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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

April 26, 2002

Air Date: April 26, 2002

FULL SHOW

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SEGMENTS

Harbor Pollution / Ingrid Lobet

(stream / mp3)

The Environmental Protection Agency is about to issue proposed rules on air pollution from large ship smokestacks. Air pollution experts in several parts of the country realize ship smog can make up a significant part of regional air problems. Ingrid Lobet reports from Los Angeles. (08:00)

Blue Vinyl / Bruce Barcott

(stream / mp3)

The story of vinyl is making a debut on HBO Sunday May 5th. Judith Helfand takes viewers along on a personal odyssey to convince her parents to tear off the blue vinyl siding they just put on their house. Bruce Barcott reviews the film Blue Vinyl. (03:25)

Animal Note/Squirrels / Maggie Villiger

(stream / mp3)

Living on Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on how Belding's ground squirrels figure out who's closely enough related to be worth risking your life for. There's more than meets the eye to those welcome kisses amongst ground squirrels. (01:20)

The Living on Earth Almanac

(stream / mp3)

This week, we have facts about a frog festival in northeastern France, where the town of Vittel celebrates the culinary possibilities of the frog. (01:30)

Energy Bill

(stream / mp3)

After a great deal of debate and deliberation, the Senate finally voted on a comprehensive energy bill. Chris Holly with "The Energy Daily" discusses some of the environmental implications of what ended up in this new bill with host Steve Curwood. (05:00)

Thumper Trucks / Adam Burke

(stream / mp3)

With drilling in ANWR off the table for now, at least, environmental activists are turning to drilling going on now across the Rocky Mountain West. From Montana to New Mexico, energy companies are busy exploring for gas and oil. From Radio High Country News, Adam Burke reports. (08:00)

Whooping Cranes

(stream / mp3)

It's not every day a pair of endangered whooping cranes sets up house in a suburban backyard. Host Steve Curwood talks with Gene Tindell about the cranes raising a chick just 50 yards from his back door. (03:00)

Health Note/Non-Traditional Jobs / Diane Toomey

(stream / mp3)

Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on the health risks of holding down a non- traditional job. (01:15)

New Chair for IPCC

(stream / mp3)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just voted out incumbent chair Robert Watson. Environmentalists say the Bush Administration was instrumental in electing his challenger Rajendra Pachauri. Host Steve Curwood speaks about the election with journalist Ross Gelbspan. (05:00)

Bush Earth Day Speech

(stream / mp3)

We have an extended excerpt from President Bush’s Earth Day speech in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. (03:00)

Blind Walk / Dmae Roberts

(stream / mp3)

Producer Dmae Roberts profiles Portland, Oregon teenager Andrew Myer as he explains how blind people navigate urban landscapes. (07:10)

This week's EarthEar selection
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Show Credits and Funders

This Week's Music

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Ingrid Lobet, Bruce Barcott, Adam Burke, Dmae Roberts
GUESTS: Chris Holly, Gene Tindell, Ross Gelbspan
UPDATES: Maggie Villiger, Diane Toomey

[INTRO THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, it’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Air pollution from cargo ships is a major problem in busy harbors across the nation. In the port of Los Angeles, these vessels can foul the air as much as a million cars on the freeways.

LONG: You can’t ignore the pollution coming out of the smokestack of the big ships. All you have to do is look at them, sometimes, in the harbor, and it’s just thick, black exhaust pouring out of these things sometimes. And it’s amazing that people don’t stop and notice.

CURWOOD: Now there’s a growing call to regulate these ships. But the matter is complicated by international law. Also, a pair or whooping cranes recently moved in next door to a Florida man, and started raising baby chicks. He’s got a name for the one chick that survived the predator so far.

TINDELL: Lucky. He was lucky he wasn’t sitting on the next the morning the bald eagle came by.

CURWOOD: Raising cranes, this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this.

[THEME MUSIC]

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Harbor Pollution

CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. In the busy harbor of Los Angeles, cargo ships can generate as much air pollution as a million cars on the freeway. It’s a problem most port cities face as the dirty air hangs over neighborhoods from Boston to Biloxi.
So, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering rules to clean up some of the marine smokestacks. The impetus for the move comes from a lawsuit filed by citizens in San Francisco. But the U.S. can only regulate ships flying the Stars and Stripes. And most freighters in U.S. ports are registered elsewhere. From Los Angeles, Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet has our story.

[SOUND OF DOCKYARD MACHINERY]

LOBET: Russell Long leans against a dockyard fence. His father was a ship broker, but he may be more of a ship breaker. He’s director of the Bluewater Network, the group that sued the EPA over ship emissions.

LONG: You can’t ignore the pollution coming out of the smokestack of the big ships. All you have to do is look at them sometimes in the harbor, and it’s just thick, black exhaust pouring out of these things, sometimes. And it’s amazing that people don’t stop and notice.

[SOUND OF HORNS]

LOBET: Cargo ships burn the lowest quality fuel refineries produce. It’s molasses-thick bunker fuel, and contains 50 times more air polluting sulfur than diesel fuel. Between the sulfur content and the size of a ship’s engine, it’s easy to see how a single voyage pours out pollution measured in tons.

LONG: You multiply that out, and you have something like 280 pounds of pollutants that are being emitted on an hourly basis.

LOBET: And it takes tens of thousands of ships to deliver the world’s rice, refrigerators and Rolls Royces.

ALLARD: One of the major threats to our air quality over the next ten or fifteen years is pollution from marine shipping offshore.

LOBET: Douglas Allard is Air Pollution Control Chief for the County of Santa Barbara, which has had a serious ozone problem.

ALLARD: In fact, we found that in 1999, about one-third of our oxides of nitrogen emissions, which is one of the pollutants that forms ozone, came from those ships, which means that there’s as much NOX coming from those ships as all of our onshore motor vehicle emissions combined.

