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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

February 1, 2002

Air Date: February 1, 2002

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Enron and Deregulation

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The federal government has opened an investigation into Enron’s involvement in California’s energy crisis. Energy consultant Robert McCullough discusses Enron’s role in the deregulated energy market with host Steve Curwood. (06:00)

Eagle Scout / Bill Vaughn

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Very few boy scouts achieve the Eagle Badge honor. We’ll hear how ex-scout Bill Vaughn did it more than three decades after he should have. (05:00)

Health Note: Nicotine Metabolization / Diane Toomey

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a study that has found ethnic differences in the way nicotine is metabolized. (01:15)

Almanac: Darien Gap

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This week, we have facts about the first automobile crossing of the Darien Gap. In 1960, fourteen explorers ventured to cross the last unconquered stretch of the Pan-American Highway. (01:30)

California Moves Against CO2

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California is on its way to being the first state to limit greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. Host Steve Curwood talks with Los Angeles Times reporter Gary Polakovic about AB 1058, the bill that just passed the state Assembly. (04:00)

A Sturgeon in Sheep's Clothing / Anna Solomon-Greenbaum

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It seems like a straightforward story: an environmental group sues the federal government over an endangered species in the Potomac River. But as Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports, this lawsuit, and the reasons behind it, are more complex than they appear. (09:00)

Ground Zero Dogs

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Canines who reported for search and rescue duty at Ground Zero after September 11 were exposed to the same pollutants as the people who worked there. Host Steve Curwood talks with University of Pennsylvania veterinarian Cynthia Otto about the study she is launching to examine long-term health impacts on the dogs. (03:00)

Technology Note: Smog Dogs / Cynthia Graber

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on a new method for catching drivers who avoid emissions inspection checks. (01:20)

Listener Letters

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This week we dip into the Living on Earth mailbag to hear what listeners have to say. (02:00)

Nature Photography / Guy Hand

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Producer and photographer Guy Hand reports on how some photographers ignore, manipulate, even destroy pristine landscape to shoot that one stunning, singular magazine cover. (13:30)

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Show Credits and Funders

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Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Guy Hand
COMMENTATOR: Bill Vaughn
GUESTS: Robert McCullough, Cynthia Otto
UPDATES: Diane Toomey, Cynthia Graber

[INTRO THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, it's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. California moves to become the first state in the nation to limit auto emissions that can cause global warming. Also, federal regulators look into possible links between Enron and California's electrical energy crisis. And the truth behind some of those pretty pictures that grace nature magazines: sometimes they're about as natural as a pin-up model.

JOSE KNIGHTON: I started looking at landscape photography in the way you would look at fold-outs from Playboy; the very selective precision with which somebody's, you know, posed the landscape. The phrase that came up in my article was "beefing up the bosom of the Grand Tetons."

CURWOOD: Also, going for an Eagle Scout badge at the tender age of 53. That and more, this week on Living on Earth, right after this.

[NPR NEWS]

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Enron and Deregulation

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. A federal probe has begun to determine whether the failed Enron Corporation played any role in last year's California power crisis. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is taking testimony about Enron's influence in the energy markets. Disclosures at a recent Senate hearing prompted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to open its own investigation.

Robert McCullough, an energy consultant from Oregon, appeared at the Senate hearings. He joins us now. Hello, Mr. McCullough.

MCCULLOUGH: Hello.

CURWOOD: Now, Mr. McCullough, you testified that Enron may have used its influence to artificially increase electricity prices in the West. What's the basis of your suspicion?

MCCULLOUGH: When Enron went under, we suddenly saw a reduction in the prices for the years 2003-2004. Nothing else happened that weekend so we were very surprised when the market plunged as much as 25 or 30 percent.

CURWOOD: What else could have accounted for that drop?

MCCULLOUGH: Well actually, it was one of those cases where no one can remember that weekend, because nothing happened. There was no major policy change, we had no major change in fossil fuel prices, no power plants left the country or arrived unexpectedly. So, we were left with the surprising conclusion that Enron, all by itself, had such an important role that it had this massive impact on the market when it left.

CURWOOD: I'm a little confused here. Ordinarily, you'd think that if a big energy supplier went out of business that it would increase prices.

MCCULLOUGH: Exactly. We viewed Enron as a supplier. So, when you lose your supplier, you should have fewer left and the prices would logically be higher. However, what we saw was the prices looked much better to our customers after Enron had left the market than before.

CURWOOD: If I understand what you're saying, you're saying that Enron artificially inflated energy prices. Do I have that right?

MCCULLOUGH: Well, you've gone a little too far on that. We can't tell. My testimony in front of the Senate really hit to a question of transparency. Now, that's an economist's phrase for openness. We don't have much information on these important energy markets. And what that means is, we can't really understand why these prices are changing. Very importantly, we can't understand whether the investors have a good risk or a bad risk. We can't tell whether consumers are getting a good deal. And frankly, since California has made some information difficult to get, we can't even tell how safe this system is-- whether the lights are likely to go out. And my fundamental statement was "It's very hard to enjoy a competitive market in the dark."

CURWOOD: Mr. McCullough, why don't we know these things? Why isn't the sale of power a transparent transaction?

MCCULLOUGH: Well, part of it is lobbying. We've had a very energetic lobbying effort in California, here in the nation's capital, and among the industry groups, to reduce the amount of information available. California's actually the most extreme. The stakeholders-- the generators and the marketers who ended up being the center of that market-- convinced the California authorities to effectively classify all of the market information.

