Two articles in the Washington Post jumped out at me this morning. Neither is explicitly “green,” but both have important environmental implications.

The first, “Insurers Retreat from Coasts, Katrina Losses May Force More Costs on Taxpayers,” was front-page, above the fold — even in my waffle-deprived state I couldn’t miss it. What the story missed was any mention of the idea that perhaps the role of governments — local, state, and national — was not as an insurance backstop for development exposed to high risk of natural catastrophes, but as preventer of such development in the first place. Insurance policy is not my forte, and after reading the article I can’t say which competing proposal would be better, but I’m sure a better policy than either would be preventing development in some these areas. Better policy, for sure, but more difficult politics …

And as Michael Grunwald makes clear in his “Pork by Any Other Name,” in this day and age politics beats policy every time. To quote him, “Congress often seems to have devolved into a policy-free zone, where pork not only greases the wheels of legislation, but is the very purpose of legislation.”

Grunwald’s piece is unusual in pork reporting in that it is explicit about environmental issues, like sprawl, and takes a look at the good and bad of earmarks, although most of the good comes from making the best out of a broken system. For example, “Members of Congress who want to promote light rail, buses or any other transportation options often have no choice but to turn to earmarks.”

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It’s not all Congress’s fault though. As Grunwald points out, most of the money in the last transportation bill went to states with no guarantee that they would spend it wisely. More often than not, the money “will subsidize sprawl by promoting new highways in sparsely developed areas — roads to nowhere, so to speak.”

Grunwald supports earmark reform that increases the transparency of the who, what, and when of them, but he is under no illusion that stopping earmarks will stop the problem. I can’t improve on his point that “porkers produce pork.”

Both of these stories remind me of the most important lesson I learned while working on Capitol Hill: politics trumps substance — even for the lawmakers most committed to crafting good policy. The task environment and sustainability activists have is simple: make our issues politically relevant. At times this can seem like an impossible task, but it’s one we can’t afford to fail.

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