LOBET: Allard says in 15 years, two-thirds of that pollution will be coming from ships. Regions are unequally affected, depending on how the wind blows emissions from busy harbors and shipping lanes. Houston, Louisiana, the Great Lakes and the West Coast are all in the path of the pollution. Dr. James Corbett of the University of Delaware has done much of the research. He also looked at ship emissions globally.

CORBETT: At the international level, NOX emissions, nitrogen oxide emissions, from ship engines can contribute 14-percent of the total global NOX inventory from human activity from combustion systems.

LOBET: Yet, few U.S. officials believe it’s within their purview to force changes on ships registered in countries such as Liberia or Greece. The EPA would not comment for this story, but is expected to propose reducing the emissions only of U.S. vessels.

The International Maritime Organization has jurisdiction, but hasn’t yet moved on the issue. That’s left the problem to the industry and to local officials, like Dr. Robert Kanter of the Port of Long Beach. And he’ll tell you there’s only so much he can do.

[SOUNDS OF HORNS]

KANTER: These are our tenants. We can’t tell them how to do their business. We’re trying to advise them what’s in their best interest, and everybody’s best health.

LOBET: But with trade doubling in the near-term, and the prospect of a thickening marine haze, shippers, air pollution officials, and the ports in Los Angeles got together and hashed out a voluntary plan. As ships cross the 20 mile line, they’re asked to slow down to 12 knots, burning less fuel, making less smoke.

(RADIO COMMUNICATION)

CAPTAIN: We are now passing Whiskey Buoy and proceeding. Present course two-seven general, over.

MALE: Roger. And, are you aware of the voluntary air quality compliance zone?

CAPTAIN: Roger. Yeah, we are at that speed, not more than twelve knots.

MALE: That is correct, captain. What is your ETA?

LOBET: A year later, most captains, like this one, do know about the voluntary rule. But to Robert Kanter’s frustration, only 50 to 60 percent of ships are slowing down.

[SOUND OF DOCKYARD]

KANTER: If we can get 90 to 95-percent compliance with that, that will be a huge improvement in air quality here. Huge figures, 30 to 40 percent of emissions from the vessels can be reduced.

[SOUND OF TRUCKS]

LOBET: Not all of the air pollution at ports comes from ships. Heavy-duty diesel trucks put out half the vehicle pollution in California, even though they make up only three percent of what’s on the road. Now imagine this: there are 33,000 heavy-duty truck trips in and out of the ports of LA and Long Beach everyday. Officials say that number will triple in the next two decades. But, they say, this is one thing they can do something about.

[SOUND OF TRUCK STOPPING]

LOBET: State inspectors flag down big rigs near the ports.

INSPECTOR: When you see my thumbs go up, push down your throttle, the gas, all the way to the floor, real quick ...Boom! Okay! You ready? Go. [Truck engine] Yes, very good, very good. Wait a second.

LOBET: More than 90 percent of the trucks who take these tests pass them nowadays. But not all of them are inspected.

INSPECTOR: All right, sir, you already got it. Have a nice day.

LOBET: Many port and shipping related engines have gotten cleaner. Long-time port workers say they’ve seen the improvement. They get less soot on their cars now. But people who live in housing projects near the ports say something else. Expansion is bringing more ships and more trucks, and, say, Carol Piseno, and Maria Juventino Quintero, more illness.

PISENO AND QUINTERO: [In Spanish and English] In the morning, like we smell like eggs, sulfur. Well, I got asthma this last year. I don’t know if it’s due to that. Because I never had asthma before. My son has asthma. If he gets real bad, then he has to be on a machine.
My son, he tells me, "Mom, do I have to live like this?" I says, "I don’t know, son." What answer can I give him?

LOBET: People interviewed for this story agreed on one thing: more can be done to clean up shipping. The Bluewater Network’s Russell Long says, for one thing, the EPA could require cleaner fuels, as will soon be the case for diesel trucks.

[SOUND OF DOCKYARD]

LONG: They could make them convert to a clean fuel right away if they wanted to.

[SOUNDS OF MACHINERY CONTINUE]

LOBET: Long expects EPA’s proposals to fall short. And he says he’ll sue the agency again. Other people believe cleaner engines will come through incentives. Norway charges lower port fees to cleaner container ships. And new technology may make marine engines burn cleaner when their fuel is mixed with water. For now, a quarter of a trillion dollars worth of the world’s newest goods passed through here, propelled by yesterday’s engines.

[SOUND OF SHIP’S HORN]

LOBET: For Living on Earth, I’m Ingrid Lobet in Los Angeles.

[SOUNDS OF SHIP’S HORN]

Related link:
Bluewater Network

University of Delaware Prof. Jim Corbett’s homepage

International Maritime Organisation, in London">

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Blue Vinyl

CURWOOD: As part of its "America Undercover" series, HBO is presenting a documentary about vinyl on Sunday, May 5th. HBO calls it "a toxic comedy picture" that traces one woman’s quest to find out just exactly what’s in the blue vinyl siding that her parents installed on their Long Island home. Bruce Barcott reviews "Blue Vinyl."

BARCOTT: The story of blue vinyl begins when Judith Helfand’s parents decide to refurbish their Long Island house with, yes, blue vinyl siding. Helfand, a Peabody Award-winning filmmaker, turns on her camera and wonders, "What exactly is vinyl, anyway?"

What follows is an investigative odyssey that takes Helfand from New York to Louisiana, California and all the way to Venice, Italy before yielding an answer. "Vinyl," she says, "turns out to be one of the most environmentally hazardous consumer products on earth."

HELFAND: Later, I asked my dad, "If someone had told you that, over the course of its lifecycle from the factory to the incinerator, vinyl could produce a wide array of deadly pollutants that threaten our future with a global toxic crisis, would you still have put it on the house?" "I hope not, honey," he said. But they didn’t write that on the box.

