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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

January 14, 2000

Air Date: January 14, 2000

SEGMENTS

Candidate Profile: George W. Bush / Janet Heimlich

As governor of Texas, George Bush has instituted a controversial program of voluntary compliance with air quality regulations. Is it an approach that could work nationally? Reporter Janet Heimlich (HIME-lick) looks at Bush's environmental philosophy. (12:05)

Thirsty Planet / Sandra Postel

The Worldwatch Institute has just issued its State of the World Report 2000 and near the top of its list of worldwide environmental trends are dropping groundwater levels. Contributing author Sandra Postel (po-STELL) says that if we want to keep ourselves fed and watered, we're going to have to rethink the way we practice irrigated agriculture. (06:05)

Listener Letters

This week listeners speak up about vaccinations, the rehabilitation of endangered species, bison hunting in Yellowstone Park, and our recent feature on centenarians. (02:50)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about - the law with a funny name: NEPA (KNEE-pah), the National Environmental Policy Act, under which Environmental Impact Statements are required for federal projects. (01:30)

Candidate Profile: John McCain / Chris Ballman

Living On Earth’s Chris Ballman examines the environmental record of Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Observers say the Arizona senator is a good friend to his home state's Grand Canyon, but most other environmental priorities are not high on his agenda. (11:30)

GOP Presidential Campaign Analysis

Living On Earth’s political observer Mark Hertsgaard (HURTS-guard) joins host Steve Curwood for an analysis of the two Republican frontrunners and their positions on the environment. (05:55)

The Pied Piper of Pennsylvania Avenue / Lex Gillespie

Washington, D.C. has more than its share of rats -- the four-legged kind. Lex Gillespie brings us a profile of the man the federal government calls on to exterminate them. (06:55)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Janet Heimlich, Chris Ballman, Lex Gillespie
GUESTS: Sandra Postel, Mark Hertsgaard

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. And this is Texas Governor George W. Bush, defending his record on the environment.

BUSH: I can't tell you how wrong it is for people to assume that because you've got Republican by your name you don't care about the environment. I think Republicans oftentimes have the best plans to make sure we have clean air and clean water.

CURWOOD: But Lone Star state activists say when it comes to clean air and clean water, Mr. Bush has a lot to be defensive about. KRAMER: When George Bush took office as governor in January 1995, everyone's expectations in the environmental community, I think, were pretty low. And basically, he has lived down to our expectations.

CURWOOD: Our environmental profile of George W. Bush, an assessment of the world's fresh water supply, and your letters this week on Living on Earth, but first news.

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Candidate Profile: George W. Bush

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Voters are finally getting set to weigh in on the presidential candidates. The Iowa caucuses are on January 24th. A week later, New Hampshire holds the first primary. There's been a lot of talk about taxes among Republicans especially, but so far the environment has yet to surface as a burning campaign issue. Texas Governor George W. Bush is quick to say he cares about the environment, but critics say he's been slow on providing a detailed agenda. As part of our continuing election coverage, we delve into the environmental record and platform of George W. Bush. Janet Heimlich has our profile.

(Typing on computer keyboard, beeps, a modem)

HEIMLICH: Tap into the George Bush website and you can catch a glimpse of the man who calls himself a "compassionate conservative." Part of the pitch is a speech about conservation, where Mr. Bush talks about the economy and the environment.

BUSH: As an avid outdoorsman, I know all our prosperity as a nation will mean little if we leave the future generations a world of polluted air, toxic waste, and vanished wilderness and forests...

HEIMLICH: In the speech, Mr. Bush supports using federal oil royalties to fund conservation programs. Also, he endorses the current moratorium on offshore oil drilling in California and Florida.

BUSH: As president, I will build conservation partnerships between federal and state governments, local communities, and land owners to protect and conserve our natural resources. Our legacy should be an unwavering commitment to preserve and conserve our treasured lands. A commitment I intend to keep.

HEIMLICH: But details are hard to come by, leaving many observers wondering how committed this man from the heart of the Texas oil patch truly is. The Bush website contains only six bullet points on the environment, and they reveal a cautious approach. For example, he concedes global warming is a serious problem, but opposes ratifying the Kyoto treaty on climate change and offers no alternative proposal of his own. With so little to go on as to what Mr. Bush might do as president, most people have been focusing on what he's done in the past, as governor of the nation's second largest state.

(Country music: "God blessed Texas with his own hand, He brung down angels from the promised land. He gave them a place...")

HEIMLICH: This song, which candidate Bush often played while running for governor, embodies the pride Texans feel for their wide open prairies, rolling hills, and beautiful rivers.

(Music continues: "God bless Texas.")

RADIO ANNOUNCER: Now let's check traffic and weather every ten minutes.

ANNOUNCER 2: We've got some big slowdowns on the west side to watch out for.

TRAFFIC REPORTER: (Over radio with static) Expect delays starting from…

HEIMLICH: But Texas is also home to some of America's worst environmental problems. With 13 million vehicles and three of the nation's largest cities, it's awash in traffic and urban sprawl. On average, 16,000 acres of farm land are paved over every month.

