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DEMOCRATS, ENVIRONMENTALISTS SHOULD GO THEIR SEPARATE WAYS

Sometimes it becomes necessary for a political movement and a political party to sever the bonds that have made them one. Such a time has arrived for environmentalists and the Democratic Party. More specifically, it has arrived for one very large and important segment of environmental culture and the Clinton-Gore administration.

The period since this administration came to power has been an environmental disaster. Rarely if ever has a new government promised so much for a core constituency and delivered so little.From the middle years of the Bush administration to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1990 through the 1992 presidential campaign, "the environment" was among the most important concerns of Americans. But after 18 months of Clinton-Gore, what is the state of environmental interest?

Media coverage has muted to a level not seen since the early Reagan years. From the perspective of advancing environmental thinking beyond a sentimental nativism or a traditional Brahmin reverence for the land, making it a populist issue that links greening with economic well-being, it is, in many respects, as if the last quarter-century of environmental political evolution had never happened.

Nationally and globally, as the White House has failed to emphasize, educate, and inspire in this realm, the membership and solvency of environmental organizations have suffered. Periodicals are going under. Books on the subject have disappeared from best-seller lists. Integrating environmental themes into school curricula has slackened. A green aesthetic in the arts has almost totally vanished.

Seemingly endless waffling about how much and even whether to regulate in order to achieve environmental goals has been a huge factor negatively affecting the $130 billion domestic environmental services and pollution control industry.

Even more infuriating for many environmental businesspeople is this administration's failure to adequately promote U.S. export of environmental services and pollution control equipment.

While a stream of initiatives, incentives and programs aimed at promoting such sales emanates from the Commerce Department bureaucracy, a serious commitment by the chief executive, of the sort that distinguishes frothy wonkery from genuine political substance, has been totally absent.

The White House did not emphasize the importance of this trade during NAFTA debates and failed to fight for special advantages for the U.S. green industry during negotiations for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Not once, at any of the half-dozen G-7 meetings Clinton attended, had he forcefully asserted a determination to win this market for U.S. companies.

Alas for this administration, while left-leaning environmentalists will almost certainly come back into the fold by the next national election (though possibly sticking with a Green Party in some local contests), the situation with the nation's large and growing environmental business culture could be quite different. These people may have a very appealing Republican alternative by 1996.

The mechanism to bring this critical element of the environmental movement into the Republican column could well be that party's vice-presidential nominee. Both Christine Todd Whitman and William Weld, Republican governors of New Jersey and Massachusetts, respectively, are developing excellent credentials as environmental business governors - chief executives who are revitalizing their states' economies by promoting the interests of local environmental industries. They are doing at a state level what the administration has failed to do on a national and international stage.