BARCOTT: Vinyl is technically known as PVC, or polyvinyl chloride. The main ingredient in PVC is vinyl chloride, a gas that the chemical industry has known to be extremely toxic since the early 1970s.

Helfand’s quest takes her to the town of Lake Charles, Louisiana, which produces one-third of America’s PVC. There, she meets the widows of chemical workers killed by rare cancers that, they believe, were caused by exposure to vinyl chloride. She also meets a small-town lawyer, preparing a massive class action lawsuit against 32 PVC makers. His case has never gone to court, and is unlikely to do so, because the industry hushes up every claim with large settlement offers. If you love Michael Moore, you’ll like Judy Helfand, who knows how to give her targets just enough rope.

At one point, a vinyl industry spokesperson tries to convince Helfand that PVC is no more dangerous than salt, because they both contain the compound chloride, you know. Helfand isn’t interested in merely exposing the wrongs of the chemical industry. She wants her parents to replace that vinyl siding with something more eco-friendly.

She travels to northern California to find an array of alternatives; hemp, clay, straw bales and something called "rammed earth," all of which are a little too woo-woo for her Long Island parents.

Finally, Helfand finds her siding; genuine pine planks taken from the roof of an old New Hampshire mill. The only drawback: it costs a fortune. "Blue Vinyl" defies easy labeling. It falls somewhere between a "Frontline" exposé and a personal docu-comedy, like Michael Moore’s, "Roger and Me," or Ross McElwee’s, "Sherman’s March." Perhaps, more importantly, it’s one more step in environmentalism’s evolution from a political movement to a consumer movement.


(Photo: Judith Helfand)


Judy Helfand isn’t an objective journalist. She’s just a consumer who picked up a product, and started asking questions. "Where does it come from? How is it made? Will it kill me? Will it kill the neighbors?" These are questions more and more of us are asking. Helfand just does it on camera, and with enough humor and starting information to make "Blue Vinyl" worth watching.

[MUSIC FROM "BLUE VINYL"]

CURWOOD: Reviewer Bruce Barcott writes about environmental issues for Outside Magazine. Coming up, the heavy footprint of prospecting for black gold in the Rockies. First, this page from the Animal Notebook with Maggie Villiger.

[THEME MUSIC]

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Animal Note/Squirrels

VILLIGER: When Belding’s ground squirrels touch noses upon meeting, it’s more than just a friendly hello. New research suggests they’re checking each other out to see who’s worth protecting. These small mammals live in open meadows, making them easy targets for predators. Raising an alarm, or helping fight off an intruder, puts a squirrel at greater risk of death than if she just looked out for number one.

But, from time to time, scientists observed the squirrels acting in these altruistic ways. Nepotism likely explains a squirrel’s decision whether to act. According to evolution, it makes sense to stick your neck out at personal risk if you’re protecting close relatives. Even if you die, most of your genes will be passed on by those relatives.

But in a bustling field filled with other squirrels, how can you be sure who’s close enough to warrant the risk? To find out, researchers presented squirrels with facial gland secretions. The more distant the relative, the longer a squirrel investigated the odor.

Since a squirrel can distinguish between mother, grandmother and cousin, sniffing for these scents explains how she can identify whose genes are close enough to want to protect. In the world of Belding’s ground squirrels, those welcome kisses are really a way to figure out if it’s worth risking your life for this seeming stranger. It gives a whole new meaning to "kissing cousins." That’s this week’s Animal Note. I’m Maggie Villiger.

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

[MUSIC: Bedrock woth Kyo, "For What You Dream Of," TRAINSPOTTING (Telstar – 1996)]

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: Tin Hat Trio, "Big Top," (Angel – 1999)]

CURWOOD: If you have a hankering for frog legs, I suggest you head to northeastern France. The landscape there is green and wet. It’s the perfect home for frogs. And each year, for the past 30 years, the little town of Vittel holds a festival to celebrate the fine art of frog feasting.

British author, Peter Mayle, made a trip to Vittel, and found that it all started when the pond of a local chef, by the name of René Clément, became overpopulated with frogs one spring. So, Chef Clément set up a table in front of his restaurant, cooked up all these frog legs, and fed them to the town. And so, a tradition was born.

On the last weekend in April, the normally sleepy vacation town goes frog wild. Frogs appear in fashion and fitness ads, sporting swimsuits, and lifting weights. They’re sculpted out of chocolate, and handed out as fuzzy toys. And, of course, frogs are hopping on every menu in town. About 30,000 people spend the weekend munching away.

By the end of the festival, about five tons of frogs had been consumed. Most are served the traditional way; sautéed in garlic and oil. But, one popular recipe calls for amphibian thighs poached in Riesling wine and garnished with escargot. And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC OUT]

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Energy Bill

CURWOOD: After months of wrangling, the Senate finally approved their version of the first comprehensive energy bill in ten years. And with me now to discuss the legislation is Chris Holly. Chris is a reporter with "The Energy Daily," covering energy issues on Capitol Hill.

The debate over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, drew a lot of attention recently. But, there’s a lot more here that concerns the environment. I’m thinking, in particular, of the Corporate Average Fleet Efficiency Standards, or CAFE, that deals with mileage in cars. How have those changed since the original Senate bill?

HOLLY: Well, the auto industry waged a really aggressive and, in some ways, misleading advertising campaign on CAFE to persuade senators to vote against it. And they touted economic impacts on the industry, and impacts on individual drivers by claiming that the proposed legislation, which would boost the fuel economy standard fleet-wide from about 25 miles per gallon to 36 miles per gallon by 2015, would force drivers to get out of their comfortable SUVs and minivans, and into tiny, compact cars.

They lost rather badly, almost by a two-to-one margin. So, it looks very doubtful that we’ll have a strong CAFE provision when a House-Senate Conference Committee concludes its work on the bill later this year.