RADIO ANNOUNCER: ...again heavy from 549 out toward Jones Road in the Jersey Village area...

HEIMLICH: Texas is also ground zero for big oil. Its coastline is peppered with foul-smelling refineries. By many accounts, Texas is the country's biggest air polluter. Houston recently surpassed Los Angeles for the dubious honor as America's smoggiest city. Mr. Bush didn't create these problems, but Texas environmentalists claim he hasn't done much to solve them, either.

KRAMER:When George Bush took office as governor in January 1995, everyone's expectations in the environmental community, I think, were pretty low. And basically, he has lived down to our expectations.

HEIMLICH: Ken Kramer directs the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club. He says Mr. Bush rarely reaches out to environmentalists for advice, and looks instead to industry.

KRAMER: He grew up in an area of Texas where oil and gas was the major industry, where the politics was extremely conservative, where you didn't have very much in terms of diversity of political or other viewpoints. And I think that is reflected very strongly in the way that he approaches things.

HEIMLICH: As an example, Mr. Kramer points to one of the governor's most important personnel decisions. One of the people he chose to oversee the state's environmental regulatory agency, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, was a lobbyist from the chemical industry. As a result, say critics, the commission has grown soft on polluters, assessing 60 percent fewer penalties in the past three years. Stuart Henry is an environmental attorney in Austin.

HENRY: The attitude of the agency used to be that we're going to regulate the industry, and we're going to prevent the natural resources from being violated. But we're going to do it in a way that we don't run business away. The ethic in Texas now is not to do anything that prevents the growth, even if it means allowing more insults on the environment.

HEIMLICH: The agency says that's wrong, it is aggressively enforcing the law, and one reason why fines are down is because industry is cleaning up. But activists respond that's hardly evident by breathing the Texas air. The Sierra Club has been hammering Mr. Bush with radio ads that feature an asthma-stricken child named Billy Tinker. (Commercial music: piano. Voice over: "In the four years George W. Bush has been governor, the number of smog alert days in the state's major cities increased dramatically. The health of more kids has been put at risk. And 11-year-old Billy Tinker's asthma got worse. Call George W. Bush..."; Fade to smokestack sounds)

HEIMLICH: One reason Texas has dirty air is a loophole that's allowed hundreds of factories, refineries, and other businesses, like this aluminum plant near Austin, to operate without air quality permits. Until recently, facilities built before 1971 were grandfathered under Texas law. These businesses generate a third of the state's industrial air pollution. In this State of the State speech a year ago, Governor Bush promised to do something about it.

(Applause)

BUSH: I believe business and a healthy environment can coexist. I look forward to working with Senator Brown and Representative Allen on legislation to make our Texas air cleaner, by significantly reducing emission from older, grandfathered plants.

HEIMLICH: But while the governor clamped down on some plants, he's allowing many facilities to make a choice. A new law, which was largely written by an industry lawyer, says that factories can voluntarily apply for permits or continue as they have been. Those that don't seek permits can be fined. But under the governor's program, they can't be shut down. The Sierra Club's Ken Kramer.

KRAMER: We have no guarantee that all the grandfathered plants will come in the permitting process and have to meet modern pollution control requirements. And that means that Texas citizens are going to continue to have to breathe dirty air because of that.

HEIMLICH: But Bush supporters disagree, and embrace the voluntary approach to reducing pollution. State Representative Ray Allen, who worked with the governor to pass the grandfather law, says there's an incentive for industry to do the right thing. He points out that the state's environmental commission, known as the TNRCC, is listing the worst grandfathered polluters on the Internet.

ALLEN: They don't want environmentalists screaming at them. They don't want TNRCC to target them particularly, to be watching everything they do, because they're big polluters. They want the positive PR of having voluntarily gone out and done something that's good for the community.

HEIMLICH: So far, according to the TNRCC's executive director, Jeff Saitas, the voluntary program is working. Nearly 200 businesses have committed to obtaining permits.

SAITAS:I think it goes straight to human nature. I think every one of us was brought up thinking you can get more with sugar than you can with vinegar. I think the same applies when you're dealing with something like cleaning up the air, cleaning up the water, or cleaning up the land.

HEIMLICH: Saitas and other Bush supporters cite examples where they claim the governor's focus on volunteerism has cleaned up contaminated land and protected wildlife. It's unclear, though, how the Texas approach might work nationwide. Mr. Bush has yet to reveal a detailed environmental strategy, and he declined our request for a formal interview. Still, he has been busy behind the scenes. Last spring Governor Bush flew in a dozen free-market policy analysts for a private environmental conclave.

ANDERSON: It began with the governor very pointedly saying, "I'm going to be the next president of the United States. You tell me how, when I am finished, the air will be cleaner, the water will be cleaner, and the environment will be healthier."

HEIMLICH: Terry Anderson is the executive director of the Political Economy Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, and a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He advised Mr. Bush that locally-adapted strategies, like the Texas focus on limited government, voluntary compliance, and industry incentives, will lead to cleaner air and water. Dr. Anderson is convinced Mr. Bush is sincere about wanting to safeguard the environment.

