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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

November 5, 1993

Air Date: November 5, 1993

SEGMENTS

Emerging New Economies in the Pacific Northwest / Henry Sessions

Henry Sessions reports from Oak Ridge, Oregon on a former logging town that's having some success moving from a timber economy to new jobs and industry. Four hundred jobs were lost when its largest employer, a local lumber mill ,shut down several years ago. But the community has capitalized on the its attractive location to aggressively pursue new, more sustainable industries. (06:44)

Visions for a Sustainable Seattle / Jennifer Schmidt

Jennifer Schmidt of member station KPLU reports from Seattle on the area's attempts to cope with an influx of newcomers. Seattle's mayor wants to combat sprawl through a concept of "urban villages," which would channel growth into higher-density neighborhoods. Some see the idea as a model for all cities, but others say people aren't ready to be told where to live or build. (07:14)

Fruit, Pesticides and Farmworkers / Gordon Black

Gordon Black examines the impact of pesticides on the orchard workers of Washington State, the nation's largest producer of apples. Many farmworkers complain of health hazards from chemicals used in apple orchards, and are pushing for stronger protections from exposure to the pesticides. (06:31)

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: George Homsy, Stephanie O'Neil, Loretta Waldman, Henry Sessions, Jennifer Schmidt, Gordon Black

(Theme music intro)

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

(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

In the Pacific Northwest, some former mill towns are finding new life beyond the logs. Three years ago Oak Ridge, Oregon lost 400 mill jobs; today, diversity is the foundation of a new economy.

HARE: Last year the assessed value of residences in the town went up by 17 percent, so it makes a myth I think to some extent out of the notion that timber towns are doomed if you don't have a timber economy.

CURWOOD: Also, finding the path toward sustainable development in the boom town of Seattle.

RICE: I truly believe that Seattle is one of America's last and best hopes for creating an extraordinary urban quality of life, but I also believe that the sand is running out of the hourglass.

CURWOOD: And pesticides and farmworkers, this week on Living on Earth. First the news.

Environmental News

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

Dioxin would be nearly eliminated from US paper-mills under draft EPA rules. A number of groups have called for the total phase-out of dioxin, including the joint US-Canadian commission overseeing the Great Lakes. The rules follow negotiations with environmentalists and the paper industry, but neither side is happy. Paper makers say their industry will suffer, while some Greens say the dioxin rules aren't strong enough.

Washington officials of the Justice Department are tying the hands of local Federal prosecutors seeking to indict corporate polluters. That's according to former US Attorneys who testified before Congress. Living on Earth's George Homsy has more.

HOMSY: Since the late 1980s, there have been charges that Washington officials have interfered with important environmental crime cases, ranging from wetlands disputes to the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant. House investigators say charges against major corporations were dropped or reduced, despite the opinion of local officials that felony convictions of corporate executives could have been won. US Attorneys usually have broad discretion in pursuing cases. But three former US Attorneys who appeared before a House oversight subcommittee chaired by Michigan Democrat John Dingell said Washington took away that authority. Dennis Vacco is a former US Attorney from New York State.

VACCO: I still don't understand why we don't have the same discretionary authority in environmental enforcement that we have for instance in public corruption, or defense contractor fraud. We don't have intense DOJ scrutiny over going after contractors, legitimate businessmen who are trying to defraud the government. Legitimate businessmen sometimes attempt to harm the environment, and I think that we should be able to prosecute them.

HOMSY: Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell told the Congressional panel that the Clinton Administration has no plans to change the procedures, but conceded that there may be some problems. For Living on Earth, I'm George Homsy.

NUNLEY: The California wildfires may have pushed some already-endangered birds closer to extinction. Stephanie O'Neil reports.

O'NEIL: The last surviving California gnatcatchers are among the wildlife hit hard by the flames. Biologists say about 15 percent, or roughly 330 pairs of the endangered species have died in the fires. And another bird, the cactus wren, which is under consideration for Federal protection, lost an estimated 15 to 20 percent of its total population. Adding to that loss is the thousands of acres of burned-out California coastal sage, an important habitat for wildlife. Environmentalists fear the battle to protect those habitats from development during the 5 to 7 years it will take them to regrow will now be far more difficult. Some critics, meanwhile, are blaming overzealous environmentalists with much of the destruction, saying their opposition to controlled burns contributed to the raging fires. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neil in Los Angeles.

NUNLEY: The road may finally be clear for a Cabinet-level EPA. Administration and key House members have agreed that environmental oversight of Federal agencies will remain with a Senate-approved White House official, rather than with the EPA. The issue was the last major stumbling block to an upgrade bill.

This is Living on Earth.

An international trade agreement may open the door to the import of gasoline which doesn't meet US clean-air standards. Venezuela claims the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade supercedes US environmental law, so the Venezuelan-owned Citgo Company should be allowed to sell gas with high levels of smog-producing olefins. The State Department is asking the EPA to issue an exemption to Venezuela, as a favor to the politically-unstable ally. EPA is scheduled to decide the issue next month.

A group of Ecuadoran Indians has sued the Texaco Oil Company, charging the petroleum giant with befouling their tribal lands with oil. Loretta Waldman reports from New York.

WALDMAN: The suit accuses Texaco of dumping up to 3,000 gallons of oil a day in the lagoons and rivers in the Ecuadoran rainforest. Texaco operated in Ecuador for 26 years, ending in 1990. Elias Piaguaje, leader of the 600-member Sequoyah tribe, said the dumping has poisoned the river water and made it unusable. The Indians filed their $1 billion suit in New York, or what they call the House of Texaco, because the company's corporate headquarters is here. A spokesman for Texaco denied the company had dumped oil in the lagoons. US lawyers for the Indians concede that the case may be difficult to prove. The Ecuadoran government-run company Petro Ecuador has also been doing business in the same area. The suit against Texaco spotlights the growing conflict between Ecuador's environmental movement and its dependence on the oil industry, which is the source of about half the country's export revenue. For Living on Earth, I'm Loretta Waldman in New York.

NUNLEY: China - one of the world's most polluted nations - has announced a comprehensive environmental cleanup program. Population pressures and massive industrialization over the past 4 decades have created what the Chinese government now calls "intolerable" conditions. The cleanup plan was developed by government officials and private organizations. It includes measures to cut energy use, control urban growth, switch to low-impact agriculture, modernize technology, and curb acid rain.

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

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(Music up and under)

Emerging New Economies in the Pacific Northwest

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

Tall trees, massive mountains and roaring rivers - in popular American culture, the Pacific Northwest has embodied a rugged and beautiful part of nature that's not all tamed. But the image has outlived the reality, and these days the area's undergoing a dramatic transformation. Many of the forests are nearly logged out, and much of what's left is now locked up. And the urban areas are booming. This week on Living on Earth, we continue our series of programs focusing on the changes sweeping the Pacific Northwest. We begin in the small town of Oakridge, Oregon, once one of the many timber towns that thrived on the cutting of the forest. Three years ago as the supply of timber dwindled, Oakridge lost its main employer. The Bald Knob Lumber Company shut down its sawmill and put four hundred people out of work. But far from lingering in the doldrums, the town is capitalizing on the flow of newcomers to the region, to bring new life to its economy. Henry Sessions reports.

(Sound of highway traffic)

SESSIONS: There's a new rest stop along the highway between Eugene, Oregon and the popular skiing and hiking area at Willamette Pass. The City of Oakridge built it to try to get people to slow down and poke around in the town for a while.

(Sound of restaurant)

SESSIONS: Those who do slow down might end up at Mrs. McGillicuddy's Cafe, where former millworker Dan Craft serves something that couldn't be bought in Oakridge a few years ago - espresso.

CRAFT: The logger mentality wasn't conducive to espresso coffee. If it wasn't black and out of a Thermos, it wasn't any good.

SESSIONS: When he isn't working in this cafe, Dan Craft runs a fishing guide service catering to out-of-towners hungry for a wilderness experience. He says he and his wife figured out a long time ago that if they wanted to stay in Oakridge, they'd have to learn to do something besides work in the sawmill.

CRAFT: If a guy sees himself as only able to do one thing in life, even if he does it well, sooner or later he's going to come to a place where that one thing isn't doing him any good. It's not gonna help him out any and when you say I'm not gonna do anything but log, I'm not gonna do anything but work in a sawmill, pretty soon you're gonna come up against a place where you're not gonna do anything.

SESSIONS: Like Dan Craft, the town itself is diversifying, catering to the stream of fishermen, hunters, and backpackers heading into the Cascade Mountains and to retirees from California and southern Oregon attracted by affordable housing, a slow pace of life, and the breathtaking mountain scenery around the town. But Oakridge is aiming at more than just service jobs. The town is developing a small but significant manufacturing base that's adding value to wood.

(Sound of scrap metal being kicked)

SESSIONS: Amid the rusted scrap metal and abandoned warehouses at the old Bald Knob Mill site, new life is poking up.