CURWOOD: Chris, tell me about what happened to renewable energy in the Senate package.

HOLLY: Well, there are two key provisions in the bill. One is a tax provision, and extends an existing program that gives generators of renewable energy a 1.7 cent per kilowatt hour tax credit. And this has been a very useful instrument in helping the fledgling wind industry grab a foothold in the U.S. power market. And, the bill extends that by another two years.

The other thing is a system called a renewable portfolio standard. And what that means is that, by 2020, all retail electricity providers would have to offer at least 10 percent of their product, the power that they sell, from renewable resources. There were four attempts to weaken this bill on the Senate floor. Three failed. The fourth, which happened in the middle of the week, was successful.

And what that did was cut in half the maximum price of the credits that the federal government would sell to energy providers who needed them. Republicans said that this would cut the cost of the provision. And it does, by 50 percent. Environmentalists worry, however, that this will have a perverse impact of making only wind, which is the most cost-effective, and the closest competitor to traditional technology, such as coal and oil, and strand other technologies, like solar, geothermal, and biomass. It remains to be seen what will happen. The measure could be amended further in conference.

CURWOOD: So, we have a bill now from the Senate. Of course, it’s different from what the House had passed. Quickly, what are those differences, in summary?

HOLLY: Well, the House bill includes a provision to open up the ANWR. The Senate bill does not. That’s going to be a major sticking point for the conferees. The other main difference is the tax package. The Senate has $14 billion in various incentives and subsidies to fossil fuel producers and renewable energy producers, as well. And $14 billion seems like a lot. But, it’s nothing compared to what the House did. They approved $33 billion in subsidies.

That has to be brought together. So, the typical strategy is to split the difference. So, we may see about $20-25 billion in subsidies coming out of the House Conference Committee.

CURWOOD: With so much riding here politically on this conference, especially around ANWR, what do you think could happen?

HOLLY: The thing to remember, Steve, that I think is important, is that both the President and the Congress said that their efforts are aimed at improving America’s independence from foreign energy sources. And I’m sad to say that it’s not likely that the bill that emerges from the conference is going to do much about America’s energy independence.

CURWOOD: Chris Holly is a reporter with The Energy Daily. Thanks for speaking with us today, Chris.

HOLLY: Thank you very much, Steve. I enjoyed it.

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Thumper Trucks

CURWOOD: As Congress continues the debate on how to meet the nation’s future energy needs, the Bush administration is already advancing dozens of oil and gas projects across the Rocky Mountain West. Federal agencies have reduced red tape to allow new drilling on public lands. For example, in Wyoming, the Bureau of Land Management may allow up to 51,000 new gas wells. Opponents of drilling say the most sensitive landscapes of the West are at risk. From Radio High Country News, Adam Burke reports.

[SOUND OF HIKING]

BURKE: On Cannonball Mesa in southwestern Colorado, activist Mark Pearson steps through remnants of a human settlement that’s centuries old.

PEARSON: You can see it, broken and scattered, all over the ground here. I mean, you can’t take a step without stepping on a fragment of pottery.

BURKE: We’re in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, created two years ago to preserve one of the highest concentrations of archaeological ruins in North America. Among the patches of sagebrush and Mormon Tea, we find not only pottery shards, but the remains of a ceremonial structure known as a Kiva. Thirty yards away, blaze orange tape stretches through the stunted brush, dividing the mesa in straight lines. It marks the places where 40,000 pound vehicles, known by some as "thumper trucks," might soon be crawling across this mesa top in search of oil and gas. And that has Pearson worried.

PEARSON: This mesa is probably one of the more pristine corners of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. And running monster seismic thumper trucks up here, or another kind of motor vehicles associated with oil and gas exploration, will leave an indelible mark of mechanical human civilization in a place that doesn’t seem to have seen any of that for eons.

[SOUND OF SEISMIC TRUCKS]


(Photo: Liz Thomas, courtesy of The Wilderness Society)


BURKE: Recently, these seismic trucks, which generate sound waves, became the focal point of controversy when an energy contractor began work in Utah’s Dome Plateau. The area has been open to oil leasing for over a decade. But it’s just a few miles from Arches National Park and has stretches of scenic wilderness that many say deserves special protection.

As they rolled over the soft red earth on Dome Plateau, crushing brush, grasses and the occasion tree with their huge balloon tires, thumper trucks made headlines in western, and then national, newspapers. But the issue reached a critical pitch when the conservation group, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, or SUWA, abruptly succeeded in shutting down the Dome Plateau project with work still in progress.

[SOUND OF HELICOPTER]

BURKE: That’s the sound of energy contractor Western GeCo’s equipment being ferried out by helicopter. The company began losing $45,000 a day. In court documents, the Wilderness Alliance had contended that the trucks would destroy living soil crusts that prevent erosion in the desert. Liz Thomas is a staff attorney for the organization.

THOMAS: The soils up there are very fragile. And, the only available research there indicates that it takes anywhere from 50 to 300 years for these soils to come back.

BURKE: Thomas says she documented numerous instances where BLM failed to enforce protections it had agreed to in its permit. Off road, the trucks were supposed to travel single file and stay inside a 100 foot corridor. When soils were wet, the trucks were supposed to stop work if they left ruts in excess of four inches deep.


(Photo: SUWA)


THOMAS: The BLM had the Western GeCo crew out raking and covering up ruts for a distance of at least three-quarters of a mile. These ruts were not just in excess of four inches, but they were in excess of fifteen inches deep. And these ruts are about three feet plus wide. Sure, the BLM can go out and rake them. And maybe, visually, you can’t see it. But those soils don’t heal.

BURKE: The shutdown caught energy companies by surprise. For the industry, seismic trucks represent the cutting edge of environmental protection and exactly what’s needed in a fragile desert landscape.

