Shareholder Activism/ Anna Solomon-Greenbaum
Living On Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum takes an inside look at the shareholder activism movement. Shareholders are pressing companies to step up their social and environmental performance, and a group of nuns is leading the way. (11:30)
Health Update/ Diane Toomey
Diane Toomey reports on research which has found that biodiversity can reduce the spread of Lyme disease. (0:59)
Wolf reintroduction programs have sometimes met with resistance from ranchers and in northwest Montana a pack of wolves is in trouble for killing cattle. The Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the Turner Endangered Species Fund, is outfitting these wolves with shock collars in an effort to control their appetite for cows. Steve Curwood speaks with Mike Phillips, the executive director of the Turner Fund, about how the experiment is going to work. (5:30)
Wolf Reintroductions/ Rocky Barker
Under the Endangered Species Act wolf populations have been restored in a number of states such as Minnesota and Idaho, places you’d normally think of as wolf habitat. But wolves in the Borscht Belt? Commentator Rocky Barker says there’s a new proposal for wolf reintroduction in this more unlikely part of the country. (3:00)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts, legends and lore about pearls, the birthstone for those born in June. (1:30)
Open Pits/ Willie Albright
The Sierra Army Depot in eastern California, the nation's number one site for open burning of solid rocket fuel and detonation of conventional munitions, is seeking a 10-year permit from California to continue operations. But as Willie Albright reports, Nevadans who are downwind want the open burning and detonation stopped. (5:40)
Technology Update/ Cynthia Graber
Cynthia Graber reports on a skin patch developed by Israeli scientists that warns you when you’re getting too much sun – before you start to burn. (0:59)
Clean Air Act Review
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear two challenges to the Clean Air Act this fall. Host Steve Curwood talks with Vermont Law School professor Pat Parenteau about the issues raised by the case brought by the American Trucking Association. (3:30)
Good Neighbors/ Eric Whitney
A coalition of citizens groups and the largest mine in Montana have signed the first ever "good neighbor agreement" in the mining industry. As Eric Whitney reports, it promises to set an important precedent for both the mining industry and environmentalists. (7:30)
Host Steve Curwood speaks with Elizabeth Plater Zyberk, Dean of the School of Architecture of the University of Miami, about the New Urbanist movement and the planning and design it promotes to combat suburban sprawl. (6:00)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Willie Albright, Eric Whitney
UPDATES: Diane Toomey, Cynthia Graber
GUESTS: Mike Phillips, Pat Parenteau, Elizabeth Plater Zyberk
COMMENTATOR: Rocky Barker
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Corporations could have a major impact on the environment, so increasingly activists are trying to have an impact on companies. Some are protesting inside the corporation, with resolutions at the meetings of shareholders.
MASSEY: The goal of most shareholder activists is to break through the wall that corporate managers are usually surrounded with and ask them to address fundamental issues about their business. If that's the goal and the shareholder process achieves it, then you have a win no matter what the numbers.
CURWOOD: Also out West, where wolves are being reintroduced into the wild, a member of Congress is calling for participation by folks in the Northeast.
BARKER: Representative Mike Simpson wants to restore eastern timber wolves to the forests of the Catskills. As Henny Youngman might have said, "Take my wolves ... please!"
CURWOOD: We'll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, but first the news.
(NPR News follows)
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Doing good by doing well. A growing number of environmental and social activists are using the booming stock market to tug on the levers of change at some of the nation's largest corporations. Nearly a trillion dollars worth of common stock is owned by individuals and institutions such as pension funds, who are on the record seeking to influence corporate behavior beyond the pursuit of profit. They're called shareholder activists. Typically, they will file resolutions at a company's annual meeting. The resolutions rarely win, but that's not the point. The very debate creates a legal record, and the scrutiny can be a catalyst for change. As Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports, at the forefront of this movement are some Catholic nuns.
WOMAN: I've never been to one of the GE shareholder meetings. Can somebody who has gone sort of tell me what to expect?
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Richmond, Virginia, in the social hall of a church. General Electric stockholders are preparing for the company's annual meeting.
DALY: And then two years ago, of course, there was the famous argument about who reported to God. "I answer to God." "No, sister, I answer to God," said Jack Welch.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: They come from all over the country. They're GE employees and retirees. They are trade proponents, environmentalists, and nuns.
DALY: I'm Pat Daly . I'm a Dominican Sister of Caldwell, New Jersey, and I coordinate the work of this Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment...
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Sister Pat Daly is the one who had that famous argument with Jack Welch, GE CEO. She's been showing up at corporate meetings for 23 years, using her position as part owner to lobby for changes in their business practices. This year she's pressuring GE to clean up toxic PCBs that it dumped in the Hudson River years ago.
DALY: Primarily, religious organizations got involved because poor people were eating the fish without knowing that it was contaminated. And we have two shareholder resolutions tomorrow...
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: To file a resolution, shareholders need to own at least one percent of a company's stock, or $2,000 worth, whichever is less. Then, if the proposal meets a stringent list of federal requirements, it's eligible for a vote at the company's annual meeting. One share gets one vote. Sister Pat's order owns 400 shares in GE. Like many other religious communities, they started buying stocks in the 60s to support their elder members. But their religious values and commitment to working for the common good taught them that they couldn't just be passive owners, making money without addressing the consequences of how it was being made.
