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FEATURE Environment for Sale at Barton Creek BY MICHAEL KING Environmentalism pays. That was the central lesson learned from “Environmentalism at the Crossroads,” a weekend confer Conference Resort and Country Club. rill he conference, sponsored by the Political Econ tana, brought together about a dozen Texas jour nalists for a series of presentations by PERC economists and others on something PERC calls “free market environmentalism.” PERC, a con servative think-tank founded at Montana State University in 1980 \(it has since become an indemental problems with “market solutions,” as opposed to “command-and-control” solutionsi.e., the dreaded “governmental regulations.” On the theory, I suppose, that we hapless scribblers need regular doses of economic orthodoxy to prevent regulatory contamination, PERC sponsors annual journalism conferences in Montana, and recently branched out to Minnesota and now Texas. Guests of PERC represented at the Austin conference included the Houston Chronicle, Austin American-Statesman, Texas Monthly, Forbes Magazine \(a Forbes editor sits on PERC’s board of Wall Street Journal, UPI, and several smaller publications. While most of the presenters agreed in principle with PERC’s economic doctrines, also speaking were representatives of the Lone Star Sierra Club, the Save Our Springs Alliance, and even Big Bend National Park \(which PERC believes should be whimsically privaThe “Perkies,” as they cheerfully call themselves, are an affable, outdoorsy bunch, partial to anecdotes about fly-fishing and biggame hunting, testimony to their affections for all things natural. They were even a little apologetic about hosting a conference amidst the rolling fairways and garish splendors of palatial Barton Creek Resort, saying they were used to more rustic Montana venuesalthough reporter Carol Estes, guest at an earlier conference, priced guess it’s simply a question of what you’re used to. The pillared excesses of the Barton Creek Country Club include, among other gestures at conspicuous expense, a bar named in honor of Freeport-McMoRan CEO James R. Moffett: the “Jim Bob Lounge.” One could hardly turn around without bumping into an expensive gew-gaw, but my’ favorite touch of fake elegance were the shelves lining the lobby/”library,” where we were welcomed with hors d’oeuvres spread across the grand piano. The shelves were filled with the sort of thrift-shop, never-touched, hard-cover “books”long-forgotten novels, out-of-date trade manuals, neoVictorian memoirsusually found only in the bedroom suites of discount furniture stores. he next morning PERC executive director Terry L. Ander son would begin his introductory remarks by first donning an economist’s green eye-shade and then an environmentalist’s headband, and explaining that the purpose of free market environmentalism is to bring these seemingly antagonistic worlds together. Then he leaned over the marble-top conference table and confided a couple of PERC’s favorite mantras: “Wealthier is healthier,” and “Only people in rooms like this can afford to be worrying about the environment.” Hold dearly those thoughts \(while you try to forget the poisoned air of Corpus Christi, the fouled water of the colonias, the sludged and irradiated earth of were painfully representative of the level of panglossian economic `ideas” addressed during the conference. Yet it was mostly the Perkies themselves who seemed devoted to these oversimplifications. Beyond their sloganeering, the conference did offer several notions of interest to environmentalists, although few of these had much to do with ideological caricatures like “command-and-control” regulation or “free markets.” Over Thursday evening’s grilled salmon, the opening speaker was Howard Burris, a local businessman who once owned 1,000 acres of west Austin land, at first virtually valueless and then discovered, during residential development, to be habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. Burns told an engrossing story of being whipsawed between oscillating land values and rapidly changing regulations, and finally being hamstrung and foreclosed upon in the wake of of contradictory applications of local and federal environmental laws. Although still angered by his experience, Burris was not embittered. Even when goaded by his audience, he did not leap to condemn the Environmental Protection Agency or the Endangered Species Act. \(Indeed, he insisted that if somebody intentionally tries to skirt the environmental laws, “the government probably sic illustration of the political problem of “competing goods”: the need to preserve endangered species with the need to maintain the rights of property owners, each of which is a potentially expensive proposition. When it comes to the social costs of environmental protection, Burris said, “Nobody wants responsibility; nobody HE LEANED OVER THE MARBLE-TOP CONFERENCE TABLE AND CONFIDED A COUPLE OF PERC’S FAVORITE MANTRAS: “WEALTHIER IS HEALTH-IER,” AND “ONLY PEOPLE IN ROOMS LIKE THIS CAN AFFORD TO BE WOR-RYING ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT.” 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER FEBRUARY 28, 1997 A.apahttoope,…