WRIGHT: It lets you know more about the subsurface before you actually go to the point of drilling a hole in the ground to see what’s down there.

BURKE: Stewart Wright, a geophysicist for Western GeCo, says the term "thumper truck" is a misnomer, because the trucks don’t thump. They use low frequency sound waves. The result is a three-dimensional picture that allows oil companies to drill with precision. That means fewer roads and fewer wells. And, says Wright, the trucks themselves are designed to leave a minimal trace.

WRIGHT: Most companies have equipped them with very large tires that spread out the weight so that, in terms of actual pounds per square inch, there’s no more than, say, an average vehicle. And, it’s our contention that any impact is minimal and ephemeral. It tends to heal itself rather quickly. But if you don’t want to take our word for it, you can go out there and judge for yourself.

[SOUND OF HIKING]


(Photo: SUWA)


BURKE: Back at Canyons of the Ancients, there is an opportunity to do just that. Directly south of the area now proposed for exploration, the BLM’s Randy Lewis shows me where seismic trucks rolled seven years ago.

LEWIS: And right here in front of you, you can see the tread from the tires. It’s just like a tractor tire. The cleats are at an angle.

BURKE: The herringbone pattern of giant tread marks is barely visible on the clay soils. We followed these traces for a quarter mile, over hard scrapple desert in bunchgrasses. There are only a few ten foot stretches where the trucks have left a lasting impact. And Randy says this is the only area he can find where there’s any trace at all.

LEWIS: After this program was over, you looked at the tracks and said, "Oh my gosh, it’s going to be here forever." But, two or three years, and it’s gone. And then, ten years later, you’ll never see any of it.

BURKE: Seismic trucks are just the most visible aspect of a larger battle being waged over oil and gas development in the West. Last May, Vice President Cheney’s task force directed agencies to increase production on public lands.

A BLM memo in Utah instructs field offices to treat drilling as their "number one priority." The agency is shortening public debate, and eliminating, what it calls, "impediments" such as seasonal wildlife restrictions. People like Claire Mosely of the industry group Public Land Advocacy, say it’s about time companies can drill on land they’ve leased for years.

[SOUND OF A CROWD]

MOSELY: We’re not getting a free ride here. We bend over backwards.

BURKE: But, conservationists say the efforts to streamline cuts the public out of the process and puts the environment at risk. Jim Baca was chief of the BLM in the first Clinton administration.

[SOUND OF A CROWD]

BACA: The BLM simply does not have the manpower to properly go out and do environmental assessments and studies on the effects of this drilling. They have about the same amount of people today as they had ten years ago. Their budgets have been continually cut. And so, they don’t really have the infrastructure in place to even make their decisions.

BURKE: The shutdown at Dome Plateau in no way slowed the energy rush the West is witnessing. But it has reminded the BLM that the public is watching. Kent Hoffman, an associate field office manager in Durango, Colorado says that if the proposed project at Canyons of the Ancients goes forward, his staff will be strict with any permit violations.

HOFFMAN: Well, initially, they’ll be shutdown. And that’s economically unfavorable to them, certainly. And secondarily, they’ll be expected to bring it back to a condition that’s sustainable.

[SOUND OF HIKING]

BURKE: Still, standing on the top of Cannonball Mesa in Canyons of the Ancients, Mark Pearson says, these assurances are cold comfort.

PEARSON: Once this gets going, BLM will not have the backbone to actually force compliance with what’s written up, at least if the experience in Utah is any guide.

BURKE: Pearson says his alliance will be checking, whereever it can, to see that energy companies follow their permits to the letter. For Living on Earth, I’m Adam Burke in southwestern Colorado.

[MUSIC: Pat Metheny Group, "(Cross The) Heartland," AMERICAN GARAGE (ECM – 1979)]

Related link:
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

Western GeCo

BLM–San Juan Public Land Center">

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Whooping Cranes

CURWOOD: You’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth. Think, for a moment, how you might feel looking out your window and seeing a pair of four foot tall endangered whooping cranes building a nest 50 yards away. That’s what happened to Gene Tindell at his home in Leesburg, Florida. And now, the cranes are raising a chick, only the second successful hatching in the wild by captive-bred parents.

Mr. Tindell, please tell us about the place these birds have chosen to call home. What does it look like?

TINDELL: It’s a small, about a 30 acre lake out here. And we had a drought. And, it’s just turned into--from a lake to a marsh.

CURWOOD: Now, why do you think they picked your house, these whooping cranes?

TINDELL: Well, the Game and Fish Commission really didn’t approve of this. But, we have mallard ducks back here. And, I would feed them cracked corn everyday. And I guess when the whooping cranes came over, they saw the cracked corn. The Game and Fish Commission said it was just like being on the interstate and seeing a McDonald’s sign out when you’re starving to death. They’ve been here ever since.


(Photo: Gene Tindell)


CURWOOD: They had a baby, huh?

TINDELL: They had two. The first one was hatched overnight on March the 12th. The second one was hatched overnight on March the 14th. But on the 15th, about 8:30 in the morning, the bald eagle took chick number two off the nest.

CURWOOD: Ooh, how did that feel to see that?

TINDELL: Oh, it broke my heart.

CURWOOD: Now, I’m wondering if you feel like an honorary grandfather to them.

TINDELL: [Laughing] I feel like it.

CURWOOD: Are you handing out cigars?

TINDELL: No, but the Game and Fish Commission brought me two. And, they’re not sure whether this one is a male or female. So they brought me "It’s a Boy, It’s a Girl."

CURWOOD: So, what do you do if you’re a human grandfather to a whooping crane chick? How are you supposed to act?

TINDELL: I don’t know. Mostly observe. And, people come by and want to see them. I let them come in the yard, and give them a better view of the chick.

CURWOOD: What about the predator situation there?