(People milling at a restaurant)
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Over lunch at a busy nearby restaurant, Sister Barbara Aires says for her, the issue is simple.
AIRES: Corporations have tremendous power, even more so than governments today. And we ask who's making the decision? Why are they making it? Who benefits from those decisions, and who loses?
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The nuns and other religious investors soon realized they could use their investments. They could use the power of their ownership to push corporations to be more socially responsible. What they started grew into a movement. By one recent measure, these investment activists now control close to a trillion dollars in stock, and file more than 100 shareholder resolutions a year.
AIRES: We've looked at military issues and its effect on the use of natural resources. We've looked at environmental issues and its impact on human development and the Earth. We've looked at the workplace and equality.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The morning after the church meeting, police are staked out in front of the site of the GE meeting. There had been talk of trouble, but the scene here is mellow. Shareholders filing in pass students beating drums, anti-nuclear power protesters, and a long line of GE retirees pushing for a pension increase. The company distributes its own message: colorful brochures with pictures of sunsets and herons lunching on fish from the Hudson.
(People milling indoors)
WELCH: Hi Pat, how are you?
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Inside, Jack Welch, GE's chairman, is signing copies of the latest issue of Fortune magazine. He's featured on its cover. He's known for being an affable guy, and he speaks politely about the nuns and other shareholder activists.
WELCH: Well, they come and bring up issues that are of concern to them. So we enjoy listening to them. They haven't changed what we're doing. Some of their views are not consistent with ours. But we like to listen to them, and see if they do have ideas.
DALY: Good morning, Mr. Welch. My name is Pat Daly. I'm a Dominican Sister of Caldwell, New Jersey...
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Reporters aren't allowed into the meeting, but the sound is piped through a scratchy line into the press room.
DALY: This is not simply about a PCB spill in the Hudson River. It's not simply about a New York Superfund site. This is also a financial issue.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The sister's resolution calls on GE to report just how much money the company has spent trying to avoid cleaning up the PCBs, highly-toxic chemicals once used in electrical insulation.
DALY: Our company has been expending untold amounts of money on the legal, public relations, and lobbying efforts, as well as the medical studies, all of which have only served to delay what we hope is inevitable: the clean-up of the Hudson River.
WELCH: We invested in good science to make sure remedial decisions are based on sound facts. We have not always agreed with the government on remedial risk.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Jack Welch says the company has already spent more than a hundred million dollars to clean up the river. He insists the government's clean-up standards are too strict, and that it would be safer and cheaper to leave the contamination where it is, locked up at the bottom of the river, rather than digging it up and mixing some of the chemicals back into the water.
WELCH: I can tell you I care personally about GE's environmental reputation...
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The shareholder resolutions are debated, and finally the votes are tallied.
MAN: Shareholder proposal number eight, relating to the report on PCB clean-up costs. In favor: 8.6 percent of shares voted. Against: 91.4 percent. Shareholder proposal number nine...
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The entire slate of shareholder resolutions has failed.
MARSHALL: You have to see it from the perspective of the long haul. We're in it for the long haul.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: In a Richmond park after the meeting, Sister Pat Marshall says she isn't discouraged by the numbers. She's been here before, and she and her colleagues will be back again.
MARSHALL: And if you see it in that light and the historic perspective, you might say, from past to way in the future, it kind of clarifies things.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Sister Pat says the votes don't tell the whole story. The goal of shareholder activism is to break through the walls that surround corporate managers. Sponsors of a shareholder resolution only need three percent of the vote to bring their proposal up again, and essentially make themselves recurrent pests. And resolutions are usually part of a broader campaign: mass mailings to shareholders, public education efforts, even protests and boycotts. Eventually, some companies want to quiet the fuss, and they agree at least to talk. One such firm was the Sun Oil Company, or Sunoco.
BANKS: They knocked on our door probably in the early 1990s.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Bob Banks is Sunoco's vice president of environment, health, and safety. He says shareholders wanted Sunoco to sign on to a set of sustainable business practices called the CERES Principles.
BANKS: The formal shareholder initiative would not be our preferred way of interacting with shareholders, but there are times when formal shareholder initiatives come in, and that was the case in the course of the CERES issue here.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: That first resolution was defeated, 94 percent to six. But Mr. Banks admits it started a dialogue.
BANKS: And certainly, that resulted in us having very meaningful interaction and discussions, ultimately leading to our endorsement of the CERES Principles.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The principles Sunoco adopted include measures to reduce waste, conserve energy, and complete an annual environmental audit.
VAN BUREN: Sun Company has been a tremendous success.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: That's Ariane Van Buren of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, an umbrella group of religious investor activists like Sisters Pat Daly and Barbara Aires . She says that pressure from shareholders brought quick changes to the way Sunoco does business.
VAN BUREN: Within the first year, Sun was looking for every possible opportunity to involve us shareholders and environmental groups, as well as the state regulators, in how they were making their environmental decisions. Since then, when they've had accidents, they've contacted us first and said, "Look, this is happening. What's your advice on how to deal with it?"
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: And Ms. Van Buren says there have been other high-profile successes.
