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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

A Newcomer's View

Air Date: Week of

Newly elected Congresswoman Linda Smith of Washington State discusses her priorities on environmental policy with Steve Curwood. Smith, a Republican, she believes in stronger property rights and a weakened Endangered Species Act.


NUNLEY: A large number of the newly elected Congressional Republicans hail from the west. In Washington State, for instance, the delegation in the House of Representatives flip-flopped from 7 Democrats and 2 Republicans to 2 Democrats and 7 Republicans. One of the newcomers is Linda Smith, who ousted 3-term incumbent Democrat Jolene Unsoeld with considerable support from the Christian Coalition and Newt Gingrich's Political Action Committee, GOPAC. Her clout with the new Republican House leadership was made clear when she landed the chairmanship of the Small Business Committee's Subcommittee on Taxation and Finance. She's the first female freshman ever to chair a subcommittee. Representative Smith has also been an outspoken critic of the Endangered Species Act and a strong supporter of Republican efforts to strengthen the rights of property owners, and she has an opportunity to act on those sentiments as a member of the House Resources Committee. She spoke with Living on Earth's Steve Curwood about her priorities for remaking environmental policy.

SMITH: I think my top priority is to bring some reasonableness back in. I think the Endangered Species Act needs to be refined. Some would say to abolish it, and I think that would be a very big mistake. We want to make sure that we protect the environment, and that at the same time we protect jobs and consider people, too. So I think the first thing that we need to do is redraft the Endangered Species Act to both protect the environment and jobs and to clarify it.

CURWOOD: Now, if the Endangered Species Act were changed, let's say, to open up more forests, wouldn't that cause a problem for salmon and the fishing industry?

SMITH: Actually, no. I think we need to protect the environment in a balanced way. And what happens when you don't, when you have a weak act like the Endangered Species Act, is nothing really gets protected because all you do is react.

CURWOOD: Let me ask you directly, then. Endangered Species versus the jobs for people. Let's say that if the owl weren't protected it would mean 100,000 more jobs for your district. Should the owl go?

SMITH: Well, first of all, I don't think that's a question we have to ask. I think that we've tried to do both. Which right now, all we do in our state is manage our resources by where an owl lands, or what burns. The question is, if there was one snake or one insect left, one spider, and it was the last one, and we had to consider that going extinct or a lot of people in the Columbia Gorge starving, I'd probably choose the people over that one last critter.

CURWOOD: What about property rights? The Speaker has campaigned saying, in his contract, we'd be looking at changing how the government looks at property rights. In particular, the government would be required to pay land owners any time a Federal regulation reduced the value of property by 10%. Can you explain this, and do you think the property owners should have the right to do absolutely anything they want to do with their property?

SMITH: Definitely not. We are neighbors, and we are all responsible together for living together. But on the other hand, in our state, if a land, or if an owl landed in the timber that I had grown and my family had grown, and we had put 70 years into this timber, a couple of generations, so that there was always retirement, we could take care of ourselves, but in the middle of it a set of owls landed, in our state right now the owls own the land, and nobody has to compensate us for their loss. Even though we grew it, we spent nearly millions of dollars planting those trees, and now all of a sudden the owl owns it. Now, what I would suggest in that situation is that we make sure there's a certain amount of habitat for endangered species, and in our state we have a lot of public land, and we ensure that no more than a half percent of public old growth is cut a year. Then you maintain, on a 200-year rotation, enough old growth that you have hiding habitat for them. You also maintain the place that they go hunt. They find where it has been logged the things that they eat. They don't eat in the old growth. In fact, they would starve in the old growth. And so, I think there's enough land to manage there without us stealing someone's - I do believe that the government should pay if they are going to take that land, whether it be for an owl or for some other public purpose.

CURWOOD: Some people charge that there's a - forgive me for this word - stealth, anti-environment agenda in much of the material from the contract. That indeed, if you were to take the notion of property rights or unfunded mandates or risk assessment to the extreme, that you would dismantle much of the environmental protection laws we have on the books right now. Is that a fair knock?

SMITH: Probably not. No, I think that what you have are people like me that have come out of the 60s. I was pretty well, have been an environmentalist all my life. And believed that there has to be reasonableness. And some of my colleagues that have gone off the deep end believing that they would sacrifice their neighbor, their neighbor's job, their neighbor's children - so the radicals I think in the environmental movement have probably caused some damage. And if they're making that kind of a statement, it's really too bad, because it will be real hard, then, to negotiate with such strident positioning.

CURWOOD: I want to ask you about your own environmental philosophy, and ask you if you feel that you are in synch with the Republican leadership and certainly they seem to think very highly of you. You were financially supported through GOPAC; you have a subcommittee chair. What's your personal philosophy?

SMITH: I'm not here with an agenda of the Republican Party. I'm here with an agenda of the people of Washington State. And one of the top issues in those people's minds, and especially in the Third District, was that I come and bring reasonableness back to Congress. And they don't probably know who Newt Gingrich is. But they know that Linda Smith is close to them. And so I'll be representing that view.

NUNLEY: Linda Smith is a freshman Republican Representative from Washington State. She spoke with Living on Earth's Steve Curwood.



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