TINDELL: Well, if I see the bald eagle flying around overhead, I walk down to the edge of the marsh, and stand there until he leaves. But, I try to protect him as much as I can.

CURWOOD: Is there a name, by the way, for this baby?

TINDELL: Yes. Lucky. He was lucky he wasn’t sitting on the nest the morning the bald eagle came by. My wife gave him that name.

CURWOOD: What’s it going to be like to see Lucky fly away one day?

TINDELL: It’s going to be heartbreaking. But, hopefully, we’ll get to see him again. If the marsh stays as it is now, there’s a good chance that this same pair will come back here this next year, and nest again. So hopefully, we’ll see them again.

CURWOOD: Gene Tindell watches the whoopers from his home in Leesburg, Florida. Thanks for the birdseye view, Gene.

TINDELL: Thank you.

[SOUND OF BIRDS]

Related link:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Whooping Crane Fact Sheet">

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Health Note/Non-Traditional Jobs

CURWOOD: Just ahead, President Bush celebrates Earth Day. First this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.

[THEME MUSIC]

TOOMEY: A federally funded study has found striking gender differences in the type of job someone holds down and the corresponding incidence of heart disease and death.

Beginning in the mid ’80s, almost 3,700 people filled out surveys in which they were asked about such things as education level, marital status, employment, job stress and income. Then they were followed for a decade. After researchers took into account factors including cholesterol levels, smoking and even degree of household responsibilities, they made some surprising findings.

If a woman worked in any kind of demanding job, but also had a great deal of decision making authority, that woman had almost three times the risk of developing heart disease. But the same situation in men did not correlate with such an increase. The riskiest job for a man: being a so-called "househusband."

Men who consider themselves househusbands most of their adult lives had an 82 percent higher death rate over the ten year study period compared to men who worked outside the home. But no such increase was seen in housewives.

Researchers say they’re not sure about the reason behind the gender differences, but suggest people who perform jobs that don’t conform to social norms may suffer additional stress that leads to heart disease. That’s this week’s Health Update. I’m Diane Toomey.

[MUSIC OUT]

Related link:
American Heart Association press release">

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New Chair for IPCC

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

[MUSIC: Spencer Lewis, "Symphony of the Arch," IN THE BOSOM OF THE GREEN MOUNTAINS (Quartz – 1989)]

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. And coming up, seeing our world through sound. But first, the influential body that reviews the science of global warming has a new chairman. On April 19th, the member nations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, voted out longtime chair, American Robert Watson, and voted in vice-chair, Rajendra Pachauri, an engineer from India.

Environmental activists say the Bush administration was responsible for Mr. Watson’s ouster. And the switch could impede global efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Ross Gelbspan, author of "The Heat is On: The Climate Crisis, The Cover-up, The Prescription," says the Watson story is another example of the White House breaking ranks with Europe over climate policy.

GELBSPAN: Dr. Watson was supported by virtually all of the European countries who are very concerned about climate change, and very much in the forefront of making changes in their own energy diet. And, the Bush Administration decided not to back Watson for a second term as chair of the IPCC, I think, because the Bush administration’s agenda has been very, very aggressive against action on the climate front.

CURWOOD: Now, some critics of this move are pointing to a memo that ExxonMobil forwarded to the White House last year. Tell us the story about this, please.

GELBSPAN: ExxonMobil sent a memo to the White House, basically saying, "Please get rid of Watson." And they suggested that the White House replace him with one of two known greenhouse skeptics. These are people who don’t think climate change should be taken very seriously.

It’s pretty clear that if the White House had done that, they would have really brought down the wrath of most of the community of nations around their head. So they did something that’s a little bit more subtle. Instead, they supported the nomination of Dr. Pachauri, who is not a scientist. And in so doing, they managed to take off the scientific edge, and at the same time, query some diplomatic favor with the developing nations by saying, "Oh, it’s time for us to hand over leadership to developing countries." I think it was a very clever maneuver.

CURWOOD: The press release from the IPCC I have here describes Mr. Pachauri as "a world-class expert in economics and technology, two areas critical to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change." So, who is this new chairman?

GELBSPAN: Dr. Pachauri is head of the Tata Institute which is an energy policy institute in India. It’s partially funded by Indian oil interests. And he happens to actually have a seat on the board of directors of the Indian government’s oil company. But, Dr. Pachauri is very aggressive about the need to reduce emissions, and to eventually change our energy diet, which is what the climate requires us to do.

CURWOOD: What is it that the Bush White House gets out of having him in office, as opposed to Dr. Watson?

GELBSPAN: I think what the Bush White House gets is not an immediate ally. I think you need to look beyond the personality of Dr. Pachauri, or his individual self, and look, in a larger sense, at what the administration, along with ExxonMobil, is doing to the larger scientific process here. And I think they could very well be crippling it.

CURWOOD: That’s pretty strong language, that this is designed, somehow, to cripple this international scientific consensus. What difference does it make having a scientist or a non-scientist as the head of this panel?

GELBSPAN: I think it is critical that you have a scientific process that is totally transparent, that is beyond reproach, that is rigorously peer reviewed, in order for it to have the credibility for governments to begin to base their policies on its findings. And what’s very important about the chairman is that as the IPCC deliberates, it’s very often subject to pressure from various governments. And, what Dr. Watson did in a sterling way was when he was asked to make changes, he would turn to the governments and cite pieces of science and say, the science doesn’t justify the changes you want me to make. Mr. Pachauri is not nearly as conversant with the science. And so, therefore, I think he’s going to have a much harder time facing these challenges.

CURWOOD: The next IPCC Report--these happen every five years. They did one last year, actually, for this year. So, it will be, what, 2007 that it comes out? What do you think will happen with IPCC science over these next five years, with Dr. Pachauri at the helm?

