Washington correspondent Jeff Young explores the environmental record of Democratic Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards. Edwards led an air quality battle but also voted counter to John Kerry on a few green issues.
CURWOOD: There is, of course, another member of the Democratic ticket to consider:
EDWARDS AT CAMPAIGN RALLY: So whaddaya think? Kerry-Edwards, a new team for a new America!
CURWOOD: North Carolina Senator John Edwards has been busy on the campaign trail introducing himself as the candidate for Vice President. Our Washington correspondent Jeff Young joins us now to talk about where Kerry’s running mate stands on the environment. Jeff, Senator Edwards served just one term in the Senate and held no office before that. How much of an environmental record has he managed to accumulate in this time?
YOUNG: Well for a first term Senator he has a pretty good record here. Edwards voted against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he voted for renewable energy and better fuel efficiency for vehicles. And Edwards was a leader in one of the biggest clean air fights during his time in Congress.
CURWOOD: What was the dispute there?
YOUNG: The Bush administration made some controversial changes to part of the Clean Air Act called New Source Review. This dealt with when older, dirtier coal fired power plants would have to add pollution control technology. Edwards said those changes would weaken the Clean Air Act and he led a pretty high profile fight against those changes starting with hearings on the possible public health impacts.
EDWARDS: I think our priority here should be about pollution that’s killing senior citizens, causing kids to get asthma and smogging up our national parks. And I believe that what you’re proposing is wrong and I intend to do everything I can to stop it.
YOUNG: Edwards pushed an amendment to delay those changes to the Clean Air Act. It failed but he persisted, demanding full disclosure of the science behind the rule change and at one point even calling for the resignation of a top environmental official.
CURWOOD: So Jeff, how did all this play in his home state?
YOUNG: Air quality is a big concern in North Carolina. The state government there has been aggressive on emissions within the state’s borders and people see a need for more federal action to stop the pollution drifting in from other states. This is Brownie Newman with the Conservation Council of North Carolina, one of the state’s oldest environmental groups.
NEWMAN: We have a lot of days where the air quality is so poor due to pollution from older power plants it’s not safe for kids to recreate outside. We’re hopeful Congress will pass a national clean air bill to clean up older power plants, and Senator Edwards has been very supportive of that approach at the national level.
CURWOOD: Jeff, I know North Carolina is also dealing with the waste from some huge animal farms, especially hog farms. Where does Senator Edwards stand on that?
YOUNG: His record is mixed. He’s proposed stricter regulation on these so-called factory farms and how they deal with the animal waste. But when it came to a vote to end the federal subsidies to those large farms—what you might call the hog pork—Edwards balked at that. He voted to keep that money coming to North Carolina; Kerry voted to cut those subsidies for factory farms.
CURWOOD: Hmm, so they split their vote on that. Are there other environmental issues where Edwards and Kerry took different positions?
YOUNG: A few. The sharpest difference in the records here was over Yucca Mountain in Nevada. This is the proposed repository to hold all of the nation’s nuclear waste. Kerry strongly opposes Yucca Mountain; Edwards voted for it. And this was one of the few votes Edwards cast that really seemed to disappoint the environmental lobby. This is Betsy Loyless with the League of Conservation voters here in Washington.
LOYLESS: We don’t think the science is there, that this is a safe facility. And in times of security threat, as we are in now, we believe it’s a doubly bad idea. So we simply disagree with Senator Edwards on his position on Yucca Mountain.
YOUNG: Now Edwards has changed his position on Yucca Mountain since joining the Kerry campaign. And I should mention that the League of Conservation voters scores Edwards very high overall, about 65% what they call pro-environment voting over his career. And the group has a long political relationship with Edwards. They campaigned against his opponent back in 1998, Lauch Faircloth, who was among what the league called the “dirty dozen” in the Senate. They campaigned against Faircloth and for Edwards and helped put him in office.
CURWOOD: Jeff Young reporting from Washington on the environmental record of Vice Presidential contender John Edwards. Jeff will stay with us as we examine the Kerry platform on energy. Our West Coast bureau chief will join us and we’ll hear from a group called the Energy Future Coalition. It’s energy policy and politics coming up next. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
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