VAN BUREN: This year, shareholders have gotten six major companies, from Ford Motor Company to Texaco, to withdraw from the Global Climate Coalition. In the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge, DuPont agreed not to strip-mine titanium. Home Depot agreed to stop using virgin forest in its wood products that it sells in the stores.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: These are incremental changes, of course, but shareholder activists say they are slowly nudging corporations back toward their original purpose: to channel private wealth into doing public good. Bob Massie directs the Coalition for Environmentally-Responsible Economies, the group that created the CERES Principles.
MASSIE: One of the things that was clear in the early days of the corporation is those goals were not just economic. They were also social goals. That is, the company was asked to do something that was a benefit to everyone. In the 21st century, there is a debate as to how do human and environmental issues get introduced into corporate decision-making. So what's happening now is the reassertion of democracy in the corporate realm.
WOMAN: (On speaker) Ladies and gentlemen, we are in the boarding process of Continental Flight 1424, with service to Newark...
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The Richmond airport. Sister Barbara Aires is waiting for her plane. It's been a long week. The day after the failed resolutions at General Electric's meeting here, she and her colleagues moved on to the annual meeting of the Phillip Morris Company, also in Richmond, where six more shareholder resolutions were filed and also failed. Today, she's on her way to Houston to help teach another community of nuns the ropes of shareholder activism.
AIRES: I believe the Scripture roots call me to work very hard for a just world order. I'm not going to change the world, but I keep working to say what I think I was taught, and I don't believe in being silent about it.
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum in Richmond, Virginia.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Our series on the shareholder movement continues later this month, when Greenpeace activists buy stock, don business suits, and head for the corporate suites.
Wolves in Montana slated to be killed for hunting livestock get a second chance, but it's far from a pleasant alternative. The story is coming up right here on Living on Earth.
First, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.
TOOMEY: Biodiversity isn't just good for the planet. It may also keep people healthier. Researchers have found that in regions with diverse wildlife populations, ticks are less likely to carry Lyme Disease. To understand why, you have to know how a tick gets the bacterial infection. When they're in the larval stage, ticks feed off the blood of small animals who may transmit Lyme Disease to the tick. And the prize for the most likely to infect a tick goes to the white-footed mouse. In areas of poor biodiversity, this rodent flourishes, thanks to a lack of both predators and competitors. The researchers from the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, say this is the first report to show that biodiversity may reduce the risk of disease in people. Their work was published in the journal "Conservation Biology." That's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.
CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In Montana, there is a plan to use electric shock collars to train wild wolves to avoid cattle. The experiment is being run by Ted Turner's Endangered Species Fund, in cooperation with the government, with a pack of wolves that apparently prefers the taste of beef to wild game. The territory of the wolves, known as the Sheep Mountain pack, is just outside of the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The hope is they can be programmed to avoid cattle, and then be released back into the wild. Mike Phillips is the executive director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund. Mike, why has the Sheep Mountain pack, this one in particular, gotten into so much trouble?
PHILLIPS: Well, they actually occupy a territory that straddles public and private land on the outskirts of the northern entrance to Yellowstone Park. And these wolves have a veritable buffet of prey animals to choose from. Some of those items include domestic cattle. I can tell you that in the presence of abundant native prey, wolves tend not to select livestock. Now, this particular pack lives in an area where there are good numbers of native prey, and they have a history of depredating on livestock. So it just seemed to us that the Sheep Mountain pack was an appropriate candidate for inclusion in this program.
CURWOOD: So, as I understand it, you have a plan to catch these wolves and then put them in an enclosure and put on shock collars. Can you explain to me what's going to happen there?
PHILLIPS: By mid-June those animals will be transferred to the Flying D Ranch and placed in about a one-half-acre enclosure. And we will attach to each wolf a shock collar used by dog trainers, for example, and develop protocols for administering a negative stimulus, in this case it's an electronic shock, any time one of those wolves is in close proximity to a livestock calf.
CURWOOD: Tell me about the nature of this shock. Is it a little ping, or is it something that could, like, knock them to the ground?
PHILLIPS: Well, I don't think it's going to knock them to the ground, but it's not going to be a little ping. We have to make an impression on them, and we believe that the most effective way to do that is with a pretty pronounced shock. We're hoping to develop protocols that allow for the negative stimulus to be graduated as a function of the determination of the wolf. I think that given enough time, we can prompt some wolves to not depredate on livestock. I am also convinced that some wolves that we've run through the conditioning program won't be impressed by our efforts, and they'll go right back to their old ways.
CURWOOD: Now, how does this conditioning teach a wolf how to properly hunt? I mean, if it gets shocked any time it goes near a calf, wolves are hunters.
PHILLIPS: That's a very good question, and we are considering presenting live prey in the pens that the wolves will be permitted to kill. That might be in the form of rabbits. Now, we are the first to admit that wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains don't subsist on rabbits, but there are certain limitations to what we can accomplish with a captive setting. And we are aware that they may simply conclude all of this has to do with being held in captivity, and upon release to the wild they go back to their old ways. If that happened, then we would modify our protocols accordingly, trying to find the right mix of ingredients to have the desired effect.
CURWOOD: We have heard that if you want to prevent a wolf attack, you would put a donkey or a llama out in your herd of cattle. Is there anything to that?