ANDERSON: It was obvious that this was not something a staffer had prompted, but rather was something that he had focused on and wanted to know more about. And I was extremely impressed that a busy person like him, and he was right in the middle of the Texas legislative session at that time, had taken the time to do his homework.

HEIMLICH: At the same time, though, Dr. Anderson is disappointed the Bush campaign isn't stressing the environment.

(Various voices: "George, they've been waiting for you...")

HEIMLICH: In New Hampshire, Governor Bush has said virtually nothing about his feelings about conservation. Even when cornered inside a barber shop, he avoided specifics.

REPORTER: Governor, the people I've talked to here say that the environment is very important to them, but they're not really sure how you stand in terms of various environmental issues. Are you going to be releasing some kind of detailed plan?

BUSH: Absolutely. I'd be glad to share the philosophy that I have... HEIMLICH: Mr. Bush explained his philosophy involves setting federal standards, but avoiding federal command-and-control dictated from Washington. But when confronted with criticism that he's avoiding saying much more, he began to bristle.

BUSH: I think the environment is incredibly important. And I can't tell you how wrong it is for people to assume that because you've got Republican by your name you don't care about the environment. It's quite the contrary. I mean, I think Republicans oftentimes have the best plans to make sure we have clean air and clean water.

HEIMLICH: For some Republicans that may be all they need to hear.

(Milling crowd and country music)

JOHNSON: It's just wonderful. I think we've got ourselves a very good candidate.

HEIMLICH: What is it you like about Mr. Bush?

JOHNSON: I like his sincerity, and I think he has a great deal of integrity.

HEIMLICH: Mary Ellen Johnson says she came to Keene, New Hampshire, for a first-hand look at, as she puts it, the next president.

(To Johnson) I wanted to ask you about the environment.

JOHNSON: Yes.

HEIMLICH: He did not mention anything about the environment in this talk. Does that concern you at all?

JOHNSON: Yes it does, and I think he will do more about that as we get down the road. But I think we're waiting on that.

HEIMLICH: How long Ms. Johnson will have to wait is uncertain. It's possible she and other Republican voters concerned about the environment may be casting their ballots without knowing precisely where George W. Bush stands. For Living on Earth, I'm Janet Heimlich with the Bush campaign in New Hampshire.

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CURWOOD: Coming up later on most network stations, a profile of Arizona Senator John McCain's record, and a discussion about the Republican Party's environmental agenda with our political observer Mark Hertsgaard. And in a moment, a look at our dwindling freshwater resources. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

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Thirsty Planet

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In 1984, the folks at the Worldwatch Institute put out their first annual State of the World report. Looking ahead to the year 2000, they were hopeful that some of the disturbing environmental trends then occurring could be reversed. But this year's report is no less disturbing. Species extinction, ecosystem collapse, population growth, and climate change continue. And beneath the Earth's surface, another shift is occurring, a dramatic drop in water tables. Sandra Postel authored a chapter in the report titled, "Redesigning Irrigated Agriculture." In it, she tells us that historically, irrigation has proved environmentally unstable, and societies that have relied on it to feed their people have almost always failed. That age-old problem is still around, and, Sandra Postel says, there's some new ones, too.

POSTEL: The problem we're seeing now is that farmers are pumping more water out than nature is replenishing. And it's just like a bank account. If you withdraw more money than you're depositing, your account is going to get depleted. And so, the amount of water in storage is diminishing, which means that water tables are falling. Which means that wells will go dry. The water that they pump will be salty, or the wells just won't yield enough to be profitable to use. And we see this problem now, and it actually surprised me when I was doing the research for the book and for this chapter in State of the World, how extensive this problem is. That it's a very serious problem in most of the important grain baskets of the world. It's a problem in the Punjab of India, which is the principal bread basket for India. Water tables falling up to a meter a year. It's a serious problem in the North China plain, which produces 40 percent of China's food. Water tables there are dropping one to three meters a year. The central valley of California here in the United States, which produces about half of all the fruits and vegetables that we produce in the United States. In the Great Plains, the Great Ogallala aquifer is being depleted primarily to grow cotton and grain. So, added up, this is a very serious problem. I've made an estimate that as much as ten percent of the world's food supply today depends on the over-pumping of groundwater

CURWOOD: Give me a sense of the time scale of how soon we might be able to see a crunch in the global food supply because of the shortage of water.

POSTEL: It's difficult to know exactly when, but I think in countries like China and India, we will see over the next, probably within 10 years, the impacts of water scarcity beginning to be felt. These countries both have substantial population growth. They're trying to feed, in the case of China, an additional 15 million people a year, in the case of India an additional 18 million people a year. And their water budgets are badly out of balance. These are two of the biggest grain producers in the world, and I think we will see increased pressure internationally as they begin to experience the need to import more food to satisfy their own demands, in part because of water scarcity.

CURWOOD: If pressures increase, could the things blow? I mean, is this something that could lead to political instability, a shortage of water?

