Provisions in the U.S. House Republicans' "Contract With America" risk dismantling our federal system of environmental protection without creating an acceptable alternative. Yet, a return to political trench warfare by environmentalists and liberal Democrats will alienate the substantial majority of Americans committed to better stewardship but weary of partisan politics. Instead of drawing the battle line between the Contract and the status quo, they should propose a new approach that guarantees continued environmental progress while tackling conservatives' legitimate concerns over regulatory costs, red tape and runaway litigation.

The Netherlands and New Zealand offer 21st-century blueprints for such a reform. Their ground-breaking environmental initiatives move well beyond our fragmented single-issue approach to environmental problems and our costly reliance on government regulation and enforcement. By holding producers accountable to comprehensive, long-term goals, rather than short-term regulatory mandates, these countries are improving their environment and their government.