PHILLIPS: You, you know, I'd hope to think there is. I'd like to think there is. There are lots of potential guard animals that we have not put in a field situation to see what effect they have on wolves. There are lots of aspects of wolf-livestock relationships that we've never explored, in large part because we haven't had wolves over a large Western landscape up until recently. We're now beginning to assess the utility of aversive conditioning. We're looking at techniques that might exploit the social ecology of gray wolves. Maybe in some areas that are great wolf habitat that are also public allotments on public land, perhaps there can be some innovative ways of retiring allotments or providing the rancher extra compensation to account for the fact that he's certain to incur some losses. The journey of coexistence is almost certainly going to be a long one, and if you believe that, then we might as well get started.
CURWOOD: The issues you're dealing with here make me wonder, what is a truly wild place now?
PHILLIPS: Oh, gee whiz. I don't know what a truly wild place is. I do believe, the only thing I can tell you for sure is, it's a human construct. Nature never defined it. A wolf doesn't define it. We define it. And I suppose that there are probably almost as many definitions of wildness as there are people. This is the best that we can offer for wolves in the year 2000, and I believe it's an acceptable compromise for ranchers, especially ranchers that are using public lands.
CURWOOD: Now, I'm just wondering if you and the Fish and Wildlife Service see this zapping program, this aversive treatment, as a long-term solution to the wolf-rancher conflict there on public lands.
PHILLIPS: No, certainly not. It may be a tool that's used over a long period of time, but there is no one long-term solution out there, except a willingness on the part of Americans to accommodate other important species that call this planet home.
CURWOOD: What was the alternative, if you didn't do this aversive shock treatment program for these wolves?
PHILLIPS: For these animals, they would have been killed. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had pretty well run out of options, and in the absence of this aversive conditioning attempt they would have been shot.
CURWOOD: Mike Phillips is the executive director of the Turner Endangered Species Fund. Thanks for speaking with us today.
PHILLIPS: You're welcome.
CURWOOD: Thanks to wolf reintroduction programs, the numbers of wolves is rising in many parts of the country, including Idaho, Michigan, Wyoming, and North Carolina. And that's prompted at least one member of Congress to sponsor, well, a unique plan to bring wolves back into the Northeast. Commentator Rocky Barker says that the Protecting America's Wolves Bill, or PAWS, has an unlikely sponsor.
BARKER: An Idaho Congressman says more is missing from New York's Catskill Mountains than Borscht Belt comedians and the Last of the Mohicans. Representative Mike Simpson wants to restore eastern timber wolves to the forests of the Catskills. As Henny Youngman might have said, "Take my wolves ... please!"
Part of Mr. Simpson's motivation is to give New York representatives a taste of their own medicine. Like most Republicans from the West, he resents how Eastern members of Congress pad their environmental records with bills that restrict the use of Western public lands. In 1995, U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents released Canadian wolves in the wilderness of his southern Idaho district. This brought loud protests from nearly all of the state's politicians. Representative Simpson argues that restoring endangered wolves to the East is as important as saving them in the West.
The Catskills may not be as big as Idaho's wilderness, but it's not exactly the size of a postage stamp. The area, first popularized by James Fenimore Cooper in his stories of frontiersman Natty Bumpoe , still has 700,000 acres of park land. More than a third is designated as forever wild. Bringing in wolves would help control growing numbers of deer, not just in the Catskills but across the East.
But Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley of the Bronx doesn't like the proposal. "This is a wolf in sheep's clothing," he says. "Putting wolves in the Catskills is like putting them in Manhattan." Wolves rarely harm humans, but Mr. Crowley does have a point. The Catskills is only 100 miles northeast of New York City, and critics of restoration say the area has too many roads and people that would threaten long-term wolf survival.
Farmers in the East and West would agree that wolves endanger their livestock. Maybe Ted Turner's Endangered Species Fund has the answer. Use shock-collars to teach wolves to lose their taste for beef. Hey, how about collars to keep New Yorkers away from wolves? Maybe Big Apple residents can make a place for wolves alongside the bulls and the bears of Wall Street. And for those who argue against bringing non-native wolves from Canada to the Empire State, if Hillary Clinton can make a go of it, why not Canis lupus? Or, perhaps there is an open spot on Broadway. Goodbye, ñCats.î Hello, wolves.
(Music up and under: Sinatra: "And if I can make it there, I'm gonna make it anywhere. It's up to you, New York, New York. New York.")
CURWOOD: Commentator Rocky Barker writes for the Idaho Statesman. He is also author of "Saving All the Parts: Reconciling Economics and the Endangered Species Act."