POSTEL: I think it very definitely could lead to political instability. At the moment the bulk of our societies are still, particularly in developing countries, are still rural. And if you begin to experience water scarcity in an agrarian, rural society, you can quickly move into a period of unemployment, of poverty, increased poverty, and a destabilization of communities within those rural societies, which of course has political ramifications. We're also going to see, for sure, increased competition for water internationally. If you look at all the major hot spots of water dispute today, these would include the Nile Basin, the Jordan Basin, the Tigris-Euphrates River Basins in the Middle East, the Ganges in South Asia, the Central Asian River Basins flowing into the Aral Sea, in each of these cases you see population projections of 30, 40, 50 percent increases, in one case 70 percent increase, between now and 2025. And in none of these river basins do we yet have a treaty that sets out how the river water should be shared among all the parties.

CURWOOD: So what direction should we be headed in here? Should we be improving irrigation efficiencies? Or should we be reducing dependence on irrigation?

POSTEL: I think at this point, with a population of six billion, and if the United Nations projections bear out we'll be heading toward nearly nine billion by 2050, I think we're going to need to remain dependent on irrigated agriculture. We've pretty much maxed-out on expanding rain-fed land. We've seen the best rain-fed land already come into production. So I think that the key, really, is going to be increasing productivity on the land that we've already brought in, and sustainably bringing some additional irrigation into production. We're also now in a world where the aquatic environment is under great stress, and so the demands for irrigation water are taking place within a context of needing to protect and restore the broader water environment. And this is the real challenge. I think it's going to take a closer marriage of ecosystem science, of what ecologists study, and what irrigation engineers study. A better understanding of the quality of water that's really required to grow crops. A better understanding of how we can satisfy certain ecosystem functions, at the same time using that water for agriculture. There's going to be a lot of multiple uses of water that we're going to need to orchestrate.

CURWOOD: Sandra Postel is director of the Global Water Policy Project and a senior fellow with Worldwatch, also co-author of The State of the World for the Year 2000 by Worldwatch, and also author of the book Pillar of Sand. Thank you so much for taking this time with us.

POSTEL: Thank you, Steve.

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: And now, comments from our listeners.

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Physician Steven Bova, who hears us on WJHU in Baltimore, commented on our report about possible links between vaccinations and health problems, including autism. "In requiring vaccination," he wrote, "there is an essential tension between the public good and private interests. But any rational examination of the issue shows that both the public and private benefits obtained massively outweigh private interests. If we can't require this of parents, we are not a civilized people."

Bill Stevens, who listens to us on KOPB in Portland, Oregon, is a wildlife rehabilitator. And after hearing our coverage of recent experiments to freeze the sperm and eggs of endangered species, he was left with some doubts. "When the animals we rehabilitate are ready to be released back into the wild," Mr. Stevens writes, "our celebration is usually tempered by the fact that each year it gets harder to find wild habitat to release them into. If the frozen zoo workers and rehabbers want to have anywhere to place the endangered creatures we all raise, this civilization will have to start returning captured habitat to its wild state in a big way."

Mary Jane Newborn, who hears us on WNKU in Cincinnati, called after she heard our report on Indian tribes seeking to resume hunting buffalo in Yellowstone National Park.

NEWBORN: I've been an animal rights activist for decades, and I really would prefer that people only ever hurt or kill another living being out of necessity. But if anybody has the right to hunt bison, it is surely the Native Americans. If it's going to go on at all, by anybody, that's who should exclusively be doing it.

CURWOOD: And our features on centenarians sparked this memory for Kevin Parisot, who listens to KPCW in Salt Lake City. He was raised by his great-aunt and uncle. "Your story gave me a new perspective on the incredible gift I've been so fortunate to receive over the years," Mr. Parisot wrote. "I'm an organizer for a nonprofit environmental group, and attribute my knowledge of the natural world and desire to defend and protect it to my aunt and uncle. Besides keeping a garden and composting their waste, they've passed on their experience of living, working, and playing outside with the Earth every day."

Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. Tapes and transcripts are $15. Or you can hear our program on our website at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity; www.wajones.org; and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Just ahead: The environmental record of Republican Presidential contender John McCain. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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SECOND HALF HOUR

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Barrett Communications, delivering strategic marketing communications and design for business worldwide: www.barrett.com.

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood

(Music up and under: "Hail to the Chief")

CURWOOD: Thirty years ago this month, President Richard Nixon signed a key law with a funny-sounding name: NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. It was the first of several landmark statutes Mr. Nixon supported during the 70s, largely in response to pressure from a growing environmental movement. NEPA requires the federal government to create conditions where people can, quote, "exist in productive harmony" with nature. To achieve that goal, agencies for the first time were required to prepare environmental impact statements for federal projects. NEPA has been used by activists to lessen the footprints of massive undertakings, including the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline and the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump. Critics say the law adds delays and unnecessary costs. But not everyone thinks NEPA goes far enough. The act only requires authorities to study and consider environmental impacts, and make the information public. It does not require them to select the most environmentally-sound option. Still, NEPA has been hailed as a model of environmental stewardship, and has been copied by 25 states and more than 80 nations. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Candidate Profile: John McCain

CURWOOD: John McCain wants to be the next Republican president, and his rising popularity is bolstering his chances. Riding his Vietnam prisoner of war hero story and playing the role of party maverick, the Arizona senator is mounting a credible challenge to front-runner George W. Bush. But recent allegations of improper influence peddling are reopening a notorious chapter in John McCain's career. In the 1980s he was branded a member of the "Keating Five" for his role in the savings and loan bank scandal. We sent Living on Earth's Chris Ballman out to see just where the environment fits into Senator McCain's thinking. Here's his report.