GELBSPAN: That is a very good question. The third Assessment Report that really came out informally in 2001 was very strong. How it departed from the previous report was it dramatically upped the estimate of future warming, which earlier had been forecast at two to four degrees by the end of this current century, and was raised in the third Assessment Report from three to ten degrees Fahrenheit, which is really off the charts.

The latest IPCC Report also said that the climate is changing much more quickly than the scientists had anticipated even a few years ago. So, there’s a very strong note of alarm in the latest IPCC Report. And it’s anyone’s guess as to what the IPCC Report five years down the road will contain.

CURWOOD: Ross Gelbspan is the author of "The Heat is On." Thanks so much for taking this time with us, Ross.

GELBSPAN: Thank you so much, Steve.

Related link:
Ross Gelbspan’s website">

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Bush Earth Day Speech

CURWOOD: It was supposed to be a perfect photo op. President Bush chose New York’s Adirondack Mountains as the setting for his Earth Day speech. But, nature wasn’t cooperating. The springtime weather slid back toward winter, with snow and temperatures in the 20s.

So, instead of picturesque mountains as his backdrop, the President spoke to a crowd in a cafeteria at the White Face Mountain Lodge. Mr. Bush made the best of it, and took the opportunity to tout his environmental agenda. We have an excerpt, beginning with the President’s pitch for his "Clear Skies" initiative. He says it could cut acid rain by reducing power plant emissions.

[APPLAUSE]

BUSH: We will reach our ambitious air quality goals through a market-based approach that rewards innovation, reduces cost and, most importantly, guarantees results. Mine is a results-oriented administration. When we say we expect results, we mean it.

We will set mandatory limits on air pollution with firm deadlines, while giving companies the flexibility to find the best ways to meet the mandatory limits. "Clear Skies" legislation, when passed by Congress, will significantly reduce smog and mercury emissions, as well as stop acid rain.

[APPLAUSE]

BUSH: My administration will foster technologies that I’m absolutely convinced will change America for the better. We will promote innovative ways to encourage conservation. I believe we’ll be driving automobiles driven by fuel cells in a relatively short period of time, and we’re promoting that technology. I know we need to promote renewable sources of energy to become less dependent on foreign sources of energy.

[APPLAUSE]

BUSH: We also must encourage natural resource restoration. And one good place to start is in the Farm Bill that’s right now before Congress. Good stewardship is the daily work of America’s farmers, and those who own the land. I like to tell people Laura and I are proud to own a Texas ranch. And for us, every day is Earth Day.

If you own your own land, every day is Earth Day. If you have to make a living off your land, it’s important to make your land as productive as is possible. Every day is Earth Day. And so, therefore, I strongly support a strong farm conservation effort in the Farm Bill before the Congress.

[APPLAUSE]

BUSH: With more funding and incentives for conservation, we can help our farmers preserve wetlands and wildlife habitat, and to better protect water quality. Americans have reached a great consensus about the protection on the environment. We’ve come to understand that success of a generation is not defined by wealth alone. We want to be remembered for our material progress, no question about it. But we also want to be remembered for the respect we give to our natural world.

This Earth Day finds us on the right path, gaining an appreciation for the world in our care. Each of you here today is doing your part to advance that work, and to spread this spirit. And on behalf of our country, I want to thank you. May God bless you all.

[APPLAUSE]

CURWOOD: President George W. Bush speaking on Earth Day at the White Mountain Lodge in New York’s Adirondack State Park.

[MUSIC]

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Blind Walk

CURWOOD: Whether you’re a native or a visitor, getting around a major city can often be a hassle. But for the visually impaired, getting around town can be an obstacle course. Producer Dmae Roberts wanted to navigate the streets of Portland, Oregon with her eyes closed. She got this lesson in sight from 19 year old Andrew Meyer.

ROBERTS: I’ve worn glasses since I was 10 years old. Each year, I have to get a stronger prescription. As others who are nearsighted probably do, I wonder what it would be like to someday lose my sight.

[SOUND OF WALKING IN HOUSE]

ROBERTS: Sometimes I close my eyes and try walking through my house. I wonder how it would be to walk around the neighborhood, to get to the grocery store, to do, what I consider, simple things.

MEYER: We can hear the difference when we walk through a door, when there’s a hallway off to your left, when it’s just a closed wall. The sound changes.

ROBERTS: I met Andrew Meyer when he was in Portland for a summer program by the Oregon Commission for the Blind. Andrew has been blind since birth. He was abandoned in an alleyway in the Philippines when he was a baby, and was adopted by an American couple with four children.

MEYER: I’ve always been someone to use sights as sort of a generic term. Ever since I was little, my foster family tells the story of when I was sitting in the living room, or after dinner, I’d go, "Let’s go watch TV." And they’d all look at me like, "You’re not going to go watch TV. You can’t see." And ever since I was little I always felt that that was correct to use those terms.

ROBERTS: Early on, Andrew learned that he, too, could see, just not with his eyes. He learned to not only walk with a cane, but to run in track meets. I ask Andrew to explain how he finds his way around. He immediately starts physically mapping out the patio at the dormitory where we’re standing.

MEYER: What I do is basically find one place that I know exactly where I am. And I know exactly where I am right here. If worse comes to worse, I come back here to the door. That’s where I’m going to go to. And then, we’d trail one wall. We just go around the room. So, I’m just going to walk around the patio really quickly, turning you left. See, there’s a chair there. A little bit farther, there’s a drop-off. Okay, so that’s the edge of the patio. So, I learn how wide this patio is. But, how long is it? So, I’m just going to turn right and walk the length of the patio. And, I find a few things, like a pole. And, we reach the end of the patio.

ROBERTS: Sound and touch are important to help him see, as Andrew moves through his environment.