CURWOOD: If, indeed, Enron did have an impact on energy prices upwards, how could that have affected the California market?

MCCULLOUGH: Very easily. Utilities don't buy their power in the daily market. Utilities, like every other business, have to go out and make contracts for long-term supplies. They're no different than Safeway that has to go out and find sources for wheat and Rice Crispies months in advance. When a utility goes out to buy, it does so by calling all the suppliers and getting a series of bids. If Enron had such a position of market supremacy, if they really were driving the market as they kept saying in their press releases, then they would have been able to use that market power to get a better deal than we would have seen in a purely competitive market.

CURWOOD: Let me ask you about some of California's current electricity contracts and how they compare to price levels after the collapse of Enron. What is the state committed to spending now for electricity, and what's the current rate?

MCCULLOUGH: There's a lot of debate on that but the evidence appears to be that the contracts negotiated last year under very hostile conditions are 80 mills. Now, that compares to an average family bill in the U.S. a little bit higher than the average. Now, if you actually undertook those contracts today, you could buy the same power for about a third the price.

CURWOOD: Given what we've seen in the Enron collapse, what's your opinion now of electrical deregulation?

MCCULLOUGH: One of our clients, the Power Manager of Seattle City Light, refers to me as a "recovering competophile." That's someone who believes in competition but now realizes there has to be checks and balances. My belief is the market still works fine but I believe that markets work best when you can see what's going on. I don't think operating in secrecy is reassuring for the consumer because he doesn't know whether he has a fair deal. When he buys a car, he has a choice of 100 car dealerships. He can go to the library and look through the Blue Book. He has a lot of information on what that deal looks like.

At the moment for energy suppliers on the West Coast, there aren't a large number of suppliers. They don't know where the prices come from. And to be painfully exact, we don't even know whether there is one supplier in some of these deals, or many.

CURWOOD: Robert McCullough is an energy consultant who recently testified before Congress about Enron's role in California. Thanks so much for taking this time with us today.

MCCULLOUGH: Thank you.

[MUSIC: Turtle Island String Quartet, "Thin Ice", RETROSPECTIVE (Windham Hill - 1997)]

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Eagle Scout

CURWOOD: Eagle Scout. It's the highest rank for a Boy Scout, and less than five percent of all Scouts ever achieve it. So imagine how difficult it might be for a 53-year-old man to complete the challenging feats necessary to earn the Eagle badge. Just ask writer Bill Vaughn. He knows.

VAUGHN: This is the way we die. Middle aged man loping around some steamy track trying to prove something. As I lurched into the final lap it felt like some thug was thumping my solar plexus. "You got a problem, Peter Pan? You want to cha-cha?" But this trash talk wasn't coming from some unknown bully. It was coming from the bully I married. "Run faster," Kitty yelled as she ran behind me, checking her stopwatch. It was July Fourth, the final day I'd allowed myself to attempt a seven minute mile and reached out, at last, to grab my dream: the Eagle badge, the highest rank a Boy Scout can earn.

Photo: Michael A. HuffmanBill Vaughn (right) as a Boy Scout in the early 1960's.

A year earlier, when I came across the most influential book of my childhood, the 1959 Boy Scout Handbook, I got the sort of spiritual jolt Christians get when they see the Shroud of Turin. Ah, there he was on the cover, that red-haired, freckle-faced geek in gators and a full field uniform, striding across a piney ridge, one hand raised in good cheer, the other clutching the Handbook.

Norman Rockwell's portrait of Howdy Doody in khaki would be my first experience with Scouting's delicious mysteries. In the painting, the Handbook Doody clutches bears a painting of Doody clutching a Handbook, which also bears a picture of Doody clutching a Handbook. I squandered hours probing this hall of mirrors to see if it was infinite, one of the many reasons my rise through the ranks was retarded.

By the end of my Scouting days, at age 13, I'd only earned five merit badges, 16 short required for Eagles. Now, as I stared at Doody again, there lifted from my spirit a great rancid aura of regret. I knew what I wanted. I wanted to be an Eagle. The response from Boy Scout Headquarters in Irving, Texas was "No. If you don't get your Eagle by your 18th birthday," officials said, "you can't ever get it." I decided to forge ahead anyway as a virtual Scout. I decided on a one-year deadline. I enlisted virtual counselors to sign my merit badge paperwork and I convinced Kitty to be my virtual Scoutmaster.

I wasn't worried. After all, these tests were designed to challenge an adolescent. Hey, how hard could they be? In a clearing on our Montana ranchette, I piled brush around the bowed trunk of a fallen cottonwood and built a nest inside from leaves. This would be my headquarters for my campaign to show Kitty I deserved the camping and cooking merit badges. I'd eat trout from our river and morel mushrooms from our swamps, washed down with tea brewed from chamomile I picked myself.

I intended to overachieve on these badges because my struggles with Scouting in the past 11 months had humbled me. Dog care, for example: Radish ran off, after I urged him to stay, and peed on our vet's truck when I told him to sit. "I'll pass you," the vet said, "but you ought to consider obedience school."

Kitty signed off on my Camping badge but it was crucial now that I caught a fish. So I waded into our river and cast forth a line. My test for cooking was scheduled for dinner and I had nothing to cook except a few mushrooms and a handful of rice, and the fish weren't biting. Hours later at dinner, I poured Kitty another beer. "How's your trout?" I asked. "What fly did you catch him on?" "A Jackson," I mumbled, "and a Hamilton." She put down her fork. "You bought these fish?" "Hey, the requirements say to cook food. It doesn't say how to get it."