(Milling crowd. Hydraulic hissing)

BALLMAN: As it brakes near the steps of Town Hall in New London, New Hampshire, John McCain bounds out of his campaign bus dubbed the "Straight Talk Express" and starts shaking hands.

McCAIN: Morning. How are you?

MAN: How are you?

McCAIN: Good to see you.

BALLMAN: There's a slight limp in the candidate's gait, and a breeze musses his white hair, as aides lead him into the clapboard building.

MAN: It's packed, at least 300.

BALLMAN: Come listen to John McCain at one of his campaign events and you'll hear plenty of talk of reform. Reform of government, the military, the tax code, all made possible by the biggest reform of all, campaign finance.

McCAIN: My friends, no longer are you represented in Washington unless you can give hundreds of thousands, in some cases even more than million of dollars. And that has corrupted our legislative process. I have seen the manifestations of it every day.

BALLMAN: The environment, however, isn't part of John McCain's stump speech, and he readily admits being a bit naive on some of the issue's finer points. Such as the debate over legalizing an outlawed agricultural crop that proponents say could cut soil erosion, save trees, and spur a new industry.

McCAIN: Last night I was at Keene College, and a young woman stood up and said to me, wanted to know my position on industrial hemp. Now, (audience laughter) I am the parent of young children. My wife and I are parents of young children. But I have to tell you, I did not have a clue. I believed that industrial hemp was what you make ropes out of. And so I couldn't understand why this young woman would want to know my position on ropes...

BALLMAN: John McCain does have a record on more pressing environmental concerns. When asked by reporters he's quick to read off a litany of accomplishments.

McCAIN: Placing 3.5 million acres of Arizona land into pristine wilderness status. Responsibility for the National Parks and Grand Canyon Overflights Act. The Grand Canyon Protection Act. Being called the steward of the Grand Canyon. Being called the Grand Canyon's best friend...

BALLMAN: You may notice a pattern in John McCain's environmental tapestry. It's grand, as in Grand Canyon. And his commitment to this national treasure is as clear as the view from the top of the rim.

WOMAN: (on speaker) Welcome to Desert View at the east entrance of Grand Canyon National Park. Just ahead, you can experience your first glimpse of the splendor of Grand Canyon.

ROBINSON: It's his baby. It's his back yard. It's his state. It's nice to be known as someone that, you know, wants to protect really an international icon.

WOMAN: (calling) Let me take a picture!

BALLMAN: Tom Robinson of the conservation group Grand Canyon Trust says John McCain has been instrumental in setting aside land to protect this region's fragile ecosystem. He says the senator has also helped quiet the canyon by restricting air tours. And he credits him with supporting a user fee for park improvements and promoting a plan to deal with the ecological stress of handling five million tourists a year.

ROBINSON: Although Republicans in general don't have the greatest voting record in the West, John McCain has been very helpful to us on issues that specifically relate to the Grand Canyon. And we've occasionally had to call on Senator McCain to kind of shake his fist and hold a public hearing, which he's done. He's also been helpful on a variety of other issues that deal with air quality and water issues and so forth.

(An engine revs up)

BALLMAN: But as you drive south from the canyon, down Interstate 17, and watch mountaintop pines give way to sagebrush and finally cactus on the desert floor, some Arizonans' confidence in John McCain's environmental commitment drops as steeply as the elevation.

SMITH: His record has been mixed. Where he's chosen to be a champion he's been a very strong champion. But on most issues, he has not been there.

BALLMAN: That's Rob Smith. He works for the Sierra Club in Phoenix, and he and his co-worker Don Stoiter are driving me down Cave Creek Road in an old pickup. We're on the fringe of the urban sprawl that's turning this once sleepy farm town into one of the nation's fastest-growing communities.

SMITH: Yeah, there's the Desert Foothills Scenic Drive. About all that's left of the scenery is the sign.

BALLMAN: We're headed for Spur Cross Ranch, a 2000-acre spread of cactus-studded hills that's up for sale. Conservationists call this place "a last stand" in their efforts to stop the spread of strip malls, tract housing, and trophy homes.

(A door shuts; footfalls)

BALLMAN: John McCain's footprints are here, too. He tried to broker a land swap to save Spur Cross from developers. But the deal dissolved in a mire of convoluted details. Critics charge the senator with latching onto Spur Cross to pump up his green image for the presidential race. And in the end they say he wanted to trade away too much valuable land in other parts of the state. Don Stoiter.

STOITER: He either did not pay attention to the details of the exchange and continued to promote it, or he knew of the potential for the serious loss of Forest Service lands throughout the state, and decided that it was a good thing for the state of Arizona to privatize, ultimately privatize additional land. So, that was a very scary thing for us to hear.

