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Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 1999 /4 Teves, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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EPA vs. the American Dream -- MY HUSBAND and I are finally getting serious about settling down. After seven years as nomadic renters in Los Angeles, Seattle, and D.C., we're scouring southern Maryland for a home to call our own. Our needs are few: a detached single-family dwelling, a yard bigger than a doormat, and a shady place nearby to push a stroller without fear of getting mowed down by downtown traffic.

We want what everyone from our parents to the Brady Bunch to the cartoon Simpson family has: a house in the 'burbs, two cars in the garage, and room to grow. Growth, however, is a four-letter word to a hostile chorus of environmental cranks who don't want people like me – young, mobile, first-time home buyers -- moving into their neighborhoods.

You know, it's hard enough trying to scrape together a down payment these days. But can you believe that the federal government uses our tax dollars to fund bigoted eco-cranks? In a policy report published by the libertarian Cato Institute last week, Peter Samuel and Randal O'Toole document the Environmental Protection Agency's furtive financing of the so-called "anti-sprawl" campaign.

Since 1995, the EPA has given more than $6 million in grants to activists and local government groups who oppose cars, roads, and homes. They call it "smart growth" or the "New Urbanism." It is nothing more than stubborn obstructionism and plain old NIMBYism. Samuel and O'Toole note that the goal of smart-growth proponents is "to redesign cities and suburbs to discourage driving and force people to consume less land." That means keeping us confined to high-density townhouses with little privacy, tight space, and noisy mass transit chugging by at all hours of the day and night.

Among the federal grant recipients feeding at the EPA's smart-growth trough: the radical Environmental Defense Fund ($650,000), which blocks road and suburban development through nationwide litigation; the Bicycle Federation of America ($465,000), which grossly exaggerates the benefits of bicycle and pedestrian commuting; and the Surface Transportation Policy Project ($1,005,000), a non-profit lobbying group that promotes massive diversions of federal highway user fees to non-highway transportation.

The latter group championed increases in EPA's regulatory authority over transportation planning, endorsed Vice President Al Gore's "livability" agenda, and nurtured a network of anti-car, anti-suburb groups through a Web site funded by EPA. The agency's grants create the façade of a grass-roots movement against sprawl when in fact, write Samuel and O'Toole, "much of the 'movement' is supported by a federal agency seeking increased funding and power over local governments."

After bipartisan critics attacked the grant program's noncompetitive bidding process this summer, EPA Administrator Carol Browner promised reforms. But Samuel and O'Toole observe that Browner's cosmetic procedural changes don't guarantee any substantive changes in the doling out of federal dollars. Moreover, another grant-making program to urban nonprofit groups, called the "Smart Growth Network," was left untouched. This left-leaning cabal, an obvious front for EPA, ridicules suburban lifestyles and blames Americans' embrace of the automobile on manipulation by advertisers.

I love my car and I want a big backyard and I refuse to feel guilty or exploited. It's so typical of central planners and environmental snobs to blame ignorance for individual preferences. What they consider vacuous, wasteful, and insipid, most people consider safe, convenient, and efficient. More than four out of five American workers drive to their jobs, and more than 90 percent of all non-job-related trips are also by car. Contrary to eco-alarmist claims, Samuel and O'Toole write, "EPA's own research shows that environmental damage caused by driving is steadily declining as cleaner cars and fuels replace old ones."

Anti-car forces refuse to acknowledge that mobility on the road means mobility up the social ladder. Anti-suburban development activists refuse to believe that most families really don't want to raise their children in crowded Manhattan high-rises or creaky San Francisco rowhouses. And the EPA refuses to entertain an honest and open debate on policy alternatives to congestion and air pollution unless the agency is the central social engineer controlling the power and the purse strings.

These environmental refuseniks are standing in the way of millions of hard-working families who want a modest little piece of the American Dream. They are fencing us off. They are fencing us in. And they are forcing us to pay for their fence.

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate