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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

July 9, 1993

Air Date: July 9, 1993

SEGMENTS

Forest Plan Reax / Alan Siporin

Alan Siporin of member station KLCC reports on the forest plan recently unveiled by the Clinton Administration. As predicted, the President's plan angered most interested parties when it was announced. But after time to reflect, some environmentalists see the potential for positive results. (06:20)

Pesticide 2-Way

Steve talks with Michael Jacobson, author and executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest about the recent pledge from the White House to encourage less pesticide use. The call is a major reversal of government policy towards pesticides. Jacobson says the government's stance is a step in the right direction, but specific actions need to be taken for any real change to occur. (04:00)

Farmers, Consumers React To Federal Pesticides Shift / Martha Guild

Martha Guild of member station WFCR in Amherst reports from western Massachusetts on farmers’ and consumers’ attitudes about pesticides in food. Despite the recent National Academy of Sciences report showing the increased health risk of pesticides, some consumers still don't consider farm chemicals to be a significant hazard — or a reason to alter their purchasing habits. (04:23)

Hightower Radio - Railling on NAFTA

Steve talks with former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower about a recent court ruling that may bring the North American Free Trade Agreement to a grinding halt. A judge in the Federal district court ruled that the government must prepare an environmental impact statement for NAFTA. Radio commentator Hightower,who's dealt with many cross-border issues in Texas, thinks the judge's decision is right on the money. (05:24)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1993 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or retransmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Matt Binder, Stephen Beard, Ed Hula, Alan Siporin, Martha Guild
GUESTS: Michael Jacobson, Jim Hightower

(Theme music intro)

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

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

At first President Clinton's Northwest Forest Plan was blasted by environmentalists and loggers alike, but as time goes by, some are saying the proposal looks like a courageous first step.

DOPPELT: That's what we've really gotten out of this Administration, a willingness to stand up there in front of the American people for the first time in years and tell the truth about the status of the health of the ecosystems, and when you begin telling the truth, it's painful.

CURWOOD: Also, the Administration says it wants to cut the use of pesticides on food crops.

JACOBSON: For decades the Department of Agriculture and the EPA have basically said, hey, there's no problem, maybe wash your fruit before you eat it, but things are just fine. This says that the government has real concerns.

CURWOOD: This week on Living on Earth, right after the news.

Environmental News

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

Despite a world-wide ban, driftnet fishing is underway on the high seas. On its first patrol to enforce the ban, the US Coast Guard has spotted five fishing boats illegally using driftnets in international waters. The practice was prohibited by the United Nations in January because the miles-long nets indiscriminately kill marine life. Matt Binder reports from Alameda, California.

BINDER: Six spotter planes found the illegal vessels. The US Coast Guard cutter Sherman was able to intercept and board three. The other two took evasive action and escaped. Lieutenant Matthew Wannamaker was on the boarding party to one of the illegal ships, the Ing Yee from the People's Republic of China.

WANNAMAKER: I'm not quite sure these individual fishermen knew it's illegal. I'm not quite sure how much the Chinese government has disseminated that fact. They were very confused, they weren't quite sure why the American Coast Guard was boarding them.

BINDER: The two other ships that were boarded were also from the People's Republic of China. One of the ships was escorted all the way to Shanghai. The other two were ordered home by Chinese officials. Of the ships that escaped pursuit, one was Honduran, the other was unidentified. For Living on Earth, I'm Matt Binder on Coast Guard Island in Alameda, California.

NUNLEY: Human migration could lead to a major global crisis. The United Nations Population Fund forecasts environmental, economic and social damage if the migration is not reduced. From London, Stephen Beard has this report.

BEARD: A hundred million people, most in the developing world, have been on the move in the past year, says the UN. They've been migrating from the countryside to the city, and across national boundaries. Most are driven by rural poverty to seek a better life elsewhere. But according to the report, some 37 million are fleeing political strife, warfare, and environmental catastrophes like drought. The problem, says the report, is that many are converging on already-densely populated cities, creating economic and social strains. The UN is urging governments to improve education, health care, and particularly family planning in rural areas. The world population, estimated at five and a half billion now, is projected to reach six and a half billion by the end of the decade, and ten billion by the year 2050. For Living on Earth, this is Stephen Beard in London.

NUNLEY: The Clinton Administration will devote nearly half of its $5 billion dollar military base closings budget to environmental clean-up. Many of the bases slated for decommissioning have contaminated soils and groundwater. The EPA hopes to use some sites to develop new clean-up technologies.

