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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

January 28, 1994

Air Date: January 28, 1994

SEGMENTS

Lillehammer Goes Green / Ed Hula

Ed Hula reports on the trend towards earth-friendly Olympic Games. From biodegradable plates made from potatoes, to skating rinks carved into mountains, Lillehammer is putting on the green this year more than any Olympic host city before it. Meanwhile, Sydney, Australia is already planning for greener Games in the year 2000. Thanks to a new mandate by the International Olympic Committee, environmental consciousness may become the norm for future host cities. (04:33)

Norway's Whaling Woes / Simon Dring

Simon Dring reports on Norway's recent decision to resume hunting minke whales, in defiance of a moratorium by the International Whaling Commission. Most Norwegians, including some environmentalists, see little problem with a limited harvest from the whale's stable population. However, Greenpeace says it sets a dangerous precedent for whales everywhere . . . and that Norway's other claims to environmental awareness are hypocritical. (10:45)

Environmental Justice in the Southeast

A recent study by an EPA scientist suggested that environmental racism was rampant in the Southeast US. The researcher claims his report was suppressed by the agency. Scott Bronstein of the Atlanta Constitution originally broke the story, and talks with Steve Curwood about the controversial Southeast region of the EPA and the new regional head who might turn things around. (05:26)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

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

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Scott Schlegel, Gwendolyn Glenn, Amy Eddings, Ed Hula,
Simon Dring
GUEST: Scott Bronstein

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

There's a green hue to this year's Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. The International Olympic Committee says it's trying to reduce the environmental impact of the upcoming games.

POUND: We think that sport and the Olympic Movement have their own role to play in raising the level of environmental consciousness.

CURWOOD: Critics say Norway's greener Olympics are just a bid to divert attention from its defiance of the international whaling ban, but most of Norway's own environmentalists say the minke whale hunt is sustainable.

OLERUD: If we judge it from inside scientific angle and try to be objective and not let emotions through, we find no environmental reasons to object to the level of whaling actually done today.

CURWOOD: This week on Living on Earth. First news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news. The Supreme Court says Federal facilities can no longer ignore state hazardous waste laws. The high court ruled in a case involving the army's Rocky Mountain arsenal near Denver. Scott Schlegel reports.

SCHLEGEL: For decades, pesticide and nerve gas byproducts were dumped into the ground at the arsenal, severely contaminating groundwater and creating what some say is the most toxic area of land in the US. The Army wanted the 27 square mile site cleaned up according to Federal Superfund guidelines, but state regulators wanted to enforce the same tough standards Colorado businesses must abide by. The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the Federal Government can be held to state environmental standards. Colorado Attorney General Gail Norton.

NORTON: We see it at many of our Federal facilities around the country. There's been a history of no real accountability on the part of Federal agencies.

SCHLEGEL: Thirty-two states that host Federal facilities joined Colorado in the case. Justice Department officials have declined to discuss the Supreme Court decision. For Living on Earth, I'm Scott Schlagel in Denver.

NUNLEY: Louisiana has reversed itself and denied a permit for a hazardous waste processing plant in a predominantly black area, which is already home to ten other hazardous facilities. The initial approval of the plant spurred a civil rights investigation by the US EPA. Gwendolyn Glenn reports.

GLENN: Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality officially says the permit was denied on procedural grounds. That Supplemental Fuels Incorporated did not look into alternative sites before choosing to locate in the residential area of Iberville Parish. But Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards did acknowledge that complaints of local residents were a factor in the state's reversal. Area residents say that African-American neighborhoods have been targeted by polluting industries. It was the complaints of local residents which prompted an EPA investigation of Louisiana's industrial permitting program. Some observers say the EPA's investigation likely influenced the state's action. The EPA says it is reviewing the state's ruling and that no decision has been made to call off its investigation. The attorney for Iberville residents says the probe should go on because Supplemental Fuels could appeal the permit denial. And, in the residents' complaint, EPA was asked to look at all industrial siting decisions in Louisiana over the last five years. The EPA is also investigating a similar case in Noxubee County, Mississippi. These two cases mark the first time that the EPA has used a Federal civil rights law to investigate alleged environmental racism. For Living on Earth, I'm Gwendolyn Glenn.

NUNLEY: A dry winter in California has led to predictions of water shortages this summer. Users of the vast Central Valley Project have been told that cities and wildlife areas could face a 25% cut. Farmers may face a 60% cut. Some farmers are blaming Federally protected species for the predicted shortages. They say wildlife competes with them for available water. This is Living on Earth.