Months later the woods glowed with Yuletide cheer as we gathered around the family's Christmas bonfire for singing and speeches. I was glowing, as well, and not just because of that industrial strength martini at dinner. Yes, I'd earned my 16 badges, including Lifesaving and Nature, and, just in the nick of time, Personal Fitness. In the circle stood several virtual counselors, and they were glowing, too. Kitty lauded my true grit and welcomed a new Eagle into the world. Then she pinned a gold Eagle earring to my crisp new Boy Scout khaki.

"Instead of carols," I suggested, "how about a few camp songs instead?" First, I led a lackluster rendition of "Home On the Range." Halfway through "Waltzing Matilda," slackers drifted away. Finally, alone at last, I sang the "Scout Vespers:"

"Softly falls the light of day
While our campfire fades away,
Have I done and I have I dared
Everything to be prepared?"

[MUSIC: They Might Be Giants, "O Tannenbaum (Scout Theme)", CHRISTMAS EP]

CURWOOD: Virtual Eagle Scout Bill Vaughn is a contributing editor to Outside Magazine. That's where his Eagle Scout essay first appeared, and you can read it on our website at www.loe.org.

Related link:

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Health Note: Nicotine Metabolization

CURWOOD: Coming up, pollution and politics mix in the waters that run through the nation's capitals. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey:

[THEME MUSIC]

TOOMEY: Chinese-Americans get less lung cancer from smoking than other ethnic groups. They smoke fewer cigarettes so that's one reason for the lower rate. But researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, thought that ethnic differences in how the body breaks down nicotine might play a role so they gave groups of Latino, white and Chinese-American smokers an intravenous dose of radioactively-tagged nicotine. Then blood and urine samples were taken over the next four days to measure levels of nicotine and its by-products.

They found that Chinese-American smokers metabolize nicotine 35 percent slower than Latinos or whites. That means they can satisfy their nicotine addiction with fewer cigarettes since the substance tends to stay active in their system longer. A particular liver enzyme is primarily responsible for metabolizing nicotine. As expected, this study found lower levels of this enzyme among Chinese-Americans. Researchers say the finding supports growing evidence that ethnicity can affect people's response to chemicals and should be taken into account in prescribing drugs and treatments, such as nicotine patches and gum. That's this week's Health Update. I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Project One, "4(I)", SOMETIME GOD SMILES]

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Almanac: Darien Gap

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

[MUSIC: Esquivel, "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams", MUSIC FOR A SPARKLING PLANET (Bar None - 1995)]

CURWOOD: On February 3rd, 1960, a group of 14 adventurers and a Land Rover nick-named "The Affectionate Cockroach" set off to blaze the first automobile trail to connect the last gap the Pan-American Highway. With machetes, winches and chutzpa they ventured where vehicles had never before left tread-marks. The expedition lasted 101 days, and covered 271 miles of dense jungles, deep ravines, and winding rivers. The crew repeatedly had to pull their truck up 60 degree ridges and make their own bridges out of palm logs to get it over waterways. They did all of this in 100 degree heat and humidity, surrounded by ticks, chiggers, spiders, and ants.

The journey began where the highway construction had stopped, in Chepo, Panama. The destination: the town of Palo de las Letras, just over the Colombian border. The area in-between is called the Darien Gap. And to this day, there remains a 56 mile missing link in a highway that stretches 16,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina. But don't count on closing that gap any time soon. Panamanian officials would rather not link Colombia and Panama to keep things harder for drug traffickers. Some indigenous people have also staged protests against timber logging in the area, and nobody seems eager to pay for the road. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC FADE OUT]

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California Moves Against CO2

CURWOOD: California has taken a step to become the first state in the nation to limit greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. The state's Lower House just passed the landmark bill, known as AB-1058, and the State Senate is expected to follow. CO2 is not regulated as a pollutant right now but it is closely linked to global climate change. Gary Polakovic is an environment reporter for The Los Angeles Times and has been covering the story. Gary, why does this bill focus exclusively on vehicular emissions?

POLAKOVIC: Well, California's in kind of a different situation than a lot of the other states, in that so many of our stationary sources, like power plants and factories, these are all largely powered by natural gas. We have a lot of renewable energy in the state, too, so we don't get most of our greenhouse gases from those kind of sources. We get them from cars, something like on the order of 57 percent of all the CO2 in the state if produced from vehicle tailpipes. And, at the same time, people in California are aware that climate change is a real concern. California has some special natural resources that scientists see as fairly vulnerable to climate change, including our coastline and, especially, the Sierra snow-pack that provides most of the water. If the planet gets too warm, they're worried that those resources are going to be impaired.

CURWOOD: Now what exactly is in this bill? What does it call for?

POLAKOVIC: Well, the bill is fairly broad in its mandate. In short, it's calling on the California Air Resources Board to achieve the maximum feasible cost-effective and technologically achievable reductions. And it has to do that while providing the greatest possible flexibility to the automakers. Exactly how they're going to do that, that's not entirely clear. And that's part of the controversy.

CURWOOD: What are some of the possible ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars?

POLAKOVIC: Proponents say that they'll be able to do this, perhaps, by having different sorts of refrigerants in cars, maybe lower profile tires that have less drag, maybe incentives for mass transit or ride share or greater use of alternative fuel vehicles. But there's a lot of engineers and scientists who say you're not going to be able to significantly reduce greenhouse gases unless you deal with the auto fuel efficiency and better mileage in cars. And that is a position that really rankles the auto industry.