BALLMAN: The chilling of John McCain's relationship with many Arizonan environmentalists began a dozen years before the Spur Cross deal, about 70 miles northeast of Tucson at the top of Mt. Graham.

(Wind)

BALLMAN: The University of Arizona wanted to place a number of telescopes on the mountain, but the Apache people consider the site sacred. It's also home to endangered red squirrels. Normally, that would have been the end of the story, but Senator McCain helped push through an amendment that bypassed environmental and cultural protections, and the telescopes are now up and running. Critics complain the maneuver smacks of the pork barrel politics candidate McCain now decries on the campaign trail. Ron Silver of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity.

SILVER: Just like there was the "Keating Five," John McCain is one of the "Mount Graham Three." He's used his qualities to bring home the bacon for people that care little about conservation or religious freedom. Nothing stops John McCain.

McCAIN: You know, the interesting thing about Mt. Graham is our little red squirrels have increased and increased and propagated and propagated, God bless them, and they are now at a very substantial population. If I were the environmentalist, I would apologize to me.

BALLMAN: John McCain had a cold and a frog in his throat the day I asked him aboard his bus, the "Straight Talk Express," to explain his handling of Mt. Graham. He's not bothered by criticism from what he calls the far-left liberal environmental community.

McCAIN: Yeah, you know, I voted for a balanced budget. I voted against Planned Parenthood, which the environmentalists view as an anti-environmental vote. And the unfortunate part about the environmental community or some parts of it is that they've gotten so far out on the fringe that they have no credibility. And so I just don't concern myself with their report cards.

BALLMAN: The report card John McCain isn't concerned about is compiled by the Washington, D.C.-based League of Conservation Voters. Its president Deb Callahan says the senator has supported some environmental priorities, such as alternative energy and fuel efficiency. But overall...

CALLAHAN: John McCain's lifetime LCV voting score is 20 percent.

BALLMAN: Although he voted against her agenda four out of five times, Ms. Callahan is surprisingly quick to qualify her criticisms of Senator McCain. She regards him as one of the few Republicans willing to occasionally work with Democrats on pro-environmental bills. That sentiment is shared by McCain's senate partner in campaign finance reform. Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold recently persuaded his colleague to join a bipartisan effort to designate new wilderness areas.

FEINGOLD: I had had an opportunity to visit Senator McCain's place near Sedona in Arizona, and spend some time with him hiking and talking about how he felt about that natural environment there. And it was obvious to me that this is something he cares about passionately, and it was not a difficult sell. In fact, Senator McCain has a much longer history than I do of working to preserve wilderness.

BALLMAN: Conservation is a central theme when John McCain talks environment. In a converted barn next to a Christmas tree farm in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, the candidate unveiled the highlights of what he calls an economy-conscious environmental agenda. They include federal funding for open space acquisition, bonds and user fees to support national park improvements, tax credits for green technology, an annual report card on the nation's air and water, and more local control of federal lands. That final point was tailored for residents of New Hampshire's White Mountains, where people rely on both tourism and logging.

McCAIN: I think there are parts of America, including here in New Hampshire, that the people of New Hampshire would like to preserve, and they would not like to have developed and growth experienced. (Applause) Thank you. The way that is done is a fully-participatory process, in which you would be involved and all of your neighbors and all of your friends and the legislature and the county and local officials. That is the process that I support.

BALLMAN: Frankly, it's a bit hard to tell just how big a blip the environment makes on John McCain's radar screen. It's a card he can play to advantage against frontrunner George W. Bush. National environmentalists have been lambasting the Texas governor, while seeming content at least for now to give McCain a free ride. Back on the bus I check to see if the candidate has been doing his homework on legalizing that still-outlawed agricultural product.

(To McCain) Back in August, on one of your campaign stops up here, you said that someone had asked you about industrial hemp, and you were going to look into it. And now you're here a few months later, and I'm wondering if you guys have come up with a policy here.

McCAIN: I did get a chance to look at that, in fact, within about 30 seconds of the time I left the stage. Because I was informed what the use of industrial hemp is. And I do not support the use of industrial hemp for inhalation purposes. (Laughs)

BALLMAN: For Living on Earth, I'm Chris Ballman with Senator John McCain on board his campaign bus the "Straight Talk Express," where the no-smoking lamp is always lit.

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GOP Presidential Campaign Analysis

CURWOOD: Joining us now is Living on Earth's political observer
Mark Hertsgaard. Hi, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Hey, Steve.

CURWOOD: Now, one of the things we've been hearing in both of our reports on Senator McCain and Governor Bush is that neither man is stressing the environment. At least not at this stage of the contest, the primaries. Of course, really nobody is, yet the polls keep telling us that people do want to know about the environment. What's this disconnect? What's going on here?

HERTSGAARD: It is true, Steve, that polls say that 93 percent of Republican voters care about a presidential candidate's position on the environment. That's as many people as care about taxes. And yet, if you look at all the debates on television, it's taxes, taxes, taxes that occupies all the time. Part of that I think is that's a red meat kind of issue for Republican voters, especially in primaries. The environment is something that Republicans may care about, but it is not a red meat kind of thing that you've got to get out there and make a lot of political traction with. And I think that's kind of what's happening. Neither candidate is feeling like that's where they're going to go to really stake out a position. And to be honest, neither the public nor our colleagues in the rest of the press seem to be forcing them very much to be doing that.

