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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

September 25, 1992

Air Date: September 25, 1992

SEGMENTS

Endangered Species Act Dominates Oregon Senate Race / Henry Sessions

Henry Sessions of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports on the pitched election battle between four-term Republican incumbent Bob Packwood and veteran Democratic Congressman Les AuCoin for the U.S. Senate. The race has largely become a referendum on the fate of the region's forests, the northern spotted owl and the Endangered Species Act. (07:24)

Toxic Waste Traffic Hits Romania / Reese Erlich

Reese Erlich reports on the importation of toxic wastes, disguised as agricultural chemicals, to a small Romanian town. Romania is one of the latest destinations for the flow of toxics wastes which began after the fall of the Soviet bloc. (08:01)

Greenpeace Says International Agreements Fail to Stem Toxic Traffic

Steve talks with Jim Puckett, the European Toxic Trade Coordinator for the environmental group Greenpeace, about the shipment of toxic waste to Eastern Europe, and a reported agreement to ship waste to war-torn Somalia. (05:39)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Walter Gabalski, Jean Dillard, Jessica Berman, Henry Sessions, Reese Erlich
GUESTS: Jim Puckett

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

In Oregon's Senate race, long-time incumbent Senator Bob Packwood is facing veteran Congressman Les AuCoin in what many voters see as a referendum over jobs and the threatened spotted owl.

MAYBUN: My eyes are on one thing and one thing only, and I don't care if it's Democrat, Republican, if it's President, if it's Senator, if it's Congress or whatever it is. My eyes right now are on the Endangered Species Act.

CURWOOD: Also, since the Iron Curtain has fallen, there have been over 200 shipments of deadly toxic wastes from Germany into Eastern Europe . . . some disguised as farm chemicals.

BUTA: The other barrel is marked not to be used on plants, so that can't be fertilizer. This one is strictly banned by a harsh law in Germany.

CURWOOD: That and more this week on Living on Earth. First, the news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news.

Federal agencies will soon have to abide by the same environmental laws as the private sector under a bill now awaiting President Bush's signature. The move ends a five year battle with government officials, who claimed that nuclear weapons plants and other Federal facilities were immune from anti-pollution sanctions. The compromise bill gives the EPA and the states limited authority to inspect Federal facilities and impose fines. The bill was spawned by disclosures of massive pollution from weapons plants in Ohio, Washington and Colorado.

The EPA is facing a lawsuit by four states, which charge that the Bush Administration has illegally weakened the Clean Air Act. From Albany, New York, Walter Gabalski of member station WXXI has the story.

GABALSKI: The lawsuit claims that the intent of the Federal Clean Air Act is being gutted by changes in the rules that would create variations in enforcement from state to state, and make polluters less answerable to state regulators. One of the new additions is a so-called "seven day" rule, that allows polluters to give state regulators only seven days' notice of upcoming changes in their operations that will affect air emissions. New York's Environmental Conservation Commissioner Thomas Jorling says the polluter is entitled to go ahead when the seven days are up.

JORLING: Instead of the health of the American people deciding who has the burden of proof, which should be on those who release materials into the air, this change forces the burden of proof on the peoples' health. It's, again, it's a perversity.

GABALSKI: The seven-day rule and other Clean Air Act regulations were cited in a complaint filed last Friday in Federal court. EPA attorneys are reviewing the complaint. For Living on Earth, I'm Walter Gabalski in Albany, New York.

NUNLEY: Meanwhile, New York's transportation department, along with those in New Jersey and Connecticut, is itself being sued by six environmental groups for violating the Clean Air Act. Jean Dillard has the story.

DILLARD: The entire New York metropolitan area is designated by the Federal Government as a severe smog zone. Under the Clean Air Act, the three states in the region are required to design transportation systems which cut pollution by reducing the number of miles vehicles are driven. However, the environmental groups contend transportation planners have failed to provide alternatives such as mass transit, that people need to leave their cars at home. If the lawsuits are successful, the three states could lose billions of dollars in Federal transportation funds. For Living on Earth, I'm Jean Dillard in Trenton, New Jersey.

NUNLEY: Federal fisheries managers have placed new restrictions on Alaska's billion-dollar pollock harvest, in an effort to save a threatened population of sea lions. A new census shows that Steller sea lion numbers in the Gulf of Alaska and part of the Aleutian Islands have dropped by five percent over the last year, and nearly 80% since the 1950's. Pollock is the main food source for young sea lions in the area, although a direct link between the booming pollock fishery and the falling sea lion population hasn't been established. The new restrictions will set up a no-fishing zone around a crucial sea lion rookery.