CURWOOD: Where does the automobile industry stand on this CO2 tailpipe emissions bill?

POLAKOVIC: Well, they are very much opposed to it. First, they are looking at this as an attempt to preempt federal authority to deal with auto fuel efficiency standards for cars, and that is a topic that they have resisted for quite a long time. I think they're also looking at it as this isn't just California passing a bill. I think that they know that California has been a leader on setting auto tailpipe standards and they see this as, perhaps, the first state that will be regulating CO2 emissions from cars.

CURWOOD: Now, where does this bill, AB-1058, go from here now that it's cleared the State Assembly, the Lower House?

POLAKOVIC: Well, from here it will to go the State Senate. And it seems that it'll probably get a somewhat more favorable reception there. At the same time, though, I think that the bill is headed for amendment. Governor Davis has expressed some reservations about the bill in the sense that the Administration would like to see wider consensus and more support for the bill.

CURWOOD: Gary, I've just got to ask you this. I mean, what's going on in California these days? San Francisco's mayor wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent. Now, this bill happens. Is there something in the air out there or what?

POLAKOVIC: I think what you're seeing happening-- not just in California, but you're seeing it in some of the New England states, you're seeing this in some of the Canadian provinces--the fact of the matter is that most of the world and many of the states and even local governments in the United States are looking at climate change and saying, "You know, this is a real problem and this is something that we've got to reckon with." They turn to Washington, they look for leadership, and they're not seeing it. So, they're sort of doing the equivalent of "think globally and act locally," I suppose.

CURWOOD: Gary Polakovic covers the environment for The Los Angeles Times. Thanks, Gary.

POLAKOVIC: You're welcome, Steve.

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A Sturgeon in Sheep's Clothing

CURWOOD: The business of the District of Columbia is primarily concerned with national and international matters. So it can be difficult to find Washingtonians who have time to be occupied with a local environmental problem. There is an effort though to protect the habitat of an endangered fish that once thrived in the Potomac. But, as Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum found out, the story is not really as local as it seems.

LEISCH: This is where it all begins, is right here.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Gordon Leisch stands on a concrete platform at the edge of the Potomac River, just a few miles from the White House. This is the place, he says, where migratory fish come to spawn. It used to be, anyway.

LEISCH: People used to be on these rocks here in the springtime, and the herring were so thick they used a cane pole-- chalk line cane pole with a hook. No bait. Just snagged them and put them in a bucket.

Photo: National Wilderness Institute(Photo: National Wilderness Institute)
SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Leisch has fished this river since he was a young boy. He's a former biologist with the Department of Interior and he comes to the river almost every day. He's kept a log that goes back to the 1950's.

LEISCH: In the late '80's I started writing memos that the white perch were in trouble, that the herring were in trouble, shad were in trouble. And each year, I had almost put "Well, it can't get any worse than this." But it has.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: To explain the poor fish runs, Leisch points to the hill above us. That's where the District of Columbia's water treatment plant sits. Its run by the federal government's Army Corps of Engineers. The concrete platform we're standing on is one of several outfalls the Army Corps uses to discharge residue back into the river after the water treatment process. Leisch says the fish would come back if the Corps stops dumping the sediment. He's hoping that might happen and he's placing his hope in a lawsuit filed by the National Wilderness Institute.

GORDON: Here you can see some residue left over from a discharge.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: That's Rob Gordon, the founder and director of the National Wilderness Institute. He says the Corps dumps about 200,000 tons of solids here each year, and he claims that violates the Endangered Species Act by threatening the habitat of the short-nosed sturgeon. Along with the sludge, he says, come by-products of the water treatment process, like chloramine, an aluminum that can hurt fish and their eggs. Gordon says the government, itself, admits the discharges are a problem.

GORDON: When the permit originally that allows this discharge expired in '93, the EPA was proposing limits that would have required the Corps to construct a solids treatment facility, and then to truck it somewhere and put it in a landfill, just like every other facility does.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: But the new permit was never issued, and Gordon says the Army Corps is allowed to go on discharging its sediment because the EPA allows it.

GORDON: You know, one of the most obvious reasons is that this violation is being committed by the federal government and regulated by the federal government in Washington, D.C, and it should stop.

JACOBUS: We're very, very proud to be operating the water plant. and taking care of the solids is just another thing to do.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Tom Jacobus, the man in charge of the Army Corps' treatment facility, shows me where water from the Potomac rushes into the plant. Aluminum sulfate is added here. It acts like a magnet, dragging dirt and other solids to the bottom. The water ends up outside in four giant basins you could easily mistake for swimming pools. Below the surface, Jacobus says, there's 18 feet of sediment.

JACOBUS: Here we're looking at a basin which is ready to be discharged.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: When there's enough rain to make the river below run high and fast enough, Jacobus will give the order to open the basin, and the dirt and the aluminum sulfate will be flushed back into the river.

JACOBUS: That sediment has to go somewhere. It is absolutely essential that the sediment be removed from the water to make the drinking water, and there are really only two choices: put it back in the river or put it somewhere else.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: And somewhere else, says Jacobus, inevitably means some other environmental and social cost, whether it's building a new treatment facility or trucking the waste to a landfill. Jacobus admits the current operation isn't ideal, but he says a recent study commissioned by the Corps showed stopping the discharges entirely simply isn't necessary.