Meanwhile, the first-ever pollution survey of other Federal lands by Congress has catalogued over 2400 hazards in national parks, forests, Indian reservations and wildlife refuges. The report says cleaning the sites will cost billions of dollars. The list includes hundreds of thousands of acres containing unexploded military ordnance, 25,000 abandoned mines, and radioactive and chemical contamination from construction, drilling and mining activities.

This is Living on Earth.

A new report says acid rain declined during the 1980's. The study by the US Geological Survey reports levels of two acid rain components, sulphates and nitrates, dropped significantly. A Federal water expert says that's because many utilities were forced by the Clean Air Act to replace high-sulphur coal with cleaner fuels.

In Columbus, Georgia, DuPont is on trial over charges that a widely-used fungicide has caused millions of dollars of damage to crops around the country. Ed Hula has the story.

HULA: In the lawsuit, growers from Georgia, Florida, Michigan and Hawaii are seeking $158 million dollars in damages. The growers charge that when they applied Benlate, their crops of ornamental and flowering plants were either damaged or destroyed. The growers contend the fungicide was contaminated with a powerful herbicide. Attorneys say internal documents from DuPont will show that the company knew about problems with Benlate as far back as the 1970's. Top DuPont executives have testified that research showed a pattern to crop damage, but that they could not link it to Benlate. The trial, expected to last another month, is the first of some 450 lawsuits against DuPont's Benlate to come to trial. For Living on Earth, I'm Ed Hula.

NUNLEY: For the first time in almost a decade, Florida game officials want to drop four species from the state's endangered species list. The bad news is, the animals will be declared extinct. Highway construction and housing development doomed the dusky seaside sparrow. House cats probably killed off the last of two species of beach mice, and domestic dogs are thought responsible for the demise of Goff's pocket gopher.

The news is better for Florida's red-cockaded woodpecker, one of the first endangered species on record. Logging restrictions imposed in 1990 have protected the bird's largest refuge, northwest Florida's Apalachicola National Forest. Efforts to preserve the woodpecker have cost local logging jobs, and studies are underway to see if woodpeckers and woodcutters can coexist if single-tree harvesting is allowed.

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

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Forest Plan Reax

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

Six months into his administration, Bill Clinton is simultaneously tackling two of the most daunting environmental issues facing the nation. Later in the show, we'll hear how people are responding to the Administration's call for the reduction of pesticides on food crops. But first we turn to the Pacific Northwest. Recently, the President followed up on his campaign promise to arbitrate the conflict between tree cutters and conservationists. President Clinton's solution would permit over a billion board feet of timber to be harvested every year; curtail, but still allow logging in old growth forests; and allocate over a billion dollars for the economic redevelopment of the Pacific Northwest as it turns away from timber. Early reactions to the proposal were swift and damning. Loggers claimed thousands of jobs would be lost, and environmentalists called the plan dangerous to the ecosystem. But once the first flurry of criticism died down, reporter Alan Siporin of member station KLCC found some environmentalists who think the President's plan, while far from perfect, is a good start.

SIPORIN: The specifics of the President's plan apparently will only emerge over time. Enough is known, though, such as some logging in ancient forest reserves, to raise concern among virtually every environmental group in the region. Still, environmentalists say the plan has its merits. They say the Administration has really done its scientific homework, and has grounded the plan in science. Bob Doppelt is the executive director of the Pacific Rivers Council.

DOPPELT: This is state-of-the-art science. And we've had this science in the closet, so to speak, for five or ten years, and the politicians and industry and others have kept it out of the land-management field, so I think this is a great step forward to at least announce that that's really there and it should be used.

SIPORIN: Clinton's plan recognizes riparian zones, that is, stream-site areas, as crucial, and the plan would identify and protect key watersheds that are essential to the health of salmon and other fish, strategies the Pacific Rivers Council has been advocating for a long time. But Doppelt says the plan falls short because it doesn't protect the forests in the areas that feed the streams. He says that in order to placate Northwest politicians and timber worker concerns the Administration backed off its own scientific conclusions.

DOPPELT: For example, the old-growth reserves are not clearly defined and protected, they're not inviolate. We flatly oppose new roads in roadless areas and these old-growth reserves and in fact the key watersheds are protected through riparian protections, which is a great step forward, broad new riparian protections, but they're not protected at the watershed level. And I think ultimately that may come back to haunt us, so we have troubles with that.