An early pioneer of energy efficiency will soon assume the top job at one of the country's largest public power authorities. Former TVA chief David Freeman, known as a visionary and tough manager in the utility industry, has been tapped to head the troubled New York Power Authority. Amy Eddings reports.

EDDINGS: Freeman comes to his job with a reputation as an innovator in the energy industry. In Sacramento, California, where he heads a utility company, he bought up thousands of old refrigerators. And he planted half a million trees near homes to reduce their need for air conditioning. When he was chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, he shut down eight nuclear reactors. In New York, Freeman will have his work cut out for him. The Power Authority's two nuclear plants are considered among the worst-run in the nation. And the Authority faces increasing competition from other electric companies. But David Freeman also sees opportunity, like developing an energy efficiency program using the surplus energy to attract new business. And the chance to get 35,000 electric taxis in New York City in the next 10 years. For Living on Earth, this is Amy Eddings in New York.

NUNLEY: Forest preservation will be one of the main goals of a renewed multinational agreement between producers and consumers of tropical timber. But sustainable harvest commitments under the new International Tropical Timber Agreement reportedly are far weaker than those sought by environmentalists and producing countries. Among other compromises, tropical nations settled for a separate pledge on conservation of temperate forests, rather than a provision in the treaty itself.

Finally, those of you who sense that warm weather never sticks around on the weekends may not be imagining things. in a letter to the journal Nature, an Australian scientist reports that 14 years of temperature data show that Saturdays are cooler than the rest of the week, by a few hundredths of a degree. The author says the difference may be decreases in industrial and motor vehicle activity on the weekends.

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

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(Theme music up and under)

Lillehammer Goes Green

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

Millions of spectators and thousands of athletes and journalists are beginning to converge this week on the small Norwegian city of Lillehammer for the 1994 Winter Olympic Games, which begin February 11th. The contests are a noble and thrilling celebration of the human body and spirit, but the sudden and massive influx of traffic, trash, and tourists also poses a serious ecological challenge. But organizers of this year's games have tried to level the playing field for the environment, and the International Olympic Committee promises to do even more in the future. Ed Hula has our report.

HULA: Olympic games can affect the environment in a number of highly-visible ways. Stadiums, arenas, or other sports venues can permanently scar the landscape. Crowds of spectators generate tons of solid waste, and poor transportation planning can lead to air pollution and congestion. Such issues were among the concerns of activists in Norway, who initially had to complain loudly, and frequently, to gain the attention of the organizers of the Lillehammer games. But the complaints produced results, recalls Gerhard Heiberg, the president of the Lillehammer Olympics.

HEIBERG: We sat down with them, there was a big fight. They wanted it their way, we wanted it our way. So I found out, let's listen, let's try to cooperate, let's start working together. That's why I said to them, we join them, and that has been a very fruitful cooperation ever since.

HULA: Among the results of the collaboration: ski runs, originally planned to be cut through virgin forests, were moved instead to stands of cultivated trees. A half a ton of toxic lead bullets fired during the biathlon will be recovered after the event. Thousands of meals will be served with plates, forks, and cups made from potato starch, which will then be used as livestock fodder and fertilizer, rather than tossed into a landfill. And the use of private cars will be restricted. If such green moves are new to the Olympics this year, they may become commonplace in the future. The International Olympic Committee has recently adopted an environmental policy which requires cities bidding for the games to make plans to minimize their environmental impact. IOC member Richard Pound of Canada.

POUND: We think that sport and the Olympic Movement have their own role to play in raising the level of environmental consciousness, and therefore we want to be sure, and our evaluation commissions will look at the environmental aspects of your games.

HULA: The new IOC policy commits the organization to use the Olympic Movement as a force to educate the world about environmental issues, to contribute to efforts for sustainable development, and to integrate environmental considerations into IOC decisions. IOC member Richard Pound says he hopes taking the environment into account in awarding future games will spur aspiring countries and cities to move more quickly to address environmental problems.

POUND: In countries where the law has not yet caught up with the public conscience, if you like, we may help move that along. And I think the mere fact that we're asking this question as part of our process is going to draw countries and cities along in a direction perhaps faster than they might otherwise have gone.

HULA: The first application of the IOC's new environmental policy will come in the 2000 Summer Olympics, awarded in September to Sydney, Australia. With the help of Greenpeace Australia, Sydney Olympic organizers have developed a set of some two dozen environmental guidelines. They include extensive recycling plants, mandatory public transit for game spectators, and some new techniques. Karla Hill is the executive director of Greenpeace Australia.

