It's Not Easy Being Green

Who's an environmentalist?


Is there a legal definition of environmentalist? It sounds like a question for law students in their cups, but it actually entered a federal courtroom earlier this year. Having successfully sued the government to put a "properly qualified environmental representative" on one of its advisory panels, a collection of eco-groups went on to complain that the appointee was insufficiently green.

In December the Bush administration appointed Brian Mannix to the Industry Sector Advisory Committee on Chemicals & Allied Products. Mannix, a researcher at the pro-market Mercatus Center, says he sought the job "to represent the public interest, with a special expertise in environmental matters." Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm specializing in green issues, complained that Mannix "has often opposed regulatory approaches to environmental problems" and, therefore, does not qualify as an environmentalist. Mannix begs to differ, though he confesses that he has "trouble disaggregating the public's 'environmental interest' from all of its other interests."

In January, Judge Barbara Rothstein sided with Earthjustice and its clients, declaring that "none of the salient aspects of Mr. Mannix's background suggest that he would represent the environmental community's viewpoint," which apparently is well-defined enough to be described in the singular. She added that Mannix has not ever "been affiliated with any environmental group or ever advocated on behalf of protecting the environment. The court is, therefore, unpersuaded that Mr. Mannix's appointment provides a voice for the environmental community."

Mannix can still serve on the committee, but not as the environmental representative. Meanwhile, the panel itself isn't allowed to meet until the green rep is in place. "When I applied for this appointment," Mannix comments, "I fully expected that my qualifications, both technical and political, would receive thorough scrutiny. What is surprising to me is that my political qualifications should be vetted by a federal judge."