SIPORIN: Doppelt says he also has problems with New Forestry, a concept embraced by the Clinton Administration. New Forestry recommends selective logging that theoretically would not disturb the ecosystem. Nearly every environmental organization has misgivings about New Forestry though. Julie Norman is president of the group Headwaters.

NORMAN: They need to protect as much of the overstory, that is, the larger trees, as possible in all cases because that is so scarce, but the details of how these new kinds of forestry will be prescribed in a timber sale is of great concern to us. The new forestry is a grab bag, that a lot of people have defined in different ways and we don't really know what that means.

SIPORIN: But what is known is that ten large tracts of ancient forest, some as big as 380 thousand acres, will be set aside for experimentation. Conservationists worry that the ecology can't afford a failed experiment. But Julie Norman says the Clinton plan offers a lot of good, too. She agrees with Doppelt that the scientific foundation of the plan will benefit the environment. And she says the money coming in for retraining, as well as a predictable supply of timber, will help forest industry workers. Clearly, a number of good points in the plan have been lost in the avalanche of criticism from both sides. Bob Frymark, director of the Wilderness Society, says a lot of progress has been made.

FRYMARK: The Clinton Administration has done more in the last three months than the past twelve years that his predecessors had, involved in this issue; in fact his predecessors did more to create the crisis and theproblems than work toward solutions on this and so the Clinton Administration deserves a lot of credit for trying to come out with some sort of fair resolution to the controversy.

SIPORIN: But like all the other environmental activists, Frymark has problems with the plan. Perhaps the most universal concern with the Clinton proposal is with the implementation. Environmentalists worry that the agencies responsible for the Federal forests, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in particular, could doom any plan to failure. As Bob Doppelt puts it, these are entrenched bureaucrats who have repeatedly violated the law. But the roots of the ancient forest crisis appear to run much deeper than policy and implementation. Most environmentalists believe the attitude of previous Administrations and most of the current Northwest congressional delegation have have misled workers into thinking the ecosystem can support a continued high level of timber harvest. Some environmentalists suggest that efforts by President Clinton to change that message may be the most important part of his forest initiative. Bob Doppelt says the President may be the bearer of bad news, but it's news that needs to be heard.

DOPPELT: They are taking the great political risk, but the moral stance, to more or less tell the truth. And I think that's what we've really gotten out of this Administration, a willingness to stand up there in front of the American people for the first time in years and tell the truth about the status of the health of the ecosystems, about what's needed to maintain and protect the ecosystems, let alone restore the ecosystems. And that's what we're really getting and when you begin with the position of telling the truth, it's painful.

SIPORIN: Environmentalists say they'll be looking carefully at the details as the information emerges. They still hope to influence the plant's implementation. If it isn't written on paper, it's certainly not written in stone. For Living on Earth, this is Alan Siporin in Eugene.

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Pesticide 2-Way

CURWOOD: The Clinton Administration has recently said it wants American farmers to reduce their use of pesticides. The announcement came as the National Academy of Sciences released its long-awaited study showing that pesticide residues in food may be especially dangerous to children. The Administration's call reverses long-standing government policies of promoting pesticides.

JACOBSON: I think this is a watershed event. For decades the Department of Agriculture and EPA have basically said, hey, there is no problem, maybe wash your fruit before you eat it, but things are just fine. This says that the government has real concerns.

CURWOOD: Michael Jacobson is executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington and author of Safe Food: Eating Wisely in a Risky World. I asked him the steps he thinks the government should take to implement the policy change, and what consumers should do.

JACOBSON: Well, nothing really's going to happen from the government for quite a while, and so I think consumers need to do three things. One is, if they buy regular produce at the grocery store, they should wash it carefully or they should peel it if they want to make sure they're getting off the surface pesticides. If they can get organically grown produce, they should. Organically grown produce is better for the consumer and it's better for the environment. Consumers with kids ought to be extra careful. The NAS report highlights that children are at greater risk. A, they're exposed to these chemicals for a longer time than other people, and secondly their bodies are not yet fully developed so these active chemical agents might interact with the growing body and cause harm. So children are the ideal ones to protect, but we should all be protecting ourselves.

CURWOOD: What do you think the impact of this announcement will be on farmers, both those who are conventional and those who use organic methods?

JACOBSON: I think organic farmers will take this as a vote of confidence and down the road look forward to greater assistance from the Federal government. Traditional farmers I think may be a little nervous, because they'll be faced with efforts to cut down on their pesticide usage, something that they've developed a habit for. They've gotta break that habit. Hopefully the government will assist them in cutting down on the use of pesticides while still maintaining yields.