JACOBUS: That study demonstrated that the continued operation of discharge of the sediment to the river could be done-- there might be some ways to improve it, to do things to lower the concentration levels, to do it over a longer period of time, to look at the threshold limits. And we, as an organization, are open to all those ideas.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The Washington, D.C. chapter of the Sierra Club is no fan of the Army Corps' operation. But spokesman Marchant Wentworth says at least the Corps is forthright about its position. That's not the case, he says, with Rob Gordon and the National Wilderness Institute.

WENTWORTH: We consider this, the Wilderness Institute, a sort of wolf in sheep's clothing kind of story.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Wentworth agrees with Rob Gordon that the Corps should stop discharging solids into the river, but he says NWI's true goal is not to save the short-nosed sturgeon. Instead--

WENTWORTH: We believe that their true intent is to degrade and, actually, cripple the Endangered Species Act.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Wentworth says the Wilderness Institute has used this tactic before. The idea is to point out flaws in the Endangered Species Act by making the government feel the burden of its own regulations. A visit to NWI's website shows most of its press releases criticize environmental regulations and the agencies that create them. The Endangered Species Act is the key target. Rob Gordon has testified before Congress in opposition to the ESA, and he spurred Congressman George Radanovich to hold a hearing on the Army Corps' Potomac operation.

RADANOVICH: I guess our philosophy is that if people in the urban parts of the country had to experience the Endangered Species Act the way people are in the rural part of the country that they would not tolerate that law.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Radanovich, a Republican from California, is one of several Western lawmakers who attack the Endangered Species Act for being unfairly and unevenly applied throughout the country. In the East, they claim, it's rarely enforced. In the West it's over-used. Radanovich tells the story of a water agency in his district that had a levy in need of fixing.

RADANOVICH: But they had to wait six years to get a permit from the Department of Fish and Wildlife because it was the habitat of the elderberry bark beetle. And there was absolutely no proof that that beetle was there, but there were elderberry bushes in there, and they were not allowed to do it. So, finally, after six years they got a permit, but it was too late, because the floods hit a year later, and the levies broke, and three people lost their lives.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Last year, Radanovich introduced a bill to reform the Endangered Species Act. He says he hopes the National Wilderness Institute's lawsuit will force the government to start rethinking how the Act is administered. And so, on the surface, what looks like a local effort to save an endangered fish is actually the centerpiece of a broader agenda.

RADANOVICH: We've been critics of the Act and we have been for the existence of the organization, and we've said there's a lot of serious problem with it that need to be fixed. And we don't shy away or back away from any of those claims.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Rob Gordon of NWI says he talks with farmers and ranchers who say they're afraid to tell the federal government they have an endangered plant or animal on their land. He says the costs and restrictions that come with the Act end up undermining its conservation goals. But Gordon insists reforming the Act isn't his only purpose for filing the lawsuit. What the Army Corps is doing on the Potomac, he says, is just plain wrong.

GORDON: Even if it wasn't hypocritical, we'd still be doing it. If the Washington aqueduct were discharging in Des Moines or Texas or something like that, it would be something we still would oppose.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The EPA expects to issue a new permit for the Army Corps' water treatment plant in February. Agency officials expect they will allow the current discharges to continue with some adjustments. But they warn new regulations to protect the Chesapeake Bay will ultimately mean the Corps will have to stop their discharges and move to an alternate system. In any case, the battle over how the nation's capital treats its drinking water is likely to become part of the national debate over the Endangered Species Act. In this town, nothing's ever truly local. For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum in Washington.

[MUSIC: Trygve Seim, "Different Rivers", DIFFERENT RIVERS (ECM - 2000)]

CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth.

Related link:

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Ground Zero Dogs

CURWOOD: Among the hardest workers at Ground Zero were a few hundred search and rescue dogs. Researchers are now beginning to study what the long term health effects of working at the site might be for those animals. Cynthia Otto is a veterinarian and associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania who helped care for the dogs at the site. Dr. Otto, the canines were working side-by-side with human handlers and emergency workers, but you say the dogs are more vulnerable to long term health effects. Why is that?

DR. OTTO: Probably the biggest reason is the lack of protective clothing. The dogs didn't have respirators, the dogs didn't wear booties, and their skin was protected by fur but not by the heavy coats and other protective clothing that people were able to wear. In addition, they were closer to the ground, so they were really exposed to quite a bit of the substances that were there and potentially toxic.

CURWOOD: And, of course, their job there was to sniff.

Photo: Dr. Cindy OttoRescue dogs at the World Trade Center.
(Photo: Dr. Cindy Otto)


DR. OTTO: Yes, absolutely.

CURWOOD: Why is the study necessary?

DR. OTTO: The primary things that we're looking for are evidence of toxic change. Because they didn't wear respirators the lungs are a primary spot. So we're doing chest
x-rays on these dogs, looking for any signs of abnormalities, or even the early development of cancer, and screening for the liver and the kidneys and in the blood chemistries, looking for any changes there. In addition, we're screening the dogs for lead and mercury, PCB's and other organic chemicals.

CURWOOD: Are any of the dogs depressed?

DR. OTTO: Depression is a really touchy area, because the dogs don't truly get depressed. It may seem sort of crass, but they don't really care if the victim is alive or dead. If they're trained to find cadavers or dead victims, then when they're successful they're very happy because they get rewarded and that's good. And so the depression question is probably-- we're trying to make the dogs too much like us, and trying to reflect our own feelings. Now, some of the dogs lose interest because they're not getting rewarded. Some of the dogs are responding to the handlers, who are struggling to try and keep things positive.