(Sound of mill saws)

SESSIONS: Former logging crew leader Bob Adkins, with loans and consulting help from the city of Oakridge, has started a small company in what used to be the mill's electric shop. He employs four people who make planter boxes out of cedar boards discarded by the fencing industry. Big discount stores have begun buying his products by the thousand. Adkins says Oakridge can have a more stable future by encouraging small businesses like his.

ADKINS: As far as becoming a 600-member mill, I could give a hoot. I really have a job ahead of me providing employment for my projected 25 employees in the next five years.

SESSIONS: Adkins' company, and two other small firms, employ about 15 people on the mill site. They lease the land from Bald Knob, which still owns it. The city of Oakridge wants to buy the site, put in sewer, water and electric services, and attract other industries. Those plans depend heavily on President Clinton's forest plan being implemented. Much of the roughly $1.8 million needed to purchase and improve the site would come from economic development grants that are part of the plan. Oakridge city officials are confident the money will come through, and there are already signs their industrial park could be a success.

(Sound of plastic molder)

SESSIONS: Three years ago, Harold and Jackie Cole moved their plastic mold manufacturing business to Oakridge from Paradise, California, not far from Redding. The Coles were dismayed by the suburban sprawl and rising crime in Paradise, and liked the fact that Oakridge is almost completely surrounded by national forest, making rampant growth unlikely. It took seven semi trucks and a lot of money to move the business to Oregon, but Cole says the city of Oakridge did everything it could to help the company find a building and get the permits it needed to do business.

COLE: We had to do everything here that we would have had to have done in any other place. It just seemed as though everything went smoother. I got nothing but good to say about the city government here.

SESSIONS: Cole's 16-employee business provided a big psychological boost to the town when it arrived three years ago. Now city manager Wes Hare, who's spearheading the effort to revive Oakridge, hopes the offer of cheap city land at the old mill site, and the area's quality of life, will attract more outside interest. He says it's far too early to turn out the lights in Oakridge.

HARE: Last year the assessed value of residences in the town went up by 17 percent. So it makes a myth I think to some extent out of the notion that timber towns are doomed if you don't have a timber economy.

(Sound of women's voices in cafe)

SESSIONS: Beyond just economic change, the Bald Knob Mill's closure may have boosted the quality of life. The town's mayor, Dick Culbertson, says now that residents have more free time, they're spending more time socializing, meeting in cafes and restaurants over a cup of coffee. Many former millworkers have gone back to school to learn new trades, from nursing to electronics. The mayor himself, after getting laid off by the Forest Service, started an appliance repair business. Gradually, Oakridge is starting to divorce itself from the idea that the only way to stay alive is by cutting the big trees. For Living on Earth, this is Henry Sessions.

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Visions for a Sustainable Seattle

CURWOOD: Twenty years ago, Seattle was in economic trouble. Big layoffs at Boeing and other employers prompted tens of thousands of people to move away. A billboard at the edge of the city read, "Will the last person leaving Seattle please turn out the lights!" Today the region faces another crisis, but this time it's too many people. The Puget Sound area has become a mecca for software engineers, grunge musicians, outdoor enthusiasts and refugees from other urban areas. Determined to stem the descent into mindless urban sprawl and smog, some Seattle-area citizens and officials are taking a cue from their neighbors to the south in Portland, Oregon. They're campaigning for controlled and innovative development to help sustain the area's quality of life. From member station KPLU, Jennifer Schmidt has our story.

(Sound of monorail conductor: "Welcome to the Westlake Center, this is our one and only stop, and the doors are located at the front of the train")

SCHMIDT: Thirty years ago, Seattle hosted the 1962 World's Fair. As part of the exhibition, the city built a one-mile-long monorail connecting the brand-new Space Needle to downtown. City leaders hoped one day to extend the system throughout the metropolitan area. But the monorail expansion never happened, and today Seattle is a commuter's nightmare.

(Sound of radio traffic reports: " Well, good morning, lots of problems out there cropping up all of a sudden . . . " fade under)

SCHMIDT: Snarled traffic is just one of the problems facing Seattle and the surrounding area. Beyond the city limits, new housing developments are spreading into the Cascade Mountains, devouring forests and farmland. Pollution is beginning to foul the air, and urban runoff is contaminating shellfish beds in nearby Puget Sound. Early last year, Seattle mayor Norm Rice warned the city was at a crossroads.

RICE: I truly believe that Seattle is one of America's last and best hopes for creating an extraordinary urban quality of life but I also believe that the sand is running out of the hourglass. Unless we take strong, decisive action now we are headed for a future of urban sprawl.

SCHMIDT: Soon after this speech, Rice rolled out his plan for managing growth. According to the mayor, it's pointless to try to stop people from moving to the region. But he says newcomers should be strongly encourage to settle in the city rather than in more rural areas. However, Rice says, to accommodate more people and still remain livable, Seattle will need to redesign its neighborhoods and turn them into what he calls "urban villages," places where people can live, work, and play without needing a car.

(Sound of Seattle neighborhood traffic)

SCHMIDT: It's midmorning in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood. Except for the constant flow of commuter traffic, Ballard has a sleepy, slightly-abandoned feel to it. Seattle planning department director Gary Lawrence says, like other Seattle neighborhoods, Ballard needs less traffic, fewer parking lots, and more people to bring it to life.

LAWRENCE: We need more grocery stores, we need more residential above the shops, more dentists, doctors, bookstores, more sorts of shops that attract people to come and stay, to gather and share a sense of community.

SCHMIDT: As an urban village, Lawrence pictures a community where people sit on their stoops in the evening and chat, where they can leave their cars at home because shops and work are within walking distance. And where families live close together in affordable townhouses and condominiums with common areas outside to gather and play.

(Sound of man walking, conversation: "Hi, Richard, Richard . . . how ya doin' . . ." fade under)

SCHMIDT: Across town, Pat Stroesel strolls through his neighborhood greeting friends and acquaintances as he goes. He comes to a stop in front of a large building and gestures to it with disdain.

STROESEL: This is what I see as kind of the urban village ideal. This is a 6-story apartment building that has 88 units and it's 65 feet high.

SCHMIDT: The apartment building dwarfs nearby homes and Stroesel says it destroys the character of the neighborhood. According to Stroesel, the problem with the urban villages proposal is that it's a top-down plan which encourages construction of larger buildings even in neighborhoods where they don't belong. Stroesel now heads a citizens' group known as Vision Seattle. The group believes individual neighborhoods - not the city - must ultimately decide what works best for them.

STROESEL: When it gets down to the neighborhood, we want to have some decisions to make, not just the paint color, you know, and that's the thing we're worried about with this whole designation of urban villages and all their attributes, already being written out at the central level.

SCHMIDT: But planning growth within the city is only a first step. Policymakers warn that no matter what Seattle does, urban sprawl will continue unless the region as a whole begins to address the problem. There has been growing support for a regional transit system, although many remain wary of the project's estimated $13 billion price tag. Meanwhile, Seattle officials want surrounding counties to block development outside of existing cities and towns. Restrictive growth boundaries anger property-rights advocates and some builders. Local developer Judd Kirk says people aren't ready to be told where they can and cannot live.

KIRK: We have sort of a general planners' vision of the future, but that's a lot different from having either a clear consensus or a real demand from people out there. Somebody may say, for example, I am all in favor of more buses; what they really mean is they want other people to ride those buses so they can drive their car to work. I mean, there's limits on the extent to which you can change the market or change people's way of living.

SCHMIDT: But city planner Gary Lawrence says continued growth is going to change the way people live anyway. He says the real question is whether people want to live in a region that has the look and feel of a city like Los Angeles, or whether they're willing to live more compact lives.

LAWRENCE: In order to save this place, to preserve those essential environmental qualities that exist in the Northwest, we are as a society going to have to figure out a way to make different choices about how we live. There aren't any solutions to these problems that don't have at their heart the choices made by individuals.

SCHMIDT: The Seattle City Council will decide whether to approve the Urban Villages plan and the Seattle Commons proposal next year. The following year, citizens are expected to vote on the regional transit system. Urban planners say if these projects are approved, the Seattle area is likely to become a model for the rest of the nation to follow. For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Schmidt reporting.

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Fruit, Pesticides and Farmworkers

CURWOOD: The mild climate of the Pacific Northwest is perfect for trees - not only the big firs but fruit trees as well. And in the last century apples and cherries have become big business in this part of the country. In Washington State alone more than 30,000 people, many of them migrants, work to bring in an apple crop that's worth more than $700 million a year. This makes Washington the leading apple-producing state in the nation, and the fourth biggest employer of farm workers. But this can be risky work, with special dangers from pesticides used in many orchards. Spurred by a recent poisoning incident, farm workers are campaigning for less toxic exposure on the job. Gordon Black has our story.

(Sound of apple harvesting, tractors)

BLACK: Apples thrive in the inland valleys east of the Cascade Mountains. The majority of Washington apples come from the Yakima and Wenatchee valleys. They offer dry winters, hot summers, and plentiful irrigation water from the Columbia River. On a natural terrace 600 feet above the Columbia, Don Heinike tends 345 acres of apples.

(Sound of apple picking)

BLACK: Harvest time brings up to 100 workers to Heinike's Cascade foothills orchard, 180 miles east of Seattle. Although his orchard is bigger than most, Heinike faces problems common to all apple growers.

HEINIKE: We have a lot of pests that we have to be concerned with. We check and see that the mouse population did not develop over the winter and that the gopher population stayed down, and the porcupines didn't get us. You can see there are a number of things that do interfere with our production of fruit.

BLACK: Heinike is a fairly typical apple grower. He relies on chemicals to combat disease and insects such as aphids, coddling moths, and thrips that can damage the tree or eat the fruit. Many of those materials contain ingredients that are highly dangerous to humans. Heinike says none of his workers have ever gotten sick through exposure to chemicals sprayed in his orchard. But across the state, farmworkers are three times more likely to be poisoned on the job than workers in other industries. And orchard workers are twice as likely to be poisoned as other farm employees. Even so, it's hard to prove that a particular chemical made a particular worker sick.

(Sound of conversation in Spanish: "A mi, lo que me pasa . .." )

BLACK: Take the case of Esquel Morphin, a former migrant worker from Mexico, now settled in Washington. Morphin believes he started to get sick six years ago as a result of thinning apple trees that had been sprayed with chemicals he can't name. Morphin says he suffers from headaches and coughs and more serious persistent ailments. His daughter Rosie translates.

ROSIE : My dad, in the long-term sickness, his head hurts a lot. There's like something inside like that is leaking, he saw something leaking (Morphin: "a una amarilla") that is yellow, it's a liquid, and if he's like bending over it leaks out. Like when he gets a flu he gets it for a month or two months. He gets a fever and his bones hurt.

BLACK: Morphin says that doctors he's seen can't conclusively link his illness to agricultural chemical sprays. But it's likely that Morphin came in contact with such brand-name chemicals as Rally, Roundup and Guthion, all commonly used in apple orchards. Even days after Rally and Roundup have been sprayed, their residues can cause skin, eye, nose and throat irritation. And Guthion may bring on stomachaches, dizziness, headaches, and excessive sweating. Officials of the United Farmworkers Union of Washington say some health effects are so common that many orchard workers don't even bother to see a doctor. And, says the union, when they do, doctors frequently dismiss their ailments as allergies. The union wants Washington to join California in monitoring the health of farmworkers, and to impose tougher pesticide standards than are now required by the Federal Government.

FORD: We believe that the EPA standards are clearly inadequate.

BLACK: That's attorney Dan Ford. He's representing orchard workers who're demanding safer standards.

FORD: The EPA admits that their standards overall, they call them generic standards, that apply to all the pesticides across the board are based only on the acute short-term effects. Their generic standards do not even take into account such long-term effects as carcinogenicity or reproductive effects.

BLACK: Ford is suing Washington State on behalf of two apple orchard workers who claim injuries caused by a fungicide named Ziram. They contend that farmworkers should be protected by the tougher chemical safety laws that now cover workers in other industries. The lawsuit and a widely-publicized poisoning of workers have brought new public attention to the conditions orchard workers face. Twenty-two people were hospitalized in July after exposure to Phosdrin, a chemical used to kill aphids on apple trees. They complained of nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath and disorientation. Washington quickly banned Phosdrin. It was the first time a state banned a chemical that remains on the EPA-approved list. The Phosdrin ban appears to be an isolated move by Washington state government, but supporters of the lawsuit aim to push the state for more protection from the daily risks associated with orchard work. The farmworkers union also seeks an outright ban on the most dangerous chemicals. Many growers are reducing their dependence on pesticides. A few are even growing apples organically. But the increasing uncertainty over pesticide use worries many growers. Chris Schlecht is president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, a growers' group.

SCHLECHT: Government needs to sit down, and government means the Congress, the regulatory agencies like EPA and USDA, the Administration in general, Food and Drug Administration, sit down and have a rational pesticide policy for this country.

BLACK: And Schlecht says a rational policy should emphasize the benefits of pesticides in addition to the risks. But in fact, the Clinton Administration is pushing for a new national pesticides policy based purely on a standard of safety. The benefits of a chemical deemed unsafe wouldn't be considered. The new policy would also place greater emphasis on the health of farmworkers. Still, these changes in the regulations are sure to be a tough political fight. Farmworkers face a strong agricultural lobby that is well connected in Congress. For Living on Earth, I'm Gordon Black in Seattle.

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