HILL: In Sydney, we've decided to use artificial wetlands in order to recycle and reuse water, up to 60 to 70%. The guidelines include a lot of other issues, in terms of the non-use of unsustainable timbers.

HULA: But among the games awarded before the new Olympic environmental policy was adopted, Lillehammer remains an exception in its green consciousness. Atlanta, for instance, has yet to declare a formal environmental plan for the summer games to be held there in 1996. Organizers in Atlanta say some environmental measures might just be too expensive. For example, they say it made economic sense to recycle the asphalt ripped from the site of the new Olympic stadium. But the seats for the new stadium might not be made of more expensive recycled plastic. The chairman of the Atlanta Games Environmental Advisory Board says his panel is growing frustrated by the inaction on their suggestions. But he hopes that with two-and-a-half years left before the '96 Games, there's still time for Atlanta to take on more of the green hue coloring Lillehammer and other future Olympic Games. For Living on Earth, I'm Ed Hula in Atlanta.

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(Music up and under)

Norway's Whaling Woes

CURWOOD: While Norway and the Olympic Committee work to have greener games, the Norwegian government is under a siege of sorts. Frustrated by the International Whaling Commission's failure to meet a 1990 deadline to evaluate the sizable population of minke whales, the Norwegians decided to go ahead on their own and resume whaling, in defiance of the IWC ban. Now with the Olympics bringing the world spotlight their way, most Norwegians, including many environmentalists, are trying to convince others that they are not environmental hypocrites. In the first of two reports on the Norwegian side of the whaling debate, Simon Dring has our story.

(Sound of sawing and hammering)

DRING: There's a lot of trolls and things prancing around to some rather strange music up in the snow-covered hills near Lillehammer these days. Sliding down the icy slopes of the ski jumps and appearing out of holes in the ground. More than 2,000 soldiers, dancers, and athletes are getting down to some serious training for the costume folk extravaganza planned for the start of the Winter Olympics. But don't worry, flower lovers, nothing's going to get trampled underfoot. The rare blue anemones that blossom here in the spring have all been moved. As one would expect, the Norwegians are being very thorough and very green about their games.

(Cross fade music/feet with hammering/sawing under)

KJELLAND: What we like to do is to add a new dimension to the Olympic Games. We wanted to be sports, culture, and environment.

DRING: Kathrine Kjelland of the Olympic Organizing Committee emphasizes that even with 3,000,000 visitors and more than 20,000 tons of waste, it will be possible to stage a reasonably green Olympics. Hard to imagine in a one-elk town like Lillehammer. But in order to preserve the sweep of the Alpine landscape here, the ice hockey rink, for example, has been carved out of the inside of a mountain. And even Coca-Cola has been persuaded to switch from glitzy red neon to more modest, wooden signs. This is the same country that hunts the minke whale?

(Sounds of Olympic venue restaurant)

NORWEGIAN JOURNALIST: It's silly of a nation like ours to stand up against the entire world and make ourselves so unpopular. If all the other nations of the world say don't kill the whales, we should say all right, we won't kill the whales.

DRING: It's a controversial subject, and one that often comes up over lunch among the journalists and eagle-eyed ecologists keeping watch on the Games. While there have been threats of protest by the anti-whalers, all from outside Norway, most Norwegians in fact support the idea of limited commercial whaling, and would agree with Kare Olerud, from the Society for the Conservation of Nature, Norway's biggest environment group.

OLERUD: If you look at the actual situation of minke whaling in Norway today, if we judge it from a scientific angle and try to be objective and not let emotions rule, we find no environmental reasons to object to the level of whaling actually done today.

DRING: They don't serve whale meat in this Olympic restaurant, but they do have reindeer steak: choice cuts from an animal some would say is just as wide-eyed and cuddly as the whales. And herein lies the nub of the pro-whaling argument. The whale should not be treated as a sacred cow. And if there's enough minke in the northeast Atlantic, estimates are more than 87,000, then why can't they be hunted in sustainable numbers?

(Sound of phone ringing; voice answers: "Greenpeace...")

DRING: Greenpeace is the lone voice of protest among environmental groups in Norway. But abroad, it's the leader of many. Ingrid Berthinussen in the Greenpeace office in Oslo says that central to their argument is fear of the slippery slope. The belief that to allow even commercial hunting of minke would eventually undermine the ability of the International Whaling Commission, the IWC, to protect any of the world's whales. But why should we care so much?

BERTHINUSSEN: I think we should, we should care so much because these are the species on Earth that have been formed, and hunted down one by one, species by species. And the minke whales are the last healthy population. I mean, even this, this minke world population that the Norwegians are hunting, has declined by 50% at least.