CURWOOD: Now, once you gather all this information over, what, the next three years or so, at least, you're going to run this study, how are you going to use it?

DR. OTTO: First of all, we're going to try and learn how there is an association. If the dogs that are trained one way may have lower incidents of problems than others, then that will help us. If the dogs that worked longer shifts with fewer breaks had more incidents of problems, that's going to help us produce some guidelines. And what we'd like to do is come up with a consensus conference on what the best way is in the future to either train these dogs or deploy the dogs. So, how should we structure it? Should they be allowed to do these 12 and 16 and sometimes 24 hour shifts, or do we need to say for everyone's health and also for the productivity of the dogs, do we need to limit this, and do we make these kinds of recommendations?

CURWOOD: Cynthia Otto is a veterinarian at the University of Pennsylvania. Thanks for filling us in on your study today, Dr. Otto.

DR. OTTO: My pleasure, Steve.

[MUSIC: L'il Bow Wow, "What's My Name"]

Related link:

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Technology Note: Smog Dogs

CURWOOD: Just ahead, your letters. First, this Environmental Technology Note from Cynthia Graber.

[THEME MUSIC]

GRABER: Cars around the country are supposed to undergo routine checks to measure the levels of pollutants spewing out of their tailpipes. But most serious polluters avoid inspection stations. Starting next month, drivers in northern Virginia will be unwitting participants in a new pilot program to catch folks who kept their polluting cars under wraps. Teams of testers will set up their high tech gear, nicknamed Smog Dogs, at selected, highly trafficked intersections.

From one side of the street, a beam of infrared light will be shot through a car's exhaust. The amount of infrared light that passes through the car's exhaust to the other side of the street allows testers to measure concentrations of pollutants. A video camera records the vehicle's license plate numbers. During the nine month trial run, the results will be used only to test the effectiveness of northern Virginia's current inspection program. Eventually, officials hope to use the system to target violators and force them to clean up their emissions. Cars that pass the test will be sent a notice waiving the next regular check-up. But some folks worry this program will end up targeting people who can't afford newer cars. So, one Virginia legislator has introduced a bill to subsidize people who don't have the cash to clean up their old clunkers. That's this week's Technology Note. I'm Cynthia Graber.

[THEME MUSIC OUT]

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Delerium, "Heaven's Earth"]

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Coming up, the naked truth about nature photography. But first-

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: --time for comments from you.

CURWOOD: Many of you enjoyed our interview with Stuyvesant High School junior Leah Rabinowitz. Leah read from her essay on how indoor plants can help freshen the air in her school near Ground Zero in New York. "What a fine young writer and a thoughtful young woman," wrote KERA Dallas listener, Charlotte Richardson. Ms. Richardson also called our list of 10 eco-friendly houseplants on our website "helpful and timely." "I have a new living room sofa," she writes, "and the chemical out-gassing from the synthetic fabric is tremendous. The plants came to the rescue."

But several listeners from the Pacific Northwest wrote to question our inclusion of English Ivy on the list. "English Ivy," writes KOPP Portland listener Ed John, "has manifested itself as one of the worst cases of an invasive plant ever to take seed here in Oregon. Oftentimes when ivy fails to grow indoors," he reports, "the homeowner takes the plant out, deposits it in the trash, puts it in the compost-- whatever-- and then the seemingly lifeless root or dead plant comes alive again, once it comes in contact with our mild outdoors environment."

And finally, a comment on our story about the New York City activist who slaps phony tickets on sport utility vehicles. "This spot just served to reinforce the view that most radical environmentalists are egotistical, arrogant meddlers" writes John Brewer, a listener to WUNC in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. "Just imagine if someone who actually prefers driving an SUV were to go around leaving notes on Honda Accords saying "You're endangering your family in a small car." If I saw the activist messing with my SUV, I'd call the police and have her arrested for tampering with private property."

Your comments are always welcome. Call our Listener Line any time at 800-218-998. Or write to Eight Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 0-2-1-3-8. Our e-mail address is: letters@loe.org. And visit our webpage at www.loe.org. CD's, tapes, and transcripts are $15.

[THEME MUSIC OUT]

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Nature Photography

CURWOOD: Ansel Adams, America's most famous nature photographer, was born 100 years ago this month. Through exquisite black and white prints Adams opened our eyes to the beauty of the American West and he worked to preserve its vast spaces. He believed that art and environmental activism should intertwine, that landscape photography should flow from a deep empathy for the land itself.

Legions of photographers have since followed Adams' path through the West's grand photographic terrain. But photographer and radio producer Guy Hand explains some of them have forgotten what was most important to Adams: empathy for nature.

[SOUND OF CAMERA CLICKING AND PEOPLE IN BACKGROUND]

HAND: In photography school, instructors taught us all about light and composition but very little about relationships. After graduation, as a photographic assistant in New York, I had the good fortune to follow some of my favorite photographers around the world.

MAN: So we'd like to do two shots.

HAND: We shot in the jungles of Borneo and the beaches of Bora Bora. We snapped our way through the Philippines, the Swiss Alps and Death Valley. But we seldom developed relationships with the places we photographed.

MAN: The most difficult thing for me is the night.

HAND: Time was tight, deadlines non-negotiable, and the imperative to bring back stunning, singular images often eclipsed everything else. We were, in a sense, blinded by our own visual ambitions. So, when I heard that a photographer had damaged delicate art, possibly the most frequently photographed icon of the desert southwest, I was saddened but not surprised.