This is Living on Earth.

A new study by the National Cancer Institute suggests that high rates of some cancers among farmers may be due to exposure to agricultural chemicals. From Washington, Jessica Berman reports.

BERMAN: Researchers at the National Cancer Institute have found that farmers had increased rates of several deadly forms of cancer, including Hodgkins' disease, multiple myeloma, leukemia, melanoma, and cancers of the lip, stomach and prostate. One of the study's authors, Aaron Blair, says the skin and lip cancers are probably the result of extensive exposure to the sun. But Blair says pesticides are the likely cause of some of the other cancers. Blair and his colleagues believe that pesticides may beinterfering with the farmers' immune systems, resulting in the growth of tumors. However, the researchers acknowledged that there's no strong scientific link. That's prompted a spokesman for the National Agricultural Chemicals Association to deny a link between properly used pesticides and cancer, and he called for more studies. For Living on Earth, I'm Jessica Berman in Washington.

NUNLEY: Parts of the Antarctic ice sheet may slide into the ocean and raise sea levels sometime in the future, but it probably won't be because of global warming. That's the conclusion of a recent study published in the journal "Nature," which says the makeup of glacial rubble lying beneath the ice is far more important to ice sheet movement than global temperatures. Many scientists have predicted that global warming could cause the ice sheet to break up, but the study suggests that the periodic breakup of Antarctic ice floes is a natural occurrence largely unrelated to global climate change.

New Mexico's Supreme Court has awarded damages to homeowners whose property values tumbled because they live along the route to a proposed nuclear waste dump. The court said it didn't matter whether or not the passing nuclear waste trucks presented a real danger, because the public perception of the danger is enough to depress home values. The ruling applies only in New Mexico, but it could pave the way for other damage claims against the Federal nuclear waste dump, which has yet to begin operating.

That's this week's environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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Endangered Species Act Dominates Oregon Senate Race

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

For more than two decades, two Republicans have represented Oregon in the United States Senate: Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood. As the battle has intensified between the timber industry and those who seek to protect old-growth forests and the threatened spotted owl, both senators have become powerful allies of the lumber interests.

In Washington, Senator Hatfield was recently handed a stiff defeat on a bid to effectively weaken the Endangered Species Act and shrink further the habitat of the spotted owl. Meanwhile, back at home, his colleague Senator Packwood faces perhaps the challenge of his career over this controversy. Packwood is up for re-election, and his opponent, veteran Congressman Les AuCoin, a Democrat, favors a strong Endangered Species Act. . . and the race has become a referendum on the issue.

As part of our series on this fall's elections, Oregon Public Broadcasting's Henry Sessions has our story.

(Sound of people entering office)

SESSIONS: In the logging town of Mollala, an hour south of Portland, a group of timber industry supporters meet every week to talk politics. At the top of their list this fall is the race between four-term incumbent Senator Bob Packwood and Democratic US. Representative Les AuCoin of Portland. Like the others in this group, Joanne Foster, who's married to a log-truck driver, has little regard for AuCoin.

FOSTER: He has a really cute dog. . . (laughs). . .I saw in D.C.

SESSIONS: Lorna Maybun is a secretary at a logging company in Mollala. She says she didn't even bother voting until a few years ago, and being a staunch conservative, she wouldn't have voted for Packwood anyway, since he's pro-choice on abortion. But she says this year she will vote for him.

MAYBUN: My eyes are on one thing, and one thing only. And I don't care if it's Democrat, Republican, if it's President, if it's Senator, if it's Congress or whatever it is. My eyes right now are on the Endangered Species Act. That's the only thing that's going to help us, so anybody who supports rewriting that Endangered Species Act has my support and I don't care what party they belong to.

SESSIONS: The jobs-versus-owls question has shaped Oregon politics since well before the owl's listing as a threatened species in 1990. But never before have two candidates split so vehemently on the issue. Packwood was once considered the most pro-environment Republican in the Senate. In the 1970's, he spearheaded a successful effort to create a huge national scenic area in Hells Canyon in Eastern Oregon and Idaho. But as the spotted owl crisis has developed, he's become more and more friendly to the timber industry, and more and more hostile to the Endangered Species Act.

PACKWOOD: Never before we came to the owl was the magnitude of the act realized. We've seen it before used in the snail darter, we've seen it used at the Grey Rocks Dam with the whooping crane. But you were never in any of these past instances talking about thousands and thousands of decent middle income people being put out of work.