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 and the environment; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Surdna Foundation; and the Ford Foundation, striving to preserve our ecological values.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return: A community faces some of the hidden costs of peacetime. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's June. And if you were born during this month, then your birth stone is the pearl, the queen of gems.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: The pearl was one of the first precious stones to be valued by people, and at times it has gained extraordinary value. There's a legend that says the pearl was the daughter of the moon, but of course natural pearls actually form when an irritant, like a parasitic worm, drills a hole into the shell of the particular species of clam, mussel, or oyster. And as a defense mechanism, the mollusk forms a sac around the intruder. And that sac then secretes calcium carbonate. The color depends on the inside of the shell lining, otherwise known as the mother of pearl. As for the pearl value, consider the legend involving Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Now, Cleopatra was known for lavish dinner parties. And one time she bet that she could devour the wealth of an entire country in a single meal. And as the dinner ended, Antony assumed he had won the bet -- until Cleopatra broke a pearl from her earring, crushed it, and dropped it into a glass of wine that she then drank. Did she win? Pliny, the Roman historian of the first century A.D., valued the pearl at at least five million dollars. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: If you head out of Reno, Nevada, across the border into California in a remote valley, you'll likely hear booms as you approach the Sierra Army depot. For more than 30 years this depot has been disposing of most of the U.S. military's obsolete munitions, often through open pit detonation and burning. But the Sierra Depot's neighbors have grown weary of the noise and toxic plumes that sometimes waft by their homes. And with the depot now up for renewal of its disposal permits, the voices of protest are growing. Willie Albright reports.
PASTOR: My daughter at 28 had a brain tumor. My wife came down with scala derma , which is a lupus-type disease, which is associated with dioxins.
ALBRIGHT: Jack Pastor is a successful businessman here in the rural community of Susanville, but he doesn't have much peace of mind.
PASTOR: My other daughter became very ill with heavy metal poisoning.
ALBRIGHT: The Sierra Army Depot is not far from Susanville, and Mr. Pastor blames open pit detonations there for the sickness in his family. Munitions contain heavy metals, dioxin and PCBs, and the depot is permitted to detonate one million pounds of them a day.
PASTOR: When you vaporize metals, they are 100 times more toxic. So that means, figuring a million pounds a day, that's over 500,000 pounds of vaporized metals in these plumes of smoke that will be drifting over our communities and unloading on the communities.
ALBRIGHT: Before his family got sick, Mr. Pastor supported the depot because of the jobs it brought to Lassen County. But after his daughter's illness, Mr. Pastor checked Nevada medical records and found much higher cancer rates around the depot than California studies had reported. Now he's gotten the county supervisors to call for more studies before a permit is issued.
ALBRIGHT: Meanwhile, the depot is in full operation. On this day about 40 workers are detonating relatively small quantities of cluster bombs.
ALBRIGHT: This depot is one of the few able to dispose of cluster bombs, according to depot blast master Dan Galbraith.
GALBRAITH: This particular round has the grenades in it, that after they are expelled , they hit the ground. An explosive charge launches a golfball-sized grenade up four to six feet, and it detonates.
ALBRIGHT: Mr. Galbraith says open detonation is the only way to ensure the grenades are all destroyed. Plus, he says, computer models show the resulting fireball consumes all the metals.
GALBRAITH: If we blew up 100 tons in one day, the model says all 100 tons is vaporized and goes downrange to various receptors.
GALBRAITH: And we do that twice a day, 260 days a year, for 70 years, and the receptor has to come up with a cancer risk of less than one. And so far, we've beaten that.
ALBRIGHT: But critics say modeling is no good.
ALBRIGHT: A coalition of environmentalists, locals, and the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe has filed a federal lawsuit to force the depot to conduct real tests and halt operations until an alternative to open detonation is used.
ALBRIGHT: The California Department of Toxic Substances is responsible for issuing the depot's permit, but the situation is complicated by the fact that Nevada is downwind from the detonation.
ALBRIGHT: Pyramid Lake is just 15 miles downwind from the depot. It's home to both the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe and the endangered cui-ui fish. Standing on its shore, tribal chairman Norman Harry says his people know when the depot is in operation.
HARRY: They have actually witnessed the clouds coming over the lake, especially during calmer days when the wind's not blowing very much, because it kind of dissipates itself over the lake itself. And there is kind of a reddish tint to the cloud, the toxic cloud.
ALBRIGHT: The tribe also has high cancer rates, two to three times the Nevada average. They fear the cui-ui fish, which is found only in Pyramid Lake, could become contaminated. The Sierra Army Depot is the largest munitions disposal facility in the United States, but it's not the only one. There are similar operations in Utah, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts, and studies show significantly higher cancer rates among their neighbors. Joining in the call for at least a temporary halt to the operations at the depot is U.S. Senator Harry Reade of Nevada. Senator Reade , who sits on the Military Appropriations Subcommittee, has threatened to cut funding for the depot.
READE: It's a concern to me. It's a concern to the people in Nevada. It should be a concern to everybody in the country. Why? Well, the military should be more concerned about what it does to the environment. Why do they burn there? Because it's cheap.
ALBRIGHT: Senator Reade says there are other, safer ways to dispose of munitions, such as exploding them in blast chambers. But he acknowledges that this is a more expensive method.
ALBRIGHT: Paul Volkerson , the depot's director of public works, says other detonation methods are not as expedient, and hundreds of millions of pounds of these unwanted weapons are awaiting disposal.
VOLKERSON: I feel it's important for the public to understand the viability that we have here, and the fact that we are doing good things.
VOLKERSON: The Cold War is over. We don't need these items any more. We're performing a humanitarian mission for the global good.
ALBRIGHT: But Jack Pastor says the health of his family and his neighbors is being sacrificed.