[INTRO MUSIC]

HAVEY: From KUER News in Salt Lake City, I'm Michael Havey. A photographer who lit fires under Delicate Arch during a workshop has changed his plea to "guilty" on seven federal misdemeanors. Each charge against Michael Fatali of Springdale carries a fine of up to $5,000 and six months in prison. Fatali originally pled innocent after setting a series of fires to demonstrate a nighttime lighting technique to amateur photographers. The fires have discolored the red sandstone around the arch and may prove impossible to remove.

MCKINLAY-JONES: This stuff right here, that's rabbit brush. And this is four-wing salt bush.

HAVEY: Ranger Karen McKinlay-Jones of Arches National Park is pointing out the plants we're passing along the trail to Delicate Arch. She investigated the Fatali case and has agreed to show me the damage done by the photographer's fires. As we climb up hill through spectacular red rock sandstone, Karen reminds me of the good things art and photography have done for the national parks.

[SOUNDS OF HIKING]

MCKINLAY-JONES: My first views of Yellowstone were Thomas Moran-- his paintings. And so, beginning with those early portrait artists and then people like Ansel Adams, all these people have encouraged people to come to parks. And sometimes if I sound harsh about commercial filming or whatever, I always have to go back to the idea that it was through art-- be it painting or sketches or photography-- that the national parks have really become even more popular and accessible to the public.

HAND: After a good 45 minutes, the trail narrows to an icy ledge of sandstone. Karen carefully steps to its far end, and stops and turns toward me. She wants to catch my expression as I round the final corner and suddenly see Delicate Arch for the first time.

(Laughs.) Geez. Amazing. No matter how many pictures of the place you see, it never prepares you for the real thing.

MCKINLAY-JONES: Never.

HAND: It's unbelievable.

JONES: Like I said, you know, I've been up here probably over 1,000 times. I still get goosebumps. I still love watching people as they come around the corner and they see it, and they are just blown away.

HAND: It's an elegantly surreal site. This perfect arch perched on the edge of a sheer cliff. Edward Abbey said that if Delicate Arch has any significance, it lies in its power to reawaken our awareness of the wonderful.

JONES: Let's go over and take a look.

HAND: The Park Service has spent many thousands of dollars restoring the Arch and from a distance you wouldn't notice anything was wrong. But close up you can see the work hasn't erased all the evidence of the fires that were set here, even though they were lit over a year ago.

MCKINLAY-JONES: It spread from where I'm standing here in front of me, and all the way up to where you can see that dark spot on the rock.

HAND: Wow. Much bigger than I had thought.

MCKINLAY-JONES: You know, we averaged it at about two to three feet wide.

HAND: Karen assures me that the fires were an aberration. In the 18 years she's worked here she's never seen anything else like it.

Photo: Guy HandArches National Park Ranger Karen McKinlay-Jones
points to discolored sandstone at the base of Delicate
Arch burnt by a photographer's illegal fires.
(Photo: Guy Hand)


[SOUND OF COUNTING]

HAND: Not far from Delicate Arch, landscape photographer Steve Mulligan is counting off a long exposure he's making in Canyonlands National Park. He shakes his head at the thought of damaging the landscape just to get a picture of it, but he knows it's happened before in the town where he once lived.

MULLIGAN: In a small city park in Colorado Springs, there are a couple hundred of these one seed junipers, which are old-- they're a couple thousand, I think. Oh, that's bright...they are some of my favorite trees in the world.

HAND: Several years ago a photographer used those trees as his subject. Along with a camera, he carried another piece of equipment: a saw.

MULLIGAN: He was cutting off big branches so no one else could recreate his photo, as though all these trees hadn't already been photographed thousands of times.

HAND: Steve lives in nearby Moab, Utah, a town flanked, not only by arches and canyonlands, but by chunks of beautiful country overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. Countless movies, commercials, music videos and magazine ads have been shot here. Crews have helicoptered SUV's onto buttes and turned redrock monuments into mammoth beer cans. Not exactly what Ansel Adams would have pictured, but big commercial productions infuse isolated towns like Moab with jobs and cash.

VON KOCH: Our office issues anywhere from 45 to 50 permits a year.

HAND: Mary Von Koch supervises film and photo shoots for the BLM office in Moab.

VON KOCH: The shoots that, I think, have the most impact are movies. We generally have anywhere from 120 to 300 people on set if we have extras. So, there definitely can be environmental impacts in the desert from having that many people and equipment on location. But, for the most part, you can go out and you really do not see impacts to this area that you could say are specifically from filming.

HAND: One movie filmed a scene with 350 stampeding horses.

VON KOCH: And the lands from that are still reclaiming themselves. But it is a slow process. And we knew that with shallow soils and our low precipitation that it was going to be a while.

[SOUND FROM MOVIE STAMPEDE SCENE ]

HAND: The movie was "City Slickers II" with Billy Crystal, filmed here in 1993. Local conservationists were not at all happy about this stampede scene. They also accused the film crew of building an unauthorized road in a protected wilderness area and dumping contaminated water into a local drainage.

STANTON: There has to be a balance between the environment and the economy.

HAND: Bette Stanton, former head of the Moab Film Commission, bristles at accusations leveled at Hollywood by people she calls "extreme environmentalists." After all, if camera crews hadn't been here to bolster the economy, Moab would have been in big trouble when its uranium mine closed. Yet, she says environmentalists are pushing the industry away by demanding tighter restrictions on filming and lobbying to turn one of the her favorite locations into a wilderness area.