SESSIONS: Packwood has become one of the leading voices in the Senate for changing the Endangered Species Act. He wants economic concerns included in recovery plans for threatened or endangered species. Currently, those plans are made based only on biology.

Les AuCoin, who's finishing his ninth term in the House, has often leaned towards the timber industry with votes to free up Federal timber sales for cutting, and to limit the public's right to challenge those sales in court. But environmentalists say at least he's better than Packwood. He's long depended on a largely urban constituency in Portland that favors protecting the environment. AuCoin says the Northwest timber industry has been shrinking for decades, not only because of environmental restrictions, but because of sagging housing markets and to some extent the exports of raw logs from private lands. He blames overcutting in the national forests, encouraged by the Bush and Reagan Administrations, for sacrificing not only the environment, but the overall health of the forest economy. AuCoin says that pattern would only be reinforced by weakening the Endangered Species Act.

AUCOIN: Bob Packwood would have people believe that if we gut one of the prime environmental laws that governs and helps us protect forest health in the ecosystems of our great national forests, that somehow we'll get more jobs. I'm saying that is bunk. And it will lead us to the collapse of the environment and the collapse of timber jobs tomorrow, because, you know, an unhealthy forest not tended to will not sustain either wildlife or jobs in the future.

SESSIONS: In a state where one in six jobs are still connected with the timber industry, polls suggest that given the stark choice between jobs and the environment, voters will put jobs first. Pollster Mark Nelson has studied Oregonians' attitudes about the timber industry and the environment. He says while AuCoin may be doing a better job of bringing out the complexity of the issue, Packwood's simple jobs-versus-owls line gives him an advantage.

NELSON: This is a very complicated issue. It has been reduced to choices by Senator Packwood. Congressman AuCoin tries to explain a broader type of picture, and he lose the public in doing so.

SESSIONS: Nelson says when the issue is put another way, most voters do favor the preservation of some old-growth forests along with the protection of jobs. And AuCoin's supporters say he's doing a good job of pushing the notion of a Northwest economy that's not so dependent on natural resources. Scott Pratt is the chair of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters.

PRATT: Right now, Packwood and AuCoin are just about dead even. So people are not necessarily buying this argument that it's owls versus jobs. We're out there trying to say no, it's a question of what kind of job you're gonna have, and whether it's a job now or a job later. We're looking to make sure that people will have jobs in the future and we don't just have some economic wasteland that turns a lot of these communities into ghost towns because there's no trees left.

SESSIONS: There are other issues which may help decide this race. Packwood is criticizing AuCoin for bouncing 81 checks at the now-defunct House bank. AuCoin has accused Packwood of waffling on a number of issues, most notably on a controversial anti-gay rights measure on the November state ballot. But timber has become the overriding issue, and the timber debate has taken on significance beyond the borders of the Pacific Northwest. Recently, both presidential candidates made appearances in Oregon on the same day. George Bush echoed Packwood in saying he wouldn't reauthorize the Endangered Species Act unless it's changed to reflect economic concerns. And like AuCoin, Bill Clinton emphasized a balance between forest protection and timber supplies for the region's sawmills. And whoever wins the presidential race will probably need a strong ally in the Northwest Senate delegation to get anywhere on the timber issue.

For Living on Earth, this is Henry Sessions in Portland.

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(Music up and under)

Toxic Waste Traffic Hits Romania

CURWOOD: When the Iron Curtain fell away from Eastern Europe, some Western industrialists, especially the Germans, began taking advantage of the chaos to the East and the lust for Western currencies by shipping in deadly toxic wastes. At first Poland was favored, but as authorities there clamped down, poisonous waste merchants shifter further east to countries such as Romania. Reporter Reese Erlich recently visited the small Romanian town of Miercurea Sibiului, where earlier this year Germans exported about 600 tons of compounds. They were labeled as legitimate farm chemicals, but some have proved to be dangerous wastes.

(Sound of rapping , dogs barking)

ERLICH: The hot Transylvanian sun beats down on a dilapidated old warehouse, watched over by a mangy dog and a guard with alcohol on his breath. Both are feeling cantankerous today. Although accompanied by the town's vice mayor, the guard won't let visitors into the Montana Company warehouse. A translator explains.

GUARD (translated): We are not allowed to enter as long as we don't have a policeman. So they are going to try to find a policeman.

ERLICH: Local residents are furious at the Montana Company and at the Romanian government for allowing the hundreds of barrels of toxic waste sitting in the shed to cross the border from Germany.

(Sound of hoofbeats)

Farmer Maria Huna momentarily pulls her horse-drawn cart to a stop and expresses a common sentiment.