PASTOR: I lay this right at Raytheon, Lockheed-Martin. People build these rockets and bombs. They've made no preparation to retire these vehicles at all. They take the easy way out. They let contractors dig a hole in the ground and touch them off in rural areas, and we pay the price.
ALBRIGHT: For Living on Earth, I'm Willie Albright in Reno, Nevada.
CURWOOD: Toxic disposals and mines aren't things most people want in their back yards. But one community is finding a way to make things better through cooperation instead of confrontation. That story is just ahead right here on Living on Earth.
First, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.
(Music up and under)
GRABER: It's summer time, and for many folks that means sunburn time. Scientists say incidents of sunburn and skin cancer have been on the rise as manmade chemicals thin the protective ozone layer. Until now, the only way to tell how much sun is too much is after the damage is done. But Israeli scientists have come up with a solution, a sticker that warns you before you burn. It measures ultraviolet radiation, the kind that causes burns and most skin cancers. It's a little round patch that contains chemicals that slowly turn color before your skin does, letting you know it's time to get into the shade or reapply sunscreen. The sticker works with sunscreen, absorbing it and factoring in the protective power of your sunscreen with your skin type. There are different color stickers that work with different skin types, so you can coordinate your beach wear with your sun protection. And that's this week's technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.
CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth. You can hear our program any time on our Web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And while you're online, send your comments to us at LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can reach our listener comment line at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In a precedent-setting case, the United States Supreme Court says it will decide whether economic factors can be considered along with human health concerns when environmental standards are set. The high court will also decide whether the Environmental Protection Agency even has the authority to set clean air standards in the first place. The challenge was brought by the American Trucking Association, along with the United States Chamber of Commerce. Pat Parenteau joins me now. He's a professor at Vermont Law School. Professor, this sounds like a double-barreled assault on the Clean Air Act. What are the issues at stake here?
PARENTEAU: The issues that are at stake are probably the most significant public health issues from the standpoint of air pollution that we have in the country. EPA is seeking to tighten the standards for both ozone, which is better known as smog, and small particulates. These are very fine particles that can create cancers in lungs in certain situations.
CURWOOD: Why would the Supreme Court hear this case?
PARENTEAU: One of the issues that has been raised is whether EPA was operating on what's called an unconstitutional delegation of authority, which basically means that Congress gave EPA too much power and didn't give the agency enough direction. The other issue has to do with whether or not EPA should take the costs of compliance with these health standards into account. The Clean Air Act makes it pretty clear that EPA is not supposed to consider costs when it sets the standards, but industry is arguing that it ought to take cost into account when it tries to figure out how to comply with the standard.
CURWOOD: Okay, you're a law professor. If you were presenting the case for why economics should be considered under the Clean Air Act, what would you say?
PARENTEAU: I would say that there are many different ways to achieve health-based standards, and some of them are going to be more expensive than others. So, you might make the argument that if EPA will be flexible in the ways that industry can comply, you can achieve the health-based standards at a lower cost, and that should make everybody happy.
CURWOOD: So why not do this? What's the argument against this flexibility?
PARENTEAU: EPA is going to say that the flexibility comes in when the states adopt plans to implement the new standards, and that EPA should not pre-empt by setting specifically what kinds of strategies should be used to achieve these standards. So, the Supreme Court, which recently has been showing more concern about this Federalism principle, is going to be faced with an interesting question, which is, should it rule that EPA should take cost into account in determining what strategy should be used? That would be in direct conflict with some earlier decisions it has rendered, saying the federal government ought to defer to the states on questions like that, and let the individual states come up with more creative and innovative strategies.
CURWOOD: What are the health consequences here if the Supreme Court agrees with the truckers on the health standards?
PARENTEAU: EPA's scientific evidence, which was backed up by an advisory committee that the EPA consulted, they are convinced that the higher standards that are in existence today are causing respiratory problems for people, and the health effects are impaired breathing, limitation of activity on days when the air quality is poor, and aggravation of any kind of sinus problems or respiratory problems. These are things that affect people's lives, and EPA is convinced that unless we lower these standards, people are going to unnecessarily suffer these kinds of consequences.
CURWOOD: Pat Parenteau is an environmental law professor from Vermont Law School. Thank you, sir.
PARENTEAU: Thank you, Steve.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Mining is one of the world's oldest and most basic industries. It also has one of the worst legacies of environmental disruption and pollution. Its long-lasting impacts on land and water quality have resulted in a backlash against mining in this country, even in Montana, a state quite literally built on mining. Voters there last year outlawed new methods of cyanide-based gold recovery in the name of environmental protection. But in one town citizens and the mining company have come together in a precedent-setting agreement that could change the way the industry does business. Eric Whitney of the High Plains News Service has the story.
WHITNEY: Most Americans are probably unfamiliar with the precious metal palladium, even though chances are good that they own some. It may be in an old dental filling, or as part of an electronic device like a cellular phone. And if they own a car --
(A car engine revs up)
WHITNEY: -- they own at least half an ounce of palladium in the catalytic converter. Palladium helps remove some of the most dangerous gases from engine exhaust. As air quality laws around the world have tightened, the price of palladium has skyrocketed. A big reason is because there are only two places on the planet where palladium is mined. One's in South Africa.