DRING: Greenpeace, whose campaign is aimed at ending all whale hunting, says Norway's much-publicized plans for the Olympics are little more than government hypocrisy: a green smokescreen. But it's backed away from the idea of demonstrating at the Winter Games, concentrating instead on taking action focused on Norway itself. For example, their boycott of Norwegian exports has, they claim, already cost the country more than $67 million. Now, they plan to step up their protests.

BERTHINUSSEN: You already see, in the U.K., in Germany, I mean the U.K. of 200 local groups going out and start consumer boycotts. Same in Germany. So yeah, Greenpeace is really going to step up over the year and to towards the next side of the sea meeting. And if Norway continues whaling against the will of the IWC, we probably will step up even further.

(TV News music and broadcast)

DRING: It's a debate that's run for many months on Norwegian TV and in the press. The government denies they've broken any international regulations, maintaining it was their legal right to stand back from the IWC moratorium on whaling. They emphasize that the decision to continue the hunt was in line with recommendations already put forward by IWC scientists. Karsten Klepsvik is Norway's representative to the IWC, a roving ambassador whose office is charged with winning 'round world opinion.

KLEPSVIK: The International Whaling Commission, when it decided on the moratorium back in 1982, it also said that by 1990, the latest, they would undertake a comprehensive assessment of the whale stocks to come up with a new regime for how to handle these stocks. They didn't follow up on this, and definitely, the reason why they have not done it, is, in our view, more political than scientific. And we cannot accept that attitude.

DRING: Such a principled stand might turn out to be very expensive. There's now the threat of sanctions against Norway's $2 billion a year export trade with the United States. Even though President Clinton has deferred a decision, he's obliged, under the 1967 Fisherman's Act, to eventually take action. Off the record, US diplomats in Oslo say the President's been backed into a corner by the strength of public opinion, as well as by the law. They believe the environmentalists have manipulated the situation, using emotional fiction to override scientific fact. Ambassador Klepsvik puts it more bluntly, accusing Greenpeace of lying about the success of their boycott.

KLEPSVIK: We do not have proof of any single contract that has been lost as, because of whaling. Not a single contract. What Greenpeace claims, in this connection, is simply not the truth.

(Sound of Tram in busy Oslo street)

DRING: Certainly, business is booming on the streets of Norway these days, and there's little evidence to support the Greenpeace claims. Concern, yes, but a flat denial, for example, from the company that was supposed to have lost an order with General Motors worth $13 million.

(STREET MUSICIAN in downtown Oslo: "I live through the whales from the South through the North. And the wind today is blowing past my door...")

DRING: With excitement about the Winter Olympics mounting, even the street musicians in this country sing about Norway and its favorite role in life. A caring socialist society building bridges between worlds. As far as Greenpeace is concerned, it's all a sham, and they accuse Mrs. Gro Brundtland, Norway's famously green Prime Minister, of harpooning herself in the foot. Ingrid Berthinussen again.

BERTHINUSSEN: We used to have the environmental minister of the world. It was for herself who were standing at the environmental conference in Rio in '92 saying that this is our last chance, we have to cooperate. And three weeks later she's going off saying, we're gonna kill the whales no matter what the international agreement says. I mean, she's making a joke out of herself.

DRING: Bjorn Bore, of Nature & Youth, another Norwegian conservation group, agrees that Norway is no paragon of ecological virtue, and that the resumption of whaling may seem to be at odds with the country's supposedly green image. But in fact, he says, it's a decision based on sound environmental principles.

BORE: When you start to go into the whaling issue and see the so-called facts and arguments that are used by the anti-whaling movement, you suddenly get more and more pro-whaling. Because this issue goes to the core of environmentalism, because it's, it's about what kind of environmentalism do we want? Do we want a museum-like conservation movement, or do we want an environmental movement based on interaction, based on the principles of the ecosystem?

DRING: We must think again, say Norway's environmentalists, about the way we interact with nature, not just how we preserve it. It's not reasonable to expect that everybody should share the same moral and ethical values about whales. Greenpeace insists that the only ethic is the one that will ensure the current moratorium is turned into a permanent and enforceable ban. Behind the scenes, US diplomats believe the tide is turning in favor of officially-sanctioned commercial whaling, albeit on a very limited scale. The Norwegian government, flying the flag of Olympic greenness and scientific logic, is convinced time is on their side, and they're going for gold on this one. For Living on Earth, this is Simon Dring in Oslo.

Back to top

(STREET MUSICIAN: "On the peak of the mountains to the depths of the ocean, all that is in the living planet...")

