Greenpeace Activists Protest GOP Policy Agenda

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Greenpeace Activists Protest GOP Policy Agenda


By: Terry Ashe

Date: February 9, 1995

Source: Photo by Terry Ashe/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

About the Photographer: Terry Ashe is a photographer for Time-Life. This photograph is in the collection at Getty Images, a worldwide provider of visual content materials to advertisers, broadcasters, designers, magazines, new media organizations, newspapers, and producers.


In 1994, with Congressional elections looming in the middle of the first term of President Bill Clinton (1946–), the Republican congressional leadership announced a dramatic national campaign strategy—virtually all Republicans running for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, whether incumbents or challengers, would sign a document called the Contract with America. The contract spoke of reforming government practices and promised to bring ten specific bills to a vote during the first 100 days of the 104th Congress. The language of the contract was pre-tested by pollster Frank Luntz using focus groups (groups of people randomly selected from the general population); only provisions that scored an approval rating of sixty percent or higher were retained. The ten bills were given attractive names like the Taking Back Our Streets Act and the Personal Responsibility Act.

This photograph shows activists from the environmental group Greenpeace staging a die-in in Washington, DC, to dramatize what they believed would be the deadly effects of the contract. Greenpeace is a global environmental group established in 1971 that specializes in nonviolent direct action, civil disobedience, and media-targeted street theatre to oppose whaling, genetic engineering, pollution, rain-forest destruction, greenhouse gas emissions, and the like.

Greenpeace and other critics of the Contract with America claimed that not only were some of the promised policy changes unwise or cruel on their face—such as the contract's call for "prohibiting welfare to minor mothers [mothers under 18 years of age] and denying increased [Aid to Families with Dependent Children] for additional children while on welfare "—but that the descriptions were a misleading characterization of the actual changes that were proposed. For example, although ten acts were specifically listed, some of the promised acts were voted on as a series of smaller acts. Environmentalists, in particular, criticized the contract as a stalking horse that, while speaking attractively of reform, liberty, and responsibility, would actually constitute a "war on the environment" (in the words of the University of Buffalo's energy officer, 1995). The Sierra Club stated that "buried within the bills—which sport advertising-slogan names such as the 'American Dream Restoration Act'—lie a number of provisions that would indirectly undermine the foundation of environmental, health, and safety protections."



See primary source image.


Environmentalists pointed to the following provisions of the Contract with America, explicitly listed or "buried within the bills" (Sierra Club, 1994), as harmful to the environment:

  1. The Private Property Rights Protection and Compensation Act. This bill was intended to fulfill the contract's proposal that the federal government be required to pay compensation "when federal government actions reduce the value of [private property]." The Sierra Club claimed that this bill would allow compensation for "businesses, polluters, and others who claim environmental protections reduce their property values by 10 percent or more," making it too costly to "enforce and enact environmental, health and safety protections."
  2. The Federal Regulatory Budget Control Act. This act would have set a numerical upper limit for the number of federal regulations. Needful regulations might, environmentalists said, be blocked simply because a quota had already been filled.
  3. The Risk Communication Act. This act would require panels of scientists to review and possibly reject proposed environmental regulations. Scientists working for the industries to be regulated could serve on the panels, creating a conflict of interest.

The Republican Party gained majority control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the mid-term elections of 1994, although whether this victory was due to the appeal of the contract (which was announced fairly late in the election cycle) is debated by electoral experts. Many of the changes proposed by the contract were, in any case, implemented. Nine out of the ten items specifically listed were passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, although not all were passed by the U.S. Senate and became law. Some of the measures passed by the Republican-controlled House and Senate were made with the cooperation of President Clinton, such as the contract's proposed changes to the welfare system. However, Clinton resisted some of the changes to environmental laws attempted by Republicans. In July 1995, when the House passed an appropriations bill that would have cut the Environmental Protection Agency's budget by a third and changed the Clean Water Act of 1972 to allow development of wetlands and loosen pollution controls on cities and industries, Clinton called its actions "a stealth attack on our environment in the guise of a budget bill" and "a polluter's protection act."

In general, political conservatives have continued to favor the elimination or relaxation of government regulations on all forms of industrial activity, including those that pollute. They argue that market mechanisms will assure that greater good (including acceptable levels of pollution) are more likely to be produced by such a system than by one in which government seeks to regulate specific behaviors. Opponents of such claims, such as Greenpeace, argue that they are misleading, and that conservative-controlled governments actually funnel resources to large corporations. More fundamentally, they argue that businesses and corporations, motivated by the short-term need to generate profits, cannot be trusted to interact with the Earth in a sustainable way that promotes long-term global health.



Garrett, Major. "Beyond the Contract." Mother Jones (March/April 1995).

Roff, Peter. "Analysis: The Contract With America at 10." Washington Times (September 29, 2004).

Web sites

The Sierra Club. "Year in Review: Contract On America's Environment." <> (accessed May 26, 2006).

U.S. House of Representatives. "Contract With America." <> (accessed May 26, 2006).