CURWOOD: Okay, the government's made this announcement - what do you think it should do next?

JACOBSON: Different agencies need to do different things. The Environmental Protection Agency needs to require much better testing and it needs to evaluate those tests in a much more conservative way. Then it has to set stricter limits on the levels of pesticides permitted in foods. The Food and Drug Administration needs to do a lot more sampling of foods, especially of foods that kids eat large quantities of - milk, apples, are a couple of examples. Congress needs to take action. It needs to phase out cancer-causing pesticides. It needs to fund fully programs to support organic and sustainable agriculture, perhaps by applying a tax to pesticides and fertilizer to generate that money. Congress needs to change the price support programs, to encourage farmers to rotate crops and to use pesticides and fertilizer much less. The Department of Agriculture buys a lot of food for school lunch programs and other programs. It ought to be sending signals to the marketplace that it will give top priority for foods grown organically or with no detectable levels of pesticides. USDA also has to mount very widespread programs and encourage state Departments of Agriculture to help farmers grow food with much less use of pesticides. The three government agencies - FDA, EPA and USDA - issued a nice statement but they haven't done anything concrete and what we need to see now is concrete action.

CURWOOD: Michael Jacobson is executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, DC.

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Farmers, Consumers React To Federal Pesticides Shift

CURWOOD: To get a sense of how growers and consumers are reacting to the shifting signals on pesticides from the government, we sent reporter Martha Guild from member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts out to talk with some people on farms and in stores.

GUILD: The Connecticut River Valley, which runs through western Massachusetts, has some of the richest farm land in the world. John Bauer farms 150 acres of a variety of vegetable crops. He doesn't like to use pesticides. Farmers here are trying to cut back. But he's worried about the impact on local farms, if the Federal Government clamps down on pesticide use.

BAUER: Restrictions on certain types of, certain pesticides would be disastrous for farmers. I think farmers should have input in this, I think that we really have to look carefully before we start yanking all these pesticides, because like I said before, my first, our first priority is to be profitable farmers, farming on land that is very, very much in jeopardy of development here in the Connecticut Valley and as a matter of fact all over the United States.

GUILD: Bauer says there's not a big enough market for food grown without pesticides. He has set aside a corner of his farm for growing organically, but says he can't sell everything he harvests.

BAUER: I'll give you an example. I've got eleven acres in organic production. Out of that eleven acres probably seven of it is going, seven or eight acres of it is going organically, sold as organic product, and four, three to four acres of that production is being sold as just conventional food. It's put in regular boxes, it's not labeled organic or anything.

GUILD: That means he takes a loss on the organically-grown food he sells to conventional stores.

(Sound of snapping peas being poured into box)

GUILD: There are some farmers in the Connecticut River Valley committed to growing without the use of chemicals. They say the NAS report is long overdue. Still, they doubt it will affect the market. David Jackson runs Enterprise Farms, a 20-acre organic farm, also in Whatley.

JACKSON: If people are really concerned about this, this is going to translate into an increased market for organic products and it's hard to say because that whole, that increase is going to definitely be dictated by not only the consumers but whether the supermarket chains and the larger buyers are going to be willing to put the produce back on the shelves, 'cause during the 80's they certainly were but at this point they've all but stopped buying products from us.

GUILD: But there are some stores that are stocking foods grown without pesticides. There's a large food store not far from here that sells only organically-grown foods. But at the conventional grocery store, Stop and Shop in Hadley, shoppers are not all that worried about the possible harm pesticide residue may have on their children's health.

(Sound of supermarket parking lot, grocery carts and cars)

SHOPPER I: I definitely take care of the fruits and vegetables that I purchase in terms of washing and peeling. It doesn't alarm me as, maybe as many other people have. I think certainly the levels that are used need to be, need to be looked into. But I, I'm not an alarmist.
SHOPPER II: I could care less about fruits and vegetables. We make them eat them, but I think they'd have to swallow an awful lot of contaminants, and why now? Why are they studying now? They should have been doing this a long time ago to see the effects on kids. I know certain foods and certain fruits and vegetables can react on children, I've seen that. But it wouldn't stop the way I purchase.
SHOPPER III: Plus I, you know, a lot of times you have to take some of the scientific reports with a grain of salt, you know, because it depends on the study and you know, it's, every week there's a new report coming out saying the opposite of what last week's report said.