HUNA (translated): They have to take them and move them out of here, because we all feel they are dangerous.

ERLICH: The police chief finally arrives and escorts us into the warehouse. It's really just a roof shading the barrels. No walls protect the containers from the wind and rain. Hundreds of barrels sit on the ground. Some appear to contain legitimate pesticides and fertilizers. Others are already rusting with chemicals oozing out. Vice Mayor Liviu Buta describes the label on one barrel.

BUTA (translated): There is a Trizilin-25 barrel which contains dioxin. It's very, very poisonous. The other barrel is not to be used on plants. So that can't be fertilizer. This one is strictly banned by a harsh law in Germany.

ERLICH: At the nearby Sibiu County Jail, Dan Alexandru, co-owner of Montana Company, walks out of his cell.

(Sound of jail door)

Alexandru pled guilty to falsifying customs documents and is serving a three-month sentence. Romania has no specific laws prohibiting imports of toxic wastes, so Alexandru was prosecuted on technical customs violations. He says that he was just buying legitimate agricultural chemicals and selling them on consignment in Romania. Vice Mayor Buta claims Alexandru was paid to import the toxics, using the legitimate chemicals as a cover. In either case, Alexandru says he was not working alone. He says directors of the local agriculture and environment ministries gave him permission. Alexandru explains.

ALEXANDRU (translated): I had an offer from a German citizen to bring fertilizers and pesticides. I contacted Romanians who were interested in this because in Romania there are shortages of such products. At the local department of agriculture, and of plant protection, institutions which are concern with such products.
ERLICH: Did he contact the directors of those local . . .?
ALEXANDRU (translated): Yes, the directors of those institutions.

ERLICH: Romanian officials at all levels deny that they or anyone else in the government okayed the shipments. But the case illustrates what many say is a growing problem. Since the fall of the Soviet bloc, Eastern Europe's weak economies and lax environmental enforcement have combined to make the region vulnerable to ecologically disastrous deals with Western fast-buck artists. The environmental group Greenpeace, for instance, has documented 200 cases of toxic wastes being shipped from Germany to Eastern Europe, mostly to Poland. But since Poland cracked down on the shipments, Greenpeace says, companies have started sending more to Bulgaria, the Baltics and Romania. Sibiu's Vice Mayor Maxim Aurel places the blame on Western European governments because they fail to stop the shipments.

AUREL (translated): I t seems to me there is a plan of the developed countries in Western Europe, and especially of the German state, to get rid of their toxic waste selling it or giving it as a gift to the less developed countries of Eastern Europe.

ERLICH: But other officials don't make such blanket indictments. Nicolae Nan, Sibiu County's prefect or head administrator, says the individual criminals involved should be blamed, not the governments of the exporting countries.

NAN (translated): It is not the countries that send the toxic waste. There are private enterprises and those guilty in the west are certain persons who want to get easy money and they found interested people to do the same here.

ERLICH: That view seems to be shared by Romanian President Ion Iliescu. The scandal has become so big that he recently personally inspected the Montana Company warehouse. His administration has set up a commission to investigate the case. But he was reluctant to assess blame or make specific commitments for the future. The solution, Iliescu says, is to enforce existing laws.

ILIESCU: To apply the law and to ensure the control, to the frontier and inside the country.
ERLICH: Do you think Romania needs to do anything to change its laws, strengthen the penalties, for example, for doing this?
ILIESCU: It is necessary to do it, to strengthen the law provisions in this direction.

ERLICH: For its part, the German Government has denied any responsibility for the original shipments. But it is considering criminal charges against the Germans involved in the illegal activity. The German Environment Minister has spoken out against what he calls a growing "waste mafia" in his country, and urges stronger efforts to stop the illegal exports. Germany has reportedly expressed a willingness to take back the chemicals store in Romania. But to date, no trucks have come to pick them up.

(Sound of warehouse, arguing in Romanian)

Meanwhile, back in Miercurea Sibiului, residents are anxious that the Montana Company warehouse be cleared out. Whenever a group of people gather these days, it seems they have one topic of discussion. Resident Lumina Dures expresses a common sentiment.

DURES (translated): We are in danger each hour, every minute. The containers are old. For 20 years and of course they are rusted and can have leaks. The first thing to do with them is to get them back, or either to get them a proper place to deposit them.
ERLICH: Send them back?
DURES: Send them back to Germany where they came from.

ERLICH: For Living on Earth, I'm Reese Erlich in Miercurea Sibiului, Romania.