(Wheels moving on tracks)
WHITNEY: The other is here in Montana's Bare Tooth Mountains about 50 miles north of Yellowstone National Park.
WHITNEY: The Stillwater Mining Company sits atop the largest known palladium ore deposit in the world. It's boring and blasting its way into a craggy mountain ridge from a pair of parallel river valleys. Sounds like these have rattled Montana's mountain ranges for more than 100 years, from before it was even a state. And to a great degree, the fact that Montana was settled at all is because of the riches pulled from the earth here. But lately, times have been tough for Montana's mining industry.
BOOTH: You know how the government is. It's been working against this mining, and they've shut down a lot of stuff.
WHITNEY: Eighty-nine-year-old Cliff Booth is a retired rancher. He and friend Charlie Sloan are eating lunch together here at the senior center in Big Timber, downstream from one of the Stillwater Company's palladium mines. Both say times have changed for the industry in Montana.
BOOTH: You shut that big mine down up over there at Cook City, raise the devil of that one up here at Butte, look like they're going to shut them down.
SLOAN: Looks so.
BOOTH: Of course, the water, pollution of the water and stuff, has something to do with that, which is all right. God, a fellow hadn't ought to drink polluted water in Montana.
SLOAN: But a lot of mines spend a lot of money. Somebody said they cost a million dollars a day.
BOOTH: Oh, I wouldn't be surprised.
SLOAN: Yeah. That's a lot of money. (Laughs)
WHITNEY: Cliff and Charlie are representative of a lot of Montanans, torn between a desire to keep the Treasure State pristine, but aware that working mines can mean prosperity, too. Hourly wages paid in Montana are the lowest in the nation. And Stillwater Mining Company says it pays about twice the state's average annual income. With more than 900 employees, it's already close to being the state's largest employer, and is poised to expand and triple its output in the next three years.
WHITNEY: South of Big Timber, a pair of sandhill cranes dance in a creekside pasture owned by Paul Hawks. This family rancher is concerned about the mining company's growing industrialization of the area.
HAWKS: It's something that you can't ignore. I mean, it's going to change the community we live in and how we live in it. So, it's something we need to get a handle on.
(A cow moos)
WHITNEY: When he's not feeding, herding, or ear-tagging his family's cows, as he is today, Hawks chairs the Cottonwood Resource Council, a local citizen's group that formed 12 years ago in response to the nearby mining. He says that it never seemed practical to try and shut the mine down.
HAWKS: So, those of us who had concerns about that decided, well, if we're going to have a mine, then we want the best damn mine this community's ever seen. And we're going to make sure that they do it with the values of the local community in mind, and that when they're gone, that we still have a semblance of the community we had before.
WHITNEY: Over the years that meant following traditional routes, like working with state and federal regulatory agencies and taking them or the mining company to court when they felt they had to. But Arlene Boyd, who chairs a sister group of the council Hawks works with, says that strategy didn't seem effective.
BOYD: If you try to calculate what is the likely outcome of a lawsuit in the state of Montana on an environmental issue, I don't know anybody who feels terribly confident doing that. Also, by the time you get to court, what you're allowed to look at under the law is so constrained that you've probably already lost.
WHITNEY: Not surprisingly, Stillwater Mining Company is not a big fan of lawsuits, either, especially because they promote themselves as an environmentally-responsible company.
ALLEN: What you see before you are trash receptacles designed with the environment in mind. They have very, very heavy lids covered with steel grating, because the winds in the winter blow with such a velocity that anything else would go. We also have a complete recycling center.
WHITNEY: Chris Allen is a vice president at Stillwater Mining. He's proud of the company's cutting-edge water treatment plant and its 16-year track record of operating without a pollution citation.
ALLEN: We think that the limits that are in our current operating permits are entirely protective of the environment. But we're willing to try and do better.
WHITNEY: Because the company and the citizen's groups both wanted to stay out of court and were frustrated with regulatory agencies, they struck a compromise, forging what's known as a good neighbor agreement. Stillwater Mining promises to go above and beyond state and federal regulations, and the citizen's groups give up certain rights to sue.
ALLEN: We felt that as we embarked into a new century, perhaps it was time to break the cycle of endless litigation that surrounds mines whenever they change their permits or alter their operations.
WHITNEY: Both sides were motivated by the uncertain prospects of a lawsuit that the citizens had pending against Montana's Department of Environmental Quality. The suit charged that the agency failed to hold the company to strict enough water quality standards. After a full year of negotiations that both sides described as torturous, they signed a legally-binding contract that gives Stillwater Mining some peace of mind, and the public unprecedented third-party oversight of a mining operation. Citizens groups also get real decision-making power over certain company operations, including disposal of waste rock.
BOULANGER: This good neighbor agreement is most certainly precedent-setting.
WHITNEY: Amy Boulanger is with the Washington, D.C.-based Mineral Policy Center, one of the mining industry's fiercest critics.
BOULANGER: Not only can it be held as a model at other places, but it really behooves us to declare that it must be held as a model at other places, and that, really, the state and federal regulatory agencies, I think, have some catch-up work to do.
WHITNEY: The mining industry has long fought the kinds of stringent monitoring and standards the good neighbor agreement calls for. But things are changing, says Laura Skaer of the Northwest Mining Association.