CURWOOD: So you think it's not really a big deal inside the Republican party? Maybe it'll be different when the general election comes?

HERTSGAARD: I think that's possible, and indeed likely, because at that point the Democrats, whether it's Bradley or Gore or someone else are clearly going to be talking more about the environment and trying to distinguish between their position, which they feel is a vote-getter, and trying to paint the Republicans as passive or worse on environmental issues.

CURWOOD: Now, one thing that we do hear from Governor Bush, for example, we hear about voluntary compliance. And Senator McCain also favors local control of public lands and environmental regulations. What's their constituency? Who are they speaking to here? Those views of voluntary compliance and local control, they resonate more with Republican voters, or with Republican campaign contributors?

HERTSGAARD: I think it's a very clever strategy on their part, because conveniently enough, those themes certainly resonate with Republican voters on the rhetorical level. It also, though, happens to be music to the ears of industrial polluters. And we see this very specifically in the case of Governor Bush. This incredible new book, The Buying of the President 2000, by the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, documents very authoritatively the way that, in Texas, Governor Bush allowed the state's biggest polluters to essentially write their own law about regulating pollution, air pollution in particular. We've got the private memos in this book that DuPont's representative on that board wrote. And he was frankly astonished that, as he put it, these regulations have nothing to do with actual emissions. It's all a PR exercise. Governor Bush was happy to join in that, and to tell the press that we stand for clean air here in Texas. And yet, when you look at what happened after those regulations were passed, almost none of the facilities in question actually decreased their pollution. And that's to be expected if you've got a voluntary program. So, it is, on the surface that kind of rhetoric is pleasing to the voters. But if you look a little bit closer underneath, you can see that it's also music to the ears of the polluters themselves.

CURWOOD: I think it's also interesting to look at how Senator McCain and Governor Bush seem to be redefining the environment to be conservation. Governor Bush talks about being an outdoorsman. Senator McCain rails against, quote, "the far-left liberal environmental community." Do you think they're trying to reshape this debate?

HERTSGAARD: Yes I do. And this has been a theme for Republicans for quite some time. You know, when you talk about environmentalism, you immediately get into the questions of industrial pollution. Ever since Rachel Carson wrote her Silent Spring in 1962, modern environmentalism has been about dealing with the consequences of an industrial society. But if you're talking about conservation, that's something that for the first half of this century, that's what environmentalists were, because most of those issues were sort of protecting open space, and you know, both McCain and Bush say: "I want to be like Teddy Roosevelt." Teddy Roosevelt, of course, the great Republican president at the start of this century, who did yeoman work in putting lots and lots of land in this country up for public ownership. So they try to wrap themselves in the mantle of Teddy Roosevelt rather than Rachel Carson.

CURWOOD: Let's talk a little bit about the difference between these two men when it comes to the environment. What are the differences, and how do the environmental activists view both Senator McCain and Governor Bush?

HERTSGAARD: Well, I've been talking to environmental activists. And frankly, they don't hold out a lot of hope for either McCain or Bush. But if forced to choose, most of them said that they would marginally prefer John McCain. They look at George Bush's record in Texas and say that here's a guy who lets the polluters write their own laws. John McCain, on the other hand, at least every once in a while on Capitol Hill, has voted the right way on environmental issues, has a bit of a maverick streak, has done some things to protect public land in the West. And so, if forced to choose, I think they would go with John McCain rather than George Bush, Jr.

CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth's political observer. He'll be back next week when we look at the Democratic candidates Bill Bradley and Al Gore. You can listen to all our candidate profiles and analysis and link directly to the campaigns themselves and political watchdog groups, by visiting the special election page we put together on the Living on Earth website. That web address is www.loe.org.
That's www.loe.org. Thanks, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Just ahead: If you smell a rat on Capitol Hill, we've got the number for you to call. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

The Pied Piper of Pennsylvania Avenue

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Through the ages rodents have been a huge problem for people, and no one, it seems, not even Uncle Sam, is immune. In Washington, D.C., there are rats. Lots of rats, scurrying throughout the buildings that belong to the federal government. And when people have had enough, there's one man to call. Lex Gillespie has this profile of the rat-busting Pied Piper of Pennsylvania Avenue.

MAN: Yeah, no, he was saying...

GILLESPIE: One afternoon last winter, during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, an intruder sped across the floor of the White House press room. Broadcaster Tina Stage rushed to the scene.

STAGE: I did see his rat hole, where he had tried to pull a Whopper box through it and it got stuck. But of course everybody here was in an uproar and there were some people who actually laid eyes on him.

GILLESPIE: Rats in government are no laughing matter to entomologist Al Green. He's a veritable Pied Piper who oversees pest abatement in 120 federal buildings in the nation's capital, and he develops policies for the government nationwide. Green's watch in D.C. includes the East and West Wings of the White House.

