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Getting along together

Jack Balshaw 5/8/02

The ongoing controversy about drilling for oil in the Artic National Wildlife Reserve would seem to be the ideal vehicle for reaching a compromise between Environment and Business. Unfortunately, it's become instead another "line in the sand" battle for each side. Both sides always seem to need to have it ALL their way without any compromise.

Business interests earlier thought they had the political muscle to get everything they wanted. And so there was no offer to compromise in the nature of legislatively mandated operational conditions and/or going along with some issue of interest to the environmentalists.

Environmentalists on the other hand, thinking they couldn't get anything from this administration, had decided to oppose everything they didn't like. Consequently, it looks like neither side will get any part of what they want. But they'll keep the other side from getting anything either. It reminds me of the bumper sticker, "In the land of an eye for an eye, everyone's blind".

The trade off of controlled drilling for mandated increases in vehicle fuel efficiency was a natural point of compromise. Each side would get what they wanted but would have had to meet with conditions of some sort demanded by the other side. Things don't work that way in the black and white world of ideological interests.

Business interests tend to be immensely greedy, resulting in their eventually going too far which further results in legislation they don't like getting passed. The situation in the Enron scandal regarding both Enron and the Arthur Anderson accounting firms is a prime example. Accounting firms had an accepted, industry friendly, process of ethical oversight. Now there will be government regulations they will all (the good and the bad) have to follow. Twenty years from now they will be complaining about government regulation and everyone will have forgotten why those regulations were needed in the first place.

Environmentalists aren't much different from the business interests in wanting it all their way, but they have an organizational problem. While all environmentalists have a sort of world view, individual groups tend to focus on a major issue, be it air pollution, water pollution or use, land uses, preservation of existing open (natural) space, etc. To be effective this requires that they each support the other even when a compromise would further their particular interest.

In this instance, the oil companies won't get to drill and the environmentalists won't get increased vehicle mileage efficiency. Both sides will be able to point out to their supporters that they kept the other side from making any gains. No one wins yet both can claim a (negative) victory.

A column I wrote several weeks ago about the Israelis and Palestinians being unable to compromise got me thinking about how many other stubborn adversaries there are. The ideologs on both the left and the right are able to keep reasonable things from happening because the moderates (timid because they are moderate or moderate because they are timid) won't take a stand against passionate "true believers".

Locally we argue about transportation and land use. It seems the improvements to 101 are only happening because it didn't take local cooperation to get CalTrans to start the work. Desirable growth is called "smart growth" but it seems the only acceptable "smart growth" is no growth.

At higher levels of government everything seems to revolve around who will benefit the most. Tax legislation is held hostage by one side or the other on ideological grounds. Even education, which everyone publicly supports, becomes a battleground between the teachers' union and the "accountability" factions.

I'm beginning to get discouraged at all this but know it will eventually be settled. Sooner or later, someone will push their point too hard and be seen as not caring about the good of the general public. Then the public will turn against them and something will get done.


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