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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bob Dole in '96: A View of the Politicans's Enviro Outlook

Air Date: Week of

In anticipation of the 1996 Presidential election, Living on Earth is featuring occasional profiles on the candidates' environmental histories. Alex Van Oss reports from Washington D.C. on Kansas Senator Bob Dole's record on legislation pertaining to environmental concerns.


CURWOOD: Throughout the presidential election season, Living on Earth will be following the campaigns with our eye on the candidates' environmental records and promises. Today we kick off our coverage of the 1996 electoral season with a look at Bob Dole, the Senate's Majority Leader from Kansas. The Republican frontrunner at this point, Dole has an enviable record as a highly effective leader of the Senate. He's had practice running for president, and he's got a strong organization and good financial resources. And in years past, Senator Dole has voted in favor of a lot of environmental legislation. Recently he has become more skeptical of Federal environmental rules, and as Alex Van Oss reports from Washington, Senator Dole's support of a giant regulation reform bill this year is drawing a lot of fire from environmental activists.

VAN OSS: In keeping track of Senator Bob Dole, some analysts quote his speeches, others check his voting record in Congress. But at the Sierra Club in Washington, DC, political director Dan Weiss reads another indicator: the daily comic strip Doonesbury, that's run a scathing series on Senator Dole's regulation reform bill.

WEISS: There's another panel that says, "If I'm polluting, why don't the Feds do one of these cost-benefit analysis and I still have to clean up?" And Bob Dole says, "In that case you go to court. We've made it much easier to sue the government." And the industry lobbyists says, "And we're allowed to continue polluting while it's tied up in court?" And then Bob Dole says, "I'm telling you, Jim, this is real reform."

VAN OSS: All comics aside, Weiss says Senator Dole is leading efforts in Congress to roll back 25 years of environmental protection.

WEISS: In the past, environmental protection has been very bipartisan. The previous Republican leader in the Senate, Howard Baker, had a pretty good environmental record in the 70s and 80s. President Reagan and President Bush, for all their flaws, did sign the Superfund law, the Right to Know law, and the Clean Air Act. Now, Senator Dole wants to undo those very good Republican achievements.

VAN OSS: Senator Dole has been a part of these achievements. Over the past decades he's cast what are considered pro-environment votes on such issues as clean water enforcement, the Superfund, energy conservation, Everglades protection, wetlands protection, and more. But now, Dole says it's time to step back and take a look at the costs and benefits of the many regulations those laws have spawned. One of Dole's major pieces of legislation this year was the comprehensive Regulatory Reform Act, S343. It would streamline review of costly regulations, many affecting environmental and public health programs. Critics say it would create a whole new bureaucracy of its own and slow down clean-up efforts. The bill got stalled in the Senate but may resurface; Senator Dole has portrayed the reform effort as a populist move to get the government off the taxpayers' back.

DOLE: A lot of bureaucrats who might lose their jobs if we can ease some of the burdens on consumers, farmers, ranchers, small businessmen and women, people across American left to pay for all the regulations. In some cases, the cost exceeds the benefits. In some cases there are no benefits at all.

ROBERTS: Well I think they have a very reasonable man, a very pragmatic man.

VAN OSS: Congressman Pat Roberts from Kansas has known Senator Dole for years, and is organizing his campaign in the House.

ROBERTS: I don't think this is a person who bases his decisions on ideology or philosophy so much, or even numbers in terms of the budgetary responsibilities. But what actually happens. What happens on the farm, on the ranch, in the city, or in suburban America in regards to the environment. And if it can be shown that we can spend less dollars and get a practical result and see a sound science resolution, you'll find Bob Dole very supportive.

VAN OSS: Critics worry that Dole is more supportive of business interests that have contributed to his campaigns.

McGEEHEE: Looking at the list of contributors, there's banking money, there's aircraft money, Coca Cola money, Coors money, oil money from Enron, and particularly you find a lot of contributions from Dwayne Andreas, Archer Daniels Midland chair, which has of course a lot of interest in what happens with ethanol and other agricultural issues.

VAN OSS: Meredith McGeehee and the group Common Cause have been tracking Senator Dole's money trail.

McGEEHEE: These are companies that have an interest both in terms of policies about regulation of their business and how their businesses and their industries could be regulated and the impact that could have on environmental regulations in particular.

VAN OSS: It's these financial ties that worry some environment activists. They point out that farming interests go hand in hand with business and technology. But they also overlap with public health concerns. For example, pesticide levels and field runoff in drinking water. Another cause for concern is Dole's apparent drift away from center over the years.

LOYLESS: His voting patterns have been going more and more anti-environment.

VAN OSS: Betsy Loyless is with the League of Conservation Voters, that keeps a scorecard on Congressional voting patterns. The LCV says that from a green perspective, Dole's scores have gone way down. But another tracking group, the Conservative League of Private Property Voters, says they've gone way up when it comes to such issues as grazing and mining, timber, agriculture, and recreation on Federal lands. Last year they gave Dole an award and they praised his efforts to rein in government. Ultimately, when trying to predict what Bob Dole might do if elected president, the question may hinge less upon ideology than upon politics. Ken Jeffries is a political analyst formerly with a number of conservative think tanks.

JEFFRIES: Because Bob Dole is such a political opportunist and not wedded to any particular view of the environment, economic issues are going to be extremely important to him whether he's president or remains as a Senator. So, if you can tie economic and health benefits to environmental issues, I think you can reach the real Bob Dole.

VAN OSS: Still, says Jeffries, it'll be tough for environmental interests to compete with big business for Dole's attention during the campaign. But Representative Pat Roberts of Kansas says that the Senator's record shows that he's done a lot for the environment. And if electors carry him to the White House, even critics may be pleasantly surprised.

ROBERTS: I would say from the environmental community. Bob Dole would be a great environmental president. Not because of the agenda or any scorecard on their agenda they want to accomplish. But because in the real world of accomplishment you would see a lot of progress.

VAN OSS: Representative Pat Roberts of Kansas on presidential candidate Bob Dole. For Living on Earth, this is Alex Van Oss in Washington.



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