CURWOOD: We'd like to hear what you think about the debate over whaling, or about anything else you hear on our program. Call our listener comment line at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or you can send your comments to Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes of the program are also available for $10 each.

(Music up and under)

Environmental Justice in the Southeast

CURWOOD: A doctor working for the US Environmental Protection Agency conducts a study showing that toxic waste disproportionately affects African-American neighborhoods in the Chattanooga, Tennessee, area. The reward for his research? His report is rewritten and watered down, and he is reassigned from his job. The physician, Dr. John Stockwell, who is also preparing to look for evidence of environmental racism in two dozen other areas in the South, has accused the EPA of censorship, and his dismissal is now being probed. Reporter Scott Bronstein broke the Stockwell story last fall in the Atlanta Constitution. He says Dr. Stockwell's research in Chattanooga came up with some pretty stark results.

BRONSTEIN: The link was essentially toxic hot spots and the communities where they fell, and the areas where they fell were precisely those that Stockwell felt were in fact least able to cope with those kinds of pollutants. They were the low-income, non-white, uneducated areas. Dr. Stockwell invented a computer model to do this kind of testing, and he had intentions of doing it all across the Southeast. And he had already mapped out a plan to do it at basically two dozen cities across the Southeast, which he felt were particularly important.

CURWOOD: Why has the EPA suppressed his report?

BRONSTEIN: The EPA says that they are not suppressing his report. Dr. Stockwell feels very much that he's being censored. As to why, it's somewhat of a mystery. I think it really does get to the heart of what the EPA's mission is, and the kind of work that Dr. Stockwell does. And the fact that EPA Region IV in the South doesn't feel comfortable with controversy. For the last several administrations, this region of the country and this EPA has worked very closely with industry, and has come under a lot of criticism for not being a hard-hitting agency. I think this kind of work that Dr. Stockwell does makes them uncomfortable down here, partly for those reasons.

CURWOOD: Meaning that Dr. Stockwell's work will embarrass industry.

BRONSTEIN: I think that that's part of it. Not only will Dr. Stockwell's work embarrass industry, but Stockwell's work has the potential to embarrass EPA. You have here a physician that's talking about analyzing two dozen cities across the Southeast for potential toxic hot spots, and areas where sectors of the population that are poor and minority may have been egregiously harmed, or may have been at least potentially exposed to serious contaminants. It doesn't look too good for the agency that's supposed to be protecting the public and the environment.

CURWOOD: Now recently, President Clinton named John Hankinson, who I gather has worked with Carol Browner, or knows Carol Browner, to run Region IV. What kind of difference do you think this will make?

BRONSTEIN: I think Hankinson's appointment, really is the most significant shift in the position of a top environmental official down here in more than ten years. He does come from a strong background of enforcement and activism. He does not willingly compromise on environmental issues. And it also bodes particularly well for people like Stockwell. By Hankinson coming in, there's a good chance that Stockwell's star may rise again.

CURWOOD: In the Southeast, Scott, we have now the Chattanooga controversy, this report from Dr. Stockwell. We have the appointment of John Hankinson, an environmental activist, to run the region now for the EPA. And we have the EPA Administrator herself, Carol Browner, initiating the civil rights reviews in the South: in Mississippi, in Alabama, Louisiana. I guess Louisiana isn't quite in this district, but those other two states are. What do you think is going to happen to the Southeast region of the EPA with all this activity?

BRONSTEIN: I think the Southeast is slated for some serious changes and upheaval, to be honest with you. Let me give you a little bit of perspective if I can, Steve. The eight Southeastern states in EPA, which are Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, the two Carolinas, and Kentucky, taken as a block, represent some of the most heavily-polluted areas in the country. Any way you measure, the Southeast stands out for its pollution. Of the fifteen worst states, in terms of total releases of toxic pollution into the air, land, and water, one third of the states are from the Southeast. of the ten states with the most hazardous toxic waste generated, half were from the Southeast. Yet, the Southeast is also one of the most sensitive regions in the United States. In the Southeast, there are more sensitive wetlands and endangered species than any other region in the US. Frequently, wetlands and water issues are really the big issue here in the Southeast, and those are the kinds of things that are probably going to get a lot of attention. Another area that Hankinson has to look at, and I'm sure he'll be interested in looking at, is this whole question of environmental racism. A lot of the sites are down here. John Hankinson is going to be right in the middle of all that, and John Hankinson will have to address environmental racism and environmental justice issues here in the Southeast, probably more than any other region in the country.

CURWOOD: Scott Bronstein covers the environment for the Atlanta Constitution. He spoke with us from the studios of WABE in Atlanta.

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