCF is used to pay for projects on national parks and other federal lands to improve access and enhance recreational pursuits. The money is collected not from the regular taxation channels, but from offshore oil and gas leases.
It remains unclear what fate awaits the fund in the event of the passage of the Green New Deal which would shut down those offshore platforms and presumably use them as piers to support a high-speed railway to Jamaica, in lieu of airplanes.
In the meantime, the LWCF shall be fully funded thanks to the almost singular efforts of Sen. Gardner. This was a stated priority not only of Gardner’s, but of the environmental community, whose ostensible concern for the preservation of wilderness, they eagerly tell us, animates their every waking hour. One then would expect, if not paroxysms of joy and gratitude to erupt from the earth worshipers, then at least acknowledgment of this good deed performed in service to the custodianship of nature.
Instead, from the reaction of the most fervent environmental groups you would think that Gardner had instead conspired to seed every national park in America with waste from Chernobyl.
As Joey Bunch reported last July in Colorado Politics, from the earliest days of his efforts to restore funding to the LWCF Gardner weathered the animadversions of the environmental lobby for… well, for not doing something else, whatever that might be. As Gardner was diligently working away on the issue, the League of Conservation Voters dedicated their own time and efforts to print ads decrying the senator for not working on the issue.
This is somewhat on the order of running a full-page ad criticizing NASA for not doing anything to advance space flight on the day of the Apollo 11 launch.
Now that the fruit of Gardner’s labors have been realized in the bill restoring the LWCF funding, the objections have evolved. Now, they say, Gardner is to be faulted for not doing more, that merely restoring abandoned funding for what he himself coined the crown jewel of America’s conservation efforts is insufficient.
It is an awkward argument to advance, as the LWCF certainly does plenty. Some could make the argument, not indefensible, that it may even do too much. It is easy to wonder, sitting in a county where 70-80 percent of the land about you is owned by the federal government, if perhaps we haven’t been a little too enthusiastic in our rush to conserve every rock, tree, and puddle.
On the other hand, there is something to be said for prudent conservation, which ought not be confused, necessarily, with collectivization. Perfunctory opposition to the concept of conservation can be as foolish as the obsessive, fanatical impulse to oppose any and all resource development in America’s hinterlands. “Conservative” and “conserve” share the same linguistic root for a reason after all, one that is perfectly in tune with Burke’s philosophy that political thought and practice ought to tender the link between the living, the dead, and the yet to be born, framing both his defense of tradition and the cultivation of the inherently conservative desire to leave something good for one’s progeny.
Whatever the merits of the public lands package passed by the Senate, there is no question that the resurrection of the LWCF included therein is directly due to the efforts of Gardner, and that it accomplishes its goal of advancing preservation of and access to the nation’s wilderness. This ought to be applauded, especially by those who present themselves as nature’s own guardian angels.
That it largely is not reveals how thin the environmental veneer is which conceals the far more robust political structure undergirding the environmental movement, and the extent to which environmentalism has become little more than an avenue for the advancement of collectivist economic impulses.
The field challenging Gardner for his seat grows steadily, as it seems every Democrat who ever woke up one day thinking how nice it would be to be a character in Advise and Consent is clamoring to enter the ring. We likely have not seen Gardner’s real challenger yet, but whoever it is can count on the loudest elements of the environmental movement to subordinate ecological concerns in pursuit of that singular goal.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.