GUILD: Here in the Connecticut River Valley, shoppers and farmers appear unmoved by the latest report on pesticides. Both are waiting for the Clinton Administration to unveil its plans for further regulating pesticide use before they change the way they grow and shop for food. For Living on Earth, I'm Martha Guild in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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(Sound of market fades into music; fade under)

Hightower Radio - Railling on NAFTA

CURWOOD: The North American Free Trade Agreement has been under fire from environmentalists since it was negotiated by the Bush Administration. As President Clinton prepared to present the treaty to Congress for ratification, seven environmental organizations said they would go along, if side agreements were worked out to protect the environment in the US, Canada and Mexico. But a number of other groups, including the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and Friends of the Earth, took a different tack. They sued the government on the grounds an environmental impact statement hadn't been prepared. Federal District Judge Charles Richey as recently agreed and declared that without an environmental impact statement, the current free trade treaty is illegal. The government is appealing. Jim Hightower dealt with cross- border issues when he was Texas Agriculture Commissioner, never did like NAFTA, and joins us now with his views from member station KUT in Austin. Jim, President Clinton is pledging to send the treaty to Congress and have it all sewn up by January despite Judge Richey's surprise ruling. What do you think?

HIGHTOWER: I don't think that's going to happen. There's too much opposition out here in the countryside. Congress, which as we know normally responds eagerly to big business interests, is coming back against and again to their districts and finding more and more people are saying, not only no, but hell no to this thing. And I think Congress is heeding that message. They don't want to pass this thing, they don't even want to have to vote on it. And now with something as significant as this, as this judge's decision, putting a big stink on the President's treaty, it backs them away even further. So I don't think that there's a prayer of him getting this thing together, and I doubt that even Mickey Kantor or others within the Administration who are fighting for this even have January on their timetable.

CURWOOD: Jim, what do you think about Judge Richey's decision>

HIGHTOWER: Well, I think it's right on, it's, hits the nail squarely on the head as far as I can tell, which is simply saying the President can't violate the law in this country in order to negotiate a treaty with two other nations. It also makes a very simple point, which is, let's just do an environment impact statement before we make a mess that we're going to be sorry for later.

CURWOOD: Wait a second - why can't the President do foreign policy? Why should a judge be telling him what to do?

HIGHTOWER: Well, we have all sorts of restrictions on the President. The Congress tells him what to do, the judges tell him what to do, the people tell him what to do, sometimes journalists even try to tell him what to do. This is not anything new, this doesn't say anything except you can't violate US law in order to negotiate a treaty. I'm, frankly, as a Democrat, embarassed that our President would take a position that says I'm not even going to do an environmental impact statement. Okay, let him go fight the legalistic aspects of this in the court, in order, if he must, to protect the prerogatives of the Presidency, but meanwhile I think he should step forward and say, this is good sound public policy, we should have an environmental impact statement done and we'll do it.

CURWOOD: Seven major environmental groups have proposed ways to take care of the environment through the North American Free Trade Agreement, so why not just go ahead with that?

HIGHTOWER: Well, the problem with side agreements is that they are side agreements. If you went out to buy a house and the seller said, OK, here's the contract, and you sign this and this gives, this protects all of my interests, but I don't want to put your interests in the contract, we'll just sign a little side note over here, and you can carry that off with you - I don't think you'd do it. That's what's being proposed here. Side agreements attached to a massive long-reaching, long-run treaty such as this North American Free Trade Agreement are kinda like putting earrings on a hog: it just doesn't hide the ugliness that is down beneath there.

CURWOOD: Jim Hightower, is there a North American Free Trade Agreement that you could sign off on?

HIGHTOWER: Absolutely, and it's not this document at all. It's a falsehood that those of us who oppose NAFTA somehow or other are against trade or somehow or other are against Mexico. As Commissioner of Agriculture here in Texas, for example, I established the Mexico-Texas Trade Commission, Exchange Commission, in which we did millions of dollars in trade, directly negotiated between our farmers, our small businesspeople, retailers, our research folks in universities. But the difference between what we did and this particular treaty is that it wasn't just multinational corporations sitting down with the elites of Mexico hammering out an agreement, we all came to the table. And that's what it's going to take. Bear in mind that when Europe attempted to, is attempting to forge its community, European Community over there, it has taken decades for them to put that together and much debate over fine points and bringing that out to the countryside so people could understand that and wrestle with it. And even then they're having a hard time.

CURWOOD: Thank you very much.

HIGHTOWER: Thank you, glad to be with you.

CURWOOD: Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower has his own syndicated radio program, "Hightower Radio."

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