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(Fade out sound of hoofbeats)

Greenpeace Says International Agreements Fail to Stem Toxic Traffic

CURWOOD: The environmental group Greenpeace was among the first to blow the whistle on the Romanian dumping. More recently, Greenpeace and the United Nations Environment Program have been investigating reported plans by a confusing web of Italian and Swiss companies to dump massive loads of toxic wastes in war-torn and famine-ravaged Somalia. A number of international agreements are supposed to regulate the trade in toxic waste, including a 1989 convention signed in Basel, Switzerland. But Greenpeace says the agreements have failed to curtail the trade. Jim Puckett is Greenpeace's European Toxic Trade Coordinator. He says the confusion surrounding the Somali deal is a strong case in point.

PUCKETT: Well, right now it's a big guessing game. All we know is that we have a contract which was signed which looks very real. When we investigate these parties, we're finding all kinds of subterfuge and shaky relations and former arms trading and this sort of thing. So we're dealing with some very interesting characters, to say the least, and how much of it is false and how much of it is gonna turn out to be true, we don't know yet.

CURWOOD: What are the fears that you at Greenpeace and the folks at the United Nations Environmental Programme have about the proposal to export waste from Europe into Somalia?

PUCKETT: Well, obviously this is the worst kind of injury to add to an already injurious situation in Somalia. It would set back any kind of recovery hundreds of years, because we would have massive quantities of some of the most toxic compounds dumped in probably a very hazardous fashion. But politically it has so many different implications, this type of trade; if any one country were to accept this type of agreement to take poisons for profit, we would see massive quantities flowing to that country, kind of a black hole scenario.

CURWOOD: Now as I understand it, the government of Somalia, whatever that is these days, and things do seem to be in flux over there, has agreed to this import. Why shouldn't this sovereign nation be allowed to take this material?

PUCKETT: This is the fundamental flaw of the Basel convention. The Basel convention is based on the idea that if it's a theoretic agreement between two governments, then the trade can go ahead. But the problem with that is that very often these agreements are not signed by true representatives of either the people or the environment of that territory, and in some countries, especially war-torn countries like Somalia, we don't even know who the government is. And in this case, there was a health minister, who is now, they're saying he's not really a health minister, who signed the document. So here we have clear abuse which could have been legal under the Basel convention.

CURWOOD: The story about Romania that we heard earlier and the questions about Somalia come onto a scene that's been pretty quiet for the last year or two about these kinds of reports. Have we in the news media simply not been paying attention, or in fact are we seeing a resurgence of an international trade in toxic wastes?

PUCKETT: It's frightening, it's a resurgence, it's almost an epidemic now. What we have since the seventies and eighties, we've had increasingly strict regulations being passed in the North. Citizens have rebelled against having their land and their air befouled by toxic materials, and they're saying no. And the disposal costs have gone up and up as a result. And so we're having this waste pileup, and it's like a balloon that's expanding and expanding and it's going to burst, and it goes in the direction of least resistance.

CURWOOD: Do you think the solution to this problem is to have a total ban on international trade in toxic waste?

PUCKETT: That's correct, especially an export ban. Countries have got to combine , of course, an export ban with policies that will rapidly move toward the reduction of waste.

CURWOOD: Well, what about a situation where a country produces a toxic waste that another country could better dispose of? A total ban on trade would prohibit that.

PUCKETT: The problem with the disposal approach to waste is that you will never have an incentive to reduce it, which is what everyone agrees is the ultimate answer. As long as you can set up arrangements whereby you can shunt your problems off on others, there's going to be no incentive for industry to institute clean technologies that do not produce waste.

CURWOOD: Jim Puckett, is the international community going to revisit the question of international trade in toxic wastes in light of the situations in Eastern Europe and in Somalia?

PUCKETT: Well, I think they're gonna have to; the international trade in hazardous wastes is not only an environmental question, it's a political one, and I don't think the North can afford to dump on its southern neighbors and get away with it. There is a possibility that we can make that Basel convention what it was really intended to be, which is something that would prevent the waste trade rather than just legalize it by a control mechanism. And so we're going to be going to the first meeting of the Basel convention, which happens in November, and we're going to push the OECD countries real hard with all of the evidence that we've gathered to finally take responsibility for the waste which they produce and to not dump it on their southern neighbors.

CURWOOD: Thank you. Jim Puckett is the toxic trade coordinator for Greenpeace in Europe, talking to us from Amsterdam. Thank you, sir, for joining us.

PUCKETT: Thank you.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth.

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(Theme music up and out)

 

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