STANTON: I'll be damned if they didn't designate that whole cotton-pickin' area as proposed wilderness. Now, of all the country, that's the easiest for film companies to get to. This is where they have been through all of these years, able to go in there and do all of this filming and all of a sudden its proposed wilderness, which put the brakes on and we had to find somewhere else to film.

McHARG: I think that line of thinking isn't conscious of the actual environmental impacts that are very real in filming-- either commercials or films or even still photography.

HAND: Herb McHarg works for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a group fighting to get the American Red Rock Wilderness Act through Congress. He challenges film permits whenever he believes those shoots threatened public lands. But Herb worries that the images, themselves, might do more lasting damage.

McHARG: When a commercial shows sport utility vehicles, trucks and ATVs crashing through stream beds, through potholes, through vegetation and sensitive soils, and then members of the public see those things occurring, then they want to go out and use those same machines out on public lands. You wouldn't think of filming a vehicle crashing through Central Park, let's say, in New York, but that's exactly what's happening out here in these wild landscapes.

Photo: Guy HandA car photographer checks a polariod on location
in White Sands National Monument.
(Photo: Guy Hand)


(INSIDE BOOKSTORE SFX)

WOMAN: Do you have any books on antiques and all that stuff?

KNIGHTON: I usually have the Covels in--]

HAND: Jose Knighton, the manager and book buyer at Back of Beyond Books in Moab, thinks that nature photography impacts culture in even more subtle ways. He began thinking about it when a photographer friend walked into the store one day looking for a calendar.

KNIGHTON: I said, "Well, let's go back in the back where I have all the calendars-- all the landscape calendars-- take a look at this year's crop of eco-porn." The phrase just popped out of my mouth. And the more I started examining it, the more relevant it actually seemed, and I started looking at landscape photography in the way you would look at fold-outs from Playboy: the very selective precision with which somebody's, you know, posed the landscape.

HAND: Jose wrote an essay that was picked up by Harper's. It created a stir in the photographic community.

KNIGHTON: The phrase that came up in my article that was "beefing up the bosom of the Grand Tetons", essentially.

HAND: And in the same way that glamour photography distorts our view of women, Jose believes landscape photography can distort our view of nature.

KNIGHTON: Somebody's looking at this glamorous photograph of the Grand Tetons in sunset light, with, you know, storm glow and everything. You just realize what you're not seeing is out there in all the plains around the Tetons, you've got fences that are blocking off the migration of antelope herds and wind up being trapped against those fences in blizzards and starving to death. You know, there needs to be some way of balancing those manipulative, glamorous images with what's really going on in landscape.

[SOUNDS OF CLASSROOM]

HUCKO: Well, under here it looks a little flat to me. What do you have in terms of a filter?

HAND: Bruce Hucko agrees. He stands with his students in the red glow of Moab's Grand County High School darkroom. He's teaching his class to make their first photographic prints. But he also hopes to teach them that photography is more than technique; that it should also include a respect for what gets centered in the view-finder. That message is all the more important, Bruce thinks, in light of the fires set by the photographer at Delicate Arch.

HUCKO: And I view his act as though he had taken a razor blade to the face of the person he was photographing. I mean, it's worse than vandalism.

HAND: Surprisingly, a three year old Navajo girl helped teach Bruce a lesson about building relationships between photographer and subject. He was hiking out of the canyon with the young girl riding on his shoulders. Below them, a few of his workshop students were beginning to take pictures.

HUCKO: And she yelled down to those people, "Are you cheesing the canyon?" And, you know, at first I went, "Isn't that cute." And then much later I thought about it, and I went, "Oh my God. She is so right." What she was saying was, "Are you on a good rapport with the canyon? Have you put yourself in a situation with the canyon so it's going to smile back at you?"

HAND: Of course, plenty of photographers work for a good rapport with their subjects. Yet, after two decades making a living in photography, I've realized it's not so different than any industry that profits from the natural world-- whether it be logging, mining, agriculture, or art. In any of these pursuits, we have the choice to see nature as an object to be exploited or, as Ansel Adams did, as a relationship to be nurtured; to see not only with eyes, but our hearts and minds. For Living on Earth, I'm Guy Hand.

[SOUND OF CLASS. MUSIC: Dawna Hammers, "Harmony", DEEP INSIDE (new Clear Music - 1995)]

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CURWOOD: And, for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next week, the Fresh Kills Landfill on New York's Staten Island was closed last year after handling the City's garbage for decades. But after September 11th, Fresh Kills reopened to take on the remains of the World Trade Center. And in the process, the dump has taken on a new identity.

MAN: I'm tired of hearing about, this is, people are coming to a dump. This isn't a dump. This is a special place. This is sacred ground.

CURWOOD: A fresh look at Fresh Kills, next time on Living on Earth.

[PIANO AND OWL CALLS]

CURWOOD: Before we go, we want you to know that we give a hoot. So does recordist Chris Watson. He captured these territorial calls of tawny owls on a foggy morning along the shore of Bolam Lake in Northumberland, England.

[Chris Watson, "Tawny Owls", OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE OF FIRE (EarthEar - 2002)]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger, Jennifer Chu, Jessica Penny and Gernot Wagner, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson and Milisa Muniz. Special thanks to Ernie Silver. We had help this week from Rachel Girshick and Jessie Fenn. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar.

Our technical director is Dennis Foley, Ingrid Lobet is our western editor, Diane Toomey is our science 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.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Educational Foundation of America, for coverage of energy and climate change; the Ford Foundation for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues, the Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues, and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation supporting efforts to better understand environmental change.

ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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