in recent weeks, some of George W. Bush's
conservative allies have worried that the administration's wobbles
on issues like arsenic and carbon dioxide would embolden environmentalists
in their effort to pressure the president to go along with a number
of Clinton-era regulations. After a recent dinner in Washington,
it's not entirely clear which path the administration will take,
but it is clear that environmentalists are feeling more powerful
The dinner, held last Tuesday at the Metropolitan Club near the
White House, was organized by Tim Wirth, a former Democratic senator
from Colorado who later served in the Clinton State Department and
is now president of the United Nations Foundation, the organization
created by media mogul Ted Turner as part of his $1 billion gift
to the U.N. Wirth says he contacted Interior Secretary Gale Norton,
a fellow Coloradan whom he has known for years, and offered to host
a get-acquainted dinner with representatives of all the large environmental
Norton agreed. The guests included what one attendee called a "who's
who of the environmental Left." While there were officials from
organizations like Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists,
there were no representatives from conservative groups like the
Competitive Enterprise Institute. "We knew going into it that it
would be an eclectic, if that's the right word, group of people,
including some who have been quite harsh to the secretary," says
an Interior staffer. "That goes with the job. But Secretary Norton
did find it a little bit odd to be asking John Passacantando to
please pass the oil and vinegar."
Passacantando is the executive director of Greenpeace, a radical
environmentalist group famous for its theatrical civil-disobedience
protests. According to witnesses, Passacantando pressed Norton on
a variety of issues and threatened that Greenpeace activists
whom he referred to as "my hippies" would be delighted to
be arrested staging noisy protests at the Interior Department if
the administration pursued policies that Greenpeace opposes.
In a recent conversation, Passacantando was a bit more conciliatory.
"All I can say is that I was totally professional in talking about
the activist community, and she was professional in listening,"
he told NRO. But he said of the dinner, "If this is their attempt
to mend fences, they ought to do a heck of a lot more of it. Given
the way they've operated these first 100 days, they're not really
listening to the voters who matter. They've got a hard-core, dinosaur-industry,
late 19th-century agenda. I bet it was helpful for her [Norton]
to hear all this."
Even though the discussion covered a range of environmental issues,
the main topic of the evening was global warming. And on that, Norton,
whose boss George W. Bush recently pulled out of the unratifiable
Kyoto treaty, faced a nearly solid wall of opposition. "There is
only one set of beliefs that is acceptable [about global warming],"
says one attendee of the prevailing opinion among the activists
at the dinner. "It's happening, human activity is the cause, and
Kyoto is the cure."
Through it all, Norton smiled and took the criticism with good humor.
"I think she stood up to them really well," says one ally. "But
it worries me that they [the environmental activists] think they
went eyeball-to-eyeball with the administration, and the administration
blinked." That is indeed the situation the Bush White House finds
itself in today a situation that is likely to continue, at
least as long as the president's critics believe they are winning
the war over the environment.