The Distinguished Gentleman Who Speaks for the Trees

In 2007, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works questioned EPA administrator Stephen Johnson about issues like emissions regulation and toxic release tracking. The EPA was also shutting some of its public libraries. Committee Chair Barbara Boxer was critical of this, while ranking Republican James Inhofe said it was a good and necessary step. Here, an excerpt from the hearing:

Senator INHOFE. Administrator Johnson, I want to make sure I understand, the purpose of the library modernization effort is to make all the EPA materials more readily available and all of this. I want to ask you if the following books are still available at the EPA libraries. The first one I would like to ask you about is Lorax. Is this available?


Senator INHOFE. About how many copies are available?

Mr. JOHNSON. I understand that there are nine.

Senator INHOFE. Are any checked out right now?

Mr. JOHNSON. Not that I am aware of.

Senator INHOFE. The author?

Mr. JOHNSON. Dr. Suess. [sic]

Senator INHOFE. Dr. Suess, very good. Next we have WordStar made easy. Is this available?

Mr. JOHNSON. Yes, sir.

Senator INHOFE. I understand that this is a computer software book for pre-1983 computers, is that correct?

Mr. JOHNSON. That is correct, published in 1982.

Senator INHOFE. Published in 1982. A lot of demand for this book? Never mind. The next one is Memoirs of a Geisha. Do you have this available?

Mr. JOHNSON. Yes, sir.

Senator INHOFE. OK. How about Bonesetters Daughter?


Senator INHOFE. What collection is this in?

Mr. JOHNSON. It is in our technical library in Region 8.

Senator INHOFE. OK, great demand? Here’s one, how about this one. This is called Fat Chicks Rule: How to Survive in a Thincentric World. Do you have this?

Mr. JOHNSON. Yes, sir.

Senator INHOFE. How about Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror? Do you have this?

Mr. JOHNSON. Yes, sir.

Senator INHOFE. That is interesting. How about more of the items, the video, Fern Gulley, is that in? The Last Rainforest, do you have that?

Mr. JOHNSON. I believe we have it on video tape.

Senator INHOFE. I believe that is a children’s movie, is that correct?


Senator INHOFE. How about a health issue, do you have a video, Windsor Pilates Ab Sculpting?

Mr. JOHNSON. Yes, we do have Windsor Pilates Ab Sculpting.

The Lorax has become a kind of shorthand for environmentalism, sometimes to prove a famously anti-environmentalist senator’s point. Still, the Lorax has only been invoked nine times* in hearings or the Congressional Record. And of those nine, only about half are actually in an explicitly environmental context. Among the other reasons for citing the Lorax are to illustrate the importance of community service (John Kerry, 2002), as a cartoon character voiced by a deceased voice actor (Fred Upton, 2005), and as intellectual property (Jim Moran, 2010). From the record:

During the Trademark Expo, costumed trademarked characters will introduce themselves during the opening ceremony and make appearances throughout the Expo, joining the USPTO’s own Trademark character, T. Markey. A new cast of characters, including Clifford the Big Red Dog®, Lorax®, GEICO’s Gecko®, Chick-Fil-A’s® cow, The Berenstain Bears®, Dippin’ Dots®, and a 5-Hour Energy® bottle character will join veteran Expo characters Pillsbury’s Doughboy®, Hershey’s Kisses®, Hershey’s® milk chocolate bar, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups®, Crayola® crayons’ mascot Tip, Betty Boop®, Dennis the Menace®, Popeye®, Olive Oyl®, Curious George®, and Sprout®.

Only once has The Lorax been cited in Congress in an explicit effort to increase support for environmental protection. That was in 1999, and it wasn’t even by a Congressman, but Chris Jeffers, who was the city manager of Monterey Park, CA:

I wish to conclude with some well-known words that convey the need for municipal Superfund legislation and our hope that the ability of Congress to move this ahead—these issues ahead now. And if I may, too, I sort of brought one of my child’s books, called the Lorax. And what Dr. Suess sort of said in here is, ‘‘Now that you’re here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear; unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.‘‘

So good on Mr Jeffers, for remembering the Lorax’s lesson. Though his former constituents in Monterey Park may better remember him for the dust-up following his retirement, when he reportedly cashed out more than $400,000 of accrued vacation time.

*Since 1994, which is as far back as the Government Printing Office’s online database will search.