Slate and the Post are suckered by anti-environmentalist Newt Gingrich

[Sadly, this is only a runner up for the worst Earth Day climate story from the traditional media. I’ll post the winner on Earth Day. Hint: It’s NBC.]

No, hell has not frozen over. But Slate and its partner the Washington Post would have you believe otherwise.

This week, Slate is hosting some of the world’s most eminent environmental thinkers, leaders, and advocates, and inviting them to answer questions from our readers about what’s happening to our world and what we can do about it.

Yes, Slate then describes Gingrich, author of the recent book A Contract with the Earth, as a “conservative conservationist” who has now “devoted himself to a bipartisan ‘mainstream environmentalism.’ “ And the Post runs their interview with him saying he will “discuss finding a common commitment to environmental stewardship and bipartisan solutions for global warming and other critical problems.”


Seriously. And people ask me if the media coverage of the environment and global warming has gotten better. The traditional media has the attention span and historical memory of an erection.

Back in November, Salon ran an interview (here) with Gingrich, who famously co-authored and then worked to enact the anti-environmental Contract with America (CWA), in which he claimed

I don’t know of a single thing in the Contract that was bad for the environment.

As I noted at the time (here), CWA was a clever, stealthy attack on the environment as detailed by NRDC in a lengthy analysis (summarized here), by the Sierra Club, and by the National Wildlife Federation, which wrote at the time: “Taken as a whole, the House plan constitutes the broadest and deepest attack ever mounted against laws that protect public health, the environment, natural resources and wildlife.”

Regular readers of this blog know precisely what environmental non-strategy Luntz Bush Gingrich must embrace, and his Washington Post interview does not disappoint, from the very start:

Newt Gingrich: I want to start by saying that I believe we need an entrepreneurial, science and technology oriented approach to the environment, and that most Americans agree with that…. [A] majority of Democrats, independents, and Republicans all agree that entrepreneurs can do more than bureaucrats to solve environmental challenges.

If you are a new reader and that doesn’t sound familiar, try this:

We need to emphasize how voluntary innovation and experimentation are preferable to bureaucratic or international intervention and regulation.

That of course would be a direct quote from the Frank Luntz playbook on how to seem like you care about the climate when you don’t, the same playbook our President has used with such great success (see Bush climate speech follows Luntz playbook: “Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah.” and of course, “Bush/Nero climate speech: “Technology, technology, blah, blah, let’s fiddle until 2025.”³


Sadly for Newt, he loves the wrong technology: “A very inexpensive hydrogen car would change the entire trajectory of environmental impact for China and India.” Not!

Needless to say, Gingrich does not favor either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system. He favors technology incentives. Now he tells us.

The only thing more gut-busting than Gingrich claiming that the CWA and related legislation weren’t bad for the environment is his newfound embrace of technology as the answer to climate/energy problems.

Recall that in the 1990s, the Gingrich Congress tried to shut down the Department of Energy, slash all clean energy research (including biofuels), stop the joint government-industry effort to develop a superefficient car, and zero out all programs aimed specifically at reducing greenhouse emissions and accelerating technology deployment (for some history, see my 1996 Atlantic Monthly article and this 1997 article).

I can think of no single politician since Ronald Reagan who has done more to set back America’s leadership in clean technology than Newt Gingrich (see discussion here). Some clever online reader actually asks Newt about this, and his answer is priceless:

McLean, Va.: In the 1990s, when you ran the House, you tried to shut down the Department of Energy, successfully cut research funding and other support for all clean energy research (including biofuels), fought (actually stopped) the joint government-industry effort to develop a superefficient car, shepherded efforts to zero out all the programs aimed specifically at reducing greenhouse emissions and accelerating technology deployment, and eliminated the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). Considering your actual record, why should we take your prescriptions seriously?

[Note to Slate/Post: God forbid a real journalist might pose this question to him.]

Newt Gingrich: Well, Edward O. Wilson, one of the leading biologists in the world, described me as the savior of the Endangered Species Act. As Republican whip in 1990 I helped pass the Clean Air Act which led to a dramatic improvement in acid rain. And I have been actively involved in environmental issues since I taught environmental studies at West Georgia College from 1970–78.

[So just forget about that whole Contract with America Thing — E.O. Wilson says nice things about me, I helped with the 1990 CAA (even though that was so successful because of a cap and trade system for sulfur dioxide that I now oppose for carbon dioxide), and, one more thing, I taught the subject for a few years.]

We should distinguish leading on the environment with sustaining bureaucracies that do little. The Office of Technology Assessment was bureaucratic and obsolete and I recommended Congress develop a relationship with the Nat’l Academy of Sciences which would give us better scientific advice.

[Anybody who knew the OTA, knows bureaucratic and obsolete do not describe it — indeed, it was less bureaucratic than the National Academy. Gingrich just didn’t like the advice that Star Wars wouldn’t work or that other countries are surpassing us in renewables because they have aggressive programs to promote those technologies — programs Newt tried to gut then, but now seems to embrace, sort of.]

The project on the car threw money away without achievement.

[That is rich. The car project involved my office at DOE (and other agencies) working with the then Big Three US automakers under three separate contracts, with different supply chains, to develop … wait for it … a hybrid gasoline electric car. The minute George W. Bush became president, the U.S. car companies walked away from the program and then embraced Bush’s pointless hydrogen car effort. That’s why the program didn’t achieve anything directly — because the U.S. car companies knew that if they had actually deployed a successful hybrid car, then they could no longer argue that fuel economy standards would force them to build small cars! But the program actually had a great achievement — since we excluded the Japanese car companies, they pursued hybrids on their own because they thought the US car companies were actually serious. So Toyota and Honda developed and introduced their own hybrids — and that ultimately forced GM and Ford to. I love it when a plan comes together!]

The Dept. of Energy is an obsolete bureaucracy that has failed to solve our nuclear waste problems despite spending an immense amount of money.

[That is also rich. Nobody wants huge amounts of nuclear waste in their backyard for millenia. That is the “problem,” not DOE management. The DOE did, however, give this country leadership in solar and wind industries, until funding was gutted by conservatives.]


Bottom Line: Slate and the Washington Post should be ashamed of themselves for tree-hugging Gingrich this way, for treating him like a genuine environmentalist and for letting him answer no-follow-up questions with whatever nonsense he could make up. Hard to believe NBC could beat this for lame Earth Day coverage — but they do in a cakewalk.