MEYER: We always pay attention to what’s underneath our feet. So for example, right now, we’re on cement. Now I’m on grass. Room carpet versus, say, like indoor-outdoor carpeting that’s not very thick carpeting, or brick. Go from concrete to brick. So we learn how to pick that up.

ROBERTS: How about trees? How do you deal with them?

MEYER: You can tell when you come up to them. Or, if they happen to hit in your face, you learn later, you might want to duck when you get to that point.

ROBERTS: I look around and see the trees with branches close enough to hit my face. It would be hard to get around even a backyard, let alone a forest or woods. But Andrew tells me that it doesn’t matter if it’s a forest path or a city street. Any terrain that isn’t predictable is difficult.

MEYER: If you led me in like a field of grass, and tell me, "Find the nearest sidewalk," good luck. If there’s a lot of one thing around us, it’s really hard, and if nothing is straight lines. Blind people like straight lines. They’re very predictable.

ROBERTS: City streets have a lot of straight lines. But there’s a lot of traffic to avoid; cars, trucks, bikes, even skateboards. I want to hear how a trip to the store would sound to someone without site. So I give Andrew a mini-disc and a mike. And he records his trip to the grocery store with two teen friends, Tiane and Sumner, who are also blind.

MEYER: Okay, we’re on. Okay, Tiane.

TIANE: Yes. I’m right here.

[SOUND OF SHOPPING CART]

MEYER: Okay. We’re walking to Safeway. And, that rattling in the background which is Tiane’s little cart so she can carry all of her food that we all buy in the cart. So we don’t have to carry it by hand. Because it’s really annoying to walk from Safeway carrying it by hand. And Sumner’s to my right. Say, "Hi," Sumner.

SUMNER: Hello.

MEYER: Yeah, see, that’s Sumner. We’ve got our traffic to our right. As a blind person, we’d sometimes key off the traffic. Not right now because we’re walking on the sidewalk. So, the traffic is off to our right. So, at the moment, I’m not keying off of it. I don’t really care it’s there, until we get to a street. And then, I will care if it’s there. Because that’s how we’ll know when to go. Of course, we have really easy crossings here. And, we’re going to go ahead and cross the street that was off to-- Well, no, I guess not. Yes we are. We’re going to cross the street that was right off to our right which is Woodstock.

TIANE: And people are stopping.

MEYER: And people are stopping. And so, we’re going. And now, we’re on the other side of the street. So, the sound is coming from the other side of the mike.

TIANE: People on bikes and skateboards.

MEYER: Yeah, there are a bunch of people just riding past us. I barely notice. And I just hit a branch.

TIANE: Sorry, Andrew.

MEYER: And, I’m walking with Tiane.

TIANE: Ow!

MEYER: And, ow! I guess she just walked into something, too. She found a branch, well, too. And now, we’re going to go ahead and cross Woodstock, because we’ve been on the other side where Safeway is.

TIANE: And, it’s time to cross.

MEYER: And, we’re going to walk into Safeway. The way this works is we’re going to go up to the counter. And we’re going to get a, what, everybody?

TIANE: Personal shopper.

MEYER: We’re going to get a personal shopper. And we’re going to tell them what we want. And they drag us around the store. So we don’t have to know the store, because every single Safeway is different, and they change all the time, as you guys probably know.

ROBERTS: After walking nearly half an hour to get to the store, Andrew and his friends go inside. An employee, who helps the visually impaired to shop, greets them.

SAFEWAY EMPLOYEE: Hello.

MEYER, TIANE, SUMNER: Hi.

SAFEWAY EMPLOYEE: Do we need a basket?

TIANE: Yes, we do.

MEYER: How about--just a basket, I think, is going--

SAFEWAY EMPLOYEE: That’s what I meant. Yeah, like a hand basket?

MEYER: Or a cart. Let’s grab a cart.

TIANE: Yeah.

SAFEWAY EMPLOYEE: Well, you have a lot of shopping to do.

MEYER: Well, to be on the safe side.

TIANE: Yeah.

MEYER: I don’t know. I might find some items I suddenly take a liking to, while we’re on the way.

ROBERTS: As they go about their shopping, Andrew turns off the tape deck. Later, he told me how disorienting it was to record with headphones while trying to listen for street sounds.
I can’t imagine crossing the street without my sight. And, I marvel at his ability to navigate the world around him. Andrew’s walk to the store inspires me to step outside to my own backyard and try moving around with my eyes closed.

I cross my own patio, and walk on the soft grass, then try to cross to the plum tree in the back. It feels like a long walk. But eventually, I-- Oh, I found it. For Living on Earth, this is Dmae Roberts in Portland, Oregon.

[MUSIC: Velvet Underground & Nico, "I’m Sticking With You," NICO]

CURWOOD: Our profile of Andrew Meyer was made possible with a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It’s part of the Hearing Voice Series. And for this week, that’s Living on Earth. Next week, it’s the mysteries, the markets, and the savory morsels of that snakelike fish, the eel.

MAN: They are quite tasty, like a slightly grainy pasta, with a tiny crunch from the backbone, and a faint aftertaste of fish and garlic.

CURWOOD: We consider the eel next time on Living on Earth.

[MUSIC OUT]

[SOUND OF BABY, SIRENS, BIRDS]

CURWOOD: Before we go, a quick trip to the soundscapes of three cities. Recordings from Vancouver, Madrid and Lisbon are the basis for Hans Ulrich Werner and Michael Rusenberg’s collaboration, "Dreams and Memories."

[Hans Ulrich Werner, "Dreams and Memories," THE DREAMS OF GAIA (EarthEar – 2002)]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. You can find us at www.loe.org. Our staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Jennifer Chu, Cynthia Graber, Jessica Penney, and Al Avery, 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. 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 William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for coverage of Western issues. The National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education. And, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, supporting the Living on Earth Network, Living on Earth’s expanded Internet service.

ANNOUNCER 2: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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