SKAER: The industry is starting to recognize that the old approaches aren't working, and new approaches are needed. In essence, it's how the mining industry can be sustainable, is by sitting down with the local community and working with them to find solutions.
WHITNEY: Skaer says there are other places where mining companies are modifying their operations based on community input. But for now, the good neighbor agreement in Montana appears to be even more rare than the precious metals being mined here: a substantial change in the mining business that both the industry and environmentalists agree on. For Living on Earth, I'm Eric Whitney in Billings, Montana.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: The suburbs are pretty much the same thing all over America. Individual houses, streets with no sidewalks, stores that are only accessible by car. The burbs are also blamed for sprawl and a sense of isolation and alienation. But the New Urbanist movement says it has the answer to these problems: a return to the traditional style of town and village layout. One of its proponents is architect Elizabeth Plater Zyberk. She's an author of ñSuburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream.î She begins by explaining what a street means to her.
ZYBERK: A street is a public space. It's a corridor of movement. A street is faced by buildings that establish its geometry. The buildings' height and their aspect to the street, whether they have doors and windows, and how those allow people to interact between the sidewalk and the interior of the building, all contribute to making the character of that street. The dimensions are very important. Some urban design research in Europe points to an interesting correlation between sidewalk width and cartway width, the paving for the vehicle, which says that the most beloved streets in the world are those which have either the same amount of sidewalk width, or more than, vehicular paving width. If you think about most American streets, we tend to reverse that proportion and have less sidewalk and more blacktop.
CURWOOD: What does that mean? What happens to our communities?
ZYBERK: That means that we put a premium on driving, rather than walking, as a way of getting around. The impact of that is, many communities choked in traffic congestion are looking at buses and rail and trolleys and all sorts of, in a sense, reviving public transit. And if the land use is not organized, and if the walking environment is not pleasant, then you can put all the transit in you want at enormous investment, and still not have people use it. They'd rather sit in the car for hours in traffic.
CURWOOD: Your book talks a lot about New Urbanism. What is New Urbanism? How would you define it?
ZYBERK: The New Urbanism proposes a vision or a picture for building the metropolis, which is different than what we've been doing in recent years, in the following way. Instead of separating uses and incomes and putting great emphasis on automobile mobility, the New Urbanism promotes making walkable neighborhoods, compact mixed-use places of residence, work and recreation, which are pedestrian-friendly and transit-oriented. In effect, traditional neighborhoods, rather than suburban subdivisions and shopping centers.
CURWOOD: You have a lot of concepts in this book. One, of course, is green, the necessity of it. But you say that not all green space is created equal. What do you mean?
ZYBERK: Well, you know, the suburban picture of green is a kind of leftover space around the buildings. The lawn around the house. The little patch of landscaping around the walled subdivision. And there are other models, a kind of reverse model, that we look to as New Urbanists, which puts that green very consciously into greens, which buildings face onto -- courtyard gardens. And of course the continuous network of green that's so important at the regional scale -- corridors of green, conservation areas, farmland, which continues on a regional scale and runs between neighborhoods and, you, know, in and out of cities.
CURWOOD: Green space is something that many around the country are trying to save from sprawl that seems to be galloping everywhere. But some of the most famous New Urbanist sites are built on greenfields. I mean, they're basically paving over what had been natural space. Isn't this really a contradiction?
ZYBERK: Well, it might seem like it, and in fact we've heard much criticism in recent years, in which people are saying you shouldn't be building anything new any more. You should just be rebuilding old places. We think of the new communities that we've been building much more positively as examples. If Seaside, for instance, had not been built and the kind of place that garnered so much attention as a new place --
CURWOOD: This is in Florida, you're talking about.
ZYBERK: In Florida, yeah. Seaside, Florida, is one of the first what you would call New Urbanist new communities. If Seaside, for instance, had not been built and the kind of place that garnered so much attention as a new place, one would not have drawn as much attention to rebuilding existing places. In fact, the financial success of a place like Seaside spurred many people to think of rebuilding, infilling and so on, because they could see in a new place that, yes, people really did appreciate living in this manner. And therefore, those places which already existed that could be rebuilt in that manner were worth working on.
CURWOOD: Well, tell me, from your own experience, what's your favorite town or city in this country, and why?
ZYBERK: You know, almost any American city has its share of wonderful neighborhoods and districts. Some of them historic, some of them new, whether it's the East Side of Manhattan or Back Bay in Boston, Charleston, South Carolina, Miami Beach, there are so many wonderful places. What's true of all of them, however, I think most places that almost anyone would say is their favorite urban place, is they are eminently walkable. They reward the walker, not only with many destinations within short distance, but also wonderful architecture, attention paid to the detail of the street space, as well as the buildings.
CURWOOD: Elizabeth Plater Zyberk is one of the principals of a firm that has designed more than 200 new neighborhood and community revitalization plans, and is Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Miami. She is one of the authors of ñSuburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream.î Thank you.
ZYBERK: Thank you.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, and Maggie Villiger, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Christina Russo and Jessica Chu. Allison Dean composed our theme. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is science editor. And Peter Thomson is special projects editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our 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 W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; the Ford Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
(Music up and under)
NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.
Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an autographed copy of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.