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STILL AN ISSUE
The environment ranks well behind unemployment and Social Security as an issue in the current election campaign. Nevertheless, there are indications that the Administration is concerned lest its hard line on the environment come back to haunt it at the polls on Nov. 2. One indication is the disappearance from public view—or at least from public controversy—of environmentalist-baiting Interior Secretary James Watt, who has been a favorite target of Democratic candidates. Another is the fact that two weeks ago President Reagan quietly signed a bill that actually strengthens one of the linchpins of federal environmental protection, the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
It's safe to say that making the Endangered Species Act stronger wasn't what the Administration originally had in mind. Last year it tried to slash the Fish and Wildlife Service's budget for administering the law by more than one-third—Congress approved a 23% reduction—and refused to designate any new species for inclusion on the endangered list until threatened with a lawsuit. Then the Interior Department's solicitor's office recommended to Watt changes in the law that, in the view of environmentalists, would have gutted it. Watt chose not to accept those recommendations; instead he proposed extending the act in its existing form for one year. Environmentalists and their allies in Congress, who were angling for a three-year extension, suggested that Watt's strategy was simply to hold off emasculating the law until after the congressional elections.
If that was the plan, it failed miserably. The tug-of-war over the fate of the Endangered Species Act prompted expressions of alarm from pro-development forces, including one trade-group official who was quoted in The New York Times as declaring that "any species is expendable somewhere along the line except mankind." In the face of such anthropocentrically arrogant nonsense, which seemed to imply that Homo sapiens could somehow survive without the genetic diversity of plant and animal species necessary to sustain it, Congress not only approved a three-year extension of the act but also beefed it up by mandating that decisions on adding species to the endangered list be based solely on biological considerations, without regard, as previously was the case, to economic factors. Support for the bill crossed party lines; it passed by unanimous consent in both the House and Senate, where it was ushered through by Republican John H. Chafee of Rhode Island, who faces a tough reelection challenge next week. The President's subsequent signing of the measure was an acknowledgment that, on this issue at least, the hard-liners in his Administration had got nothing by trying to get too much.
Not that the Administration has lost its taste for the fray. There is widespread speculation that Watt is planning to end his hibernation and take a number of strong new anti-environmental actions immediately after the election. Meanwhile, the Administration continues to push for substantial weakening of another key environmental law, the Clean Air Act, and hardly a week goes by that it doesn't set its teeth into some environmental program or other. The Administration's failure to undermine the Endangered Species Act suggests, however, that it doesn't necessarily have to win all such battles.
YOUR MOVE, AGGIES
SO'S YOUR OLD MAN
A lot of swell fights take place in bars, so it's only slightly surprising that Johnny's Ringside Lounge in Ames, Iowa features a boxing ring on its dance floor complete with bell, stools and ropes. But instead of throwing punches, the combatants who climb into the ring at Johnny's pepper each other with insults.
Johnny Mascaro, who runs the joint, is the coach of the Iowa State University boxing club and the "Italian amateur heavyweight champ" of Des Moines. He opened the lounge on Sept. 1, which, he notes, just happens to be Rocky Marciano's birthday.
With a pitcher of beer on the line, the verbal pugilists trade slurs for three one-minute rounds. Between rounds there are 30-second rest periods in which cornermen can offer advice. In the interest of good sportsmanship, each contestant is required to smile throughout the bout. No body contact is permitted and the use of foul language is considered a low blow. So are mother jokes. "We hold mothers in high esteem and we don't want to offend any," says Mascaro. Three unbiased patrons are enlisted to do the judging.