FRANKFURT—"If it weren't for all those chemical accidents, we'd have an easy time with this election," Helmut Kohl remarked in early December.

The West German chancellor was responding to a poll that showed environmental issues had passed unemployment, the general economy, and other subjects as the principal issue in the January 25 election. But only 26 percent thought Kohl's party, the conservative, business-oriented Christian Democrats (CDU), was best equipped to deal with it, compared with 34 percent who trusted the Greens and only 21 percent who favored the Social Democrats (SPD).

Kohl appointed his old friend and ally Walter Wallmann, former mayor of Frankfurt and more recently federal environmental minister, to lead a new ministry to bolster public confidence in the government's ability to cope with such technological accidents as Chernobyl and the Rhine spills.

Wallmann announced in November he would seek "drastic curbs" on chemical production "before the end...

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