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"You Just Don't Understand!"--The Right and Left in Conversation

September 2002

Citation: ELR 11109

Author: Rena I. Steinzor

Environmental issues, like much of the nation's domestic agenda, are in equilibrium, a condition unlikely to change until the next presidential election. By "equilibrium," I mean that while the views of stakeholders are polarized, and much time is spent engaging in damaging guerrilla attacks on the other side, little has changed in the big picture. The first generation statutory framework remains on the books, implementation remains erratic in the states, and experiments with such "second generation" approaches as emissions trading have a mixed track record.1 Neither the right nor the left ends of the political spectrum2 has accomplished its stated goal of fundamental, structural reform, and the infamous "pendulum" that William Ruckelshaus described so vividly swings back and forth with a steady rhythm but narrow trajectory.3

To be sure, the Bush Administration has a decidedly right-wing tilt, especially within the White House and among the House and Senate leadership. Yet Christine Todd Whitman and her senior managers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are all moderates and unlikely to launch extreme policies with lasting effects at the administrative level. The Governor, as she prefers to be called, has as little in common with the House Republican leadership as her predecessor did, and is unlikely to set EPA on fire in either the positive or the negative sense. This posture means that incremental progress on worsening problems may be possible, although it is also likely that the White House will demand reversal of some of the affirmative changes made in previous Administrations.

Professor, University of Maryland School of Law. I am, of course, indebted to Deborah Tannen for the title of this Dialogue, and commend her book "You Just Don't Understand": Men and Women in Conversation (1990) to all readers. Although all specific mistakes in judgment and fact are my responsibility, I appreciate the help I received from my fellow scholars at the Center for Progressive Regulation in thinking through the ideas that are expressed in this Dialogue, especially Thomas McGarity and Clifford Rechtschaffen.

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