GREEN: The White House is an old building. It's been renovated many times over the years, and it has a lot of potential subterranean openings in the older parts of its foundation, that rats can use to gain access. In that sense, it's like many of our larger monumental buildings throughout the city, in that they will always be at risk from pest invasion, particularly rat invasion, simply because that's the nature of very old, very large buildings.

GILLESPIE: Green has been repelling pest invasion since 1988, when he joined the General Services Administration, which manages most of the federal buildings in Washington.

(An elevator rings; footfalls)

GILLESPIE: Green's chief nemesis among rodents is the Norway, or brown rat, said to be the most common rat in the world. A creature ubiquitous in Washington, D.C., it reproduces in a mere seven weeks. Roaches, pigeons, and fruit flies are also on his most wanted list. He took on all these opponents in a new way.

GREEN: Pest control is not some guy with a spray can spraying along the corridors for cockroaches or putting out some rodent bait boxes at the loading dock.

GILLESPIE: Instead, Green espouses a less toxic alternative. A decade ago, he says most federal agencies tried the "spray and pray way." The General Services Administration once used 600 gallons of potentially hazardous sprays each year in its properties in Washington, D.C. The two principle sprays were Dursban and synthetic pyrethroids, which are similar to over-the-counter bug sprays. They can be eye irritants and also cause allergies. Jay Feldman, executive director of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, says Al Green's approach works.

FELDMAN: He's actually been a pioneer in this arena since the early 90s, and has effectively incorporated practices and educational tools that have significantly reduced and almost eliminated pesticides in the management of some 30 million square feet of federal office building space.

GILLESPIE: The General Services Administration, according to Green, now uses less than two percent of the pesticides it once did. Since government pest control policies make no provisions for children or pregnant women, who may be at a greater health risk from potential toxins, Green says the best approach is not to spray any areas at all. Instead, his key to controlling pests is eliminating their food supply.

(A door bangs shut. A buzzer goes off)

GILLESPIE: To fight rats and pigeons, Green champions the use of self-contained, pest-resistant trash compactors, such as the huge one behind his office near Capitol Hill.

(Buzzer and banging continue)

GILLESPIE: Another weapon in the war on rodents is architectural.

GREEN: Basically, when you are a building owner and operator, you
must have a fortress mentality when it comes to rats.

GILLESPIE: Green says this means adding such basics as smaller grates on windows.

GREEN: Your standard rule of thumb for rat-proofing is one-half inch. Amazing as that may seem, young rats can squeeze through a half-inch opening, which is about the size of a quarter.

GILLESPIE: Many government agencies maintain on-site daycare centers. So to protect children from rodents, Green advocates redesigning playgrounds with thick fences, no nearby trash receptacles, and the use of synthetic play surfaces rather than materials rats can burrow in. But perhaps the best defense against pests is proper sanitation.

FELDMAN: Al will tell you that one of his greatest tools is a backpack vacuum cleaner.

GILLESPIE: Jay Feldman of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides.

FELDMAN: And that's because he will get under people's desks, behind their stacks of paper, in their telephones, and find crumbs, and sources of food that have been generated by his client. And so, in that context, his educating the consumer on what role they play in creating a breeding ground for pests, and what changes they need to adopt in their own daily lives, such as not eating at your desk, not throwing your food trash in a wastepaper basket that doesn't have a lid on top of it.

GILLESPIE: The General Services Administration also uses a nontoxic approach to control pigeons and fruit flies, and cutting off their food supply is also the preferred method. Fruit flies, for example, can breed in a soda can recycling bin. Proper cleaning and emptying of the bins are now part of custodial contracts. The approach has paid off. Over the last decade, federal workers' pest complaints to Green's agency have declined by as much as 80 percent. Today, most of the federal government now uses some variation of integrated pest management. But this nontoxic approach is not always implemented in the millions of square feet of office space the government leases. At the General Services Administration, however, Green's approach has been put in place as official policy. Still, he realizes that rodents as a species aren't going anywhere.

GREEN: You're never going to kill all the rats. That's impossible. They'll always be with us. Our cities are built over a vast nether world of tunnels and sewers and building foundations that provide home to thousands or even millions of them. They're a force of nature.

GILLESPIE: For Living on Earth, I'm Lex Gillespie in Washington.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, some say that while Al Gore was being a good friend of Bill, Bill Bradley was being a better friend to the environment. The Vice President, however, is making no apologies for his tenure under Mr. Clinton.

GORE: He asked me to take charge of that part of the agenda. And with very few exceptions -- there have been a few exceptions -- but with very few exceptions he has taken my advice.

CURWOOD: It's the Democratic contenders for president and the environment, next week on Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Jesse Wegman, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, and Stephanie Pindyck, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Hannah Day-Woodruff, Kaneed Leger, and Brent Runyan, who researched our candidate profiles. Michael Aharon composed the theme. We welcome Diane Toomey [phonetic spelling] as our science editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Liz Lempert is our western editor. And Peter Thomson is special projects editor. Terry FitzPatrick is the acting senior editor, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; the Surdna Foundation; the Rockefeller Foundation; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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