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

Good Ole Fashioned Eco-Tax

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Julia King expresses her opinion on a proposed new tax with the bill footed by nature lovers; and it's to go back to the drawing board.


RUDOLPH: It's Living on Earth. I'm John Rudolph. Because of a shortage of funds for environmental programs, many states have turned to voluntary tax check-offs as a way of raising additional money. Now a national coalition of environmental groups and businesses is looking for new ways to raise revenue. Commentator Julia King thinks they're looking in the wrong place.

KING: Taxing polluters is passe. It's boring. It does nothing to challenge the imagination. Toxic fumes billow from smokestacks and what do we do? We demand monetary compensation for the damage done to our air. A reasonable response at first glance, but wholly lacking in terms of ingenuity. Such strategies also add to the growing perception that government regulators are picking on big business.

So, a 1,500-member national coalition of businesses and environmental organizations is working on more creative solutions to the same old problems. They want Congress to enact user fees to raise money for wildlife programs. Their idea is to tax outdoor recreational gear. The logic behind this proposal seems to be that the people buying tents, backpacks, bird feeders and the like are the only ones using wildlife. If they want to hang out with pesky raccoons they should pay for it.

If Newt Gingrich and Jesse Helms had dreamed up this idea I'd be less confused, but this is supported by the National Wildlife Federation. According to them, we're willing to pay the price because we love the land. Real environmentalists should welcome fees on field guides, wildlife books, and photography equipment.

Not so fast. I do love the land. I am willing to pay. But creating user fees for low-impact activities such as hiking and bird watching is the wrong way to go. The approach fosters a perception that a select few can and will take responsibility for the health of our forests and wildlife. It reinforces the environment as a special interest. And where is the wisdom or justice in charging people extra money to do things that demonstrate and nurture respect for the planet? Is a composting fee on the way? Am I going to be taxed on my pathetic human-powered push mower that barely cuts grass? Should I trade in my cross-country skis for a snowmobile? There's actually something almost sweet about environmentalists that would support such a bad idea. It's love that does it.

But it's desperate love, like when you type your boyfriend's term paper or do his laundry. Real love demands respect and cooperation. Real love recognizes that work, like a feather duster, needs to be spread around a bit. Everybody has to do their fair share. I admire a fresh approach to long-running problems, but taxing a gentle walk through the woods is using a little too much imagination. My advice to the well-intentioned coalition: back to the drawing board and to those boring smokestacks.

RUDOLPH: Commentator Julia King lives in Goshen, Indiana. She comes to us by way of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.



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