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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

January 13, 1995

Air Date: January 13, 1995

SEGMENTS

The Outlook for Republican Cooperation

Host Steve Curwood interviews William Reilly, head of the EPA in the Bush Adminstration, on his projections for the 104th Congress. Reilly gives some perspective on what common ground lies between conservative and more moderate Republicans in the term ahead and what Democrats ought to expect. (08:25)

Doom and Gloom or Smile and Denial? / Andy Schmookler

Commentator Andy Schmookler theorizes on whether preservation or plunder is the best approach towards resources and nature. (03:04)

Listeners on Microbial Diversity

In response to a recent story, listeners speak out for and against the lowly microbes. (02:25)

Yankees, Come Visit! / Martha Honey

Martha Honey reports on the new buzz word in Cuba: "eco-tourism." Careful planning out of concern for the environment is helping this industry to grow. If the travel ban is lifted, Cuba hopes to attract more environmentally minded American travellers. (07:32)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1994 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: Fred Echols, Terry Fitzpatrick, Martha Honey
GUEST: William Reilly
COMMENTATOR: Andrew Bard Schmookler

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

As the new Republican Congress settles down to work, some predict a conservative environmental backlash, in the style of former Interior Secretary James Watt and former EPA chief Ann Gorsuch. But some GOP observers say that's unlikely.

REILLY: Once before, back in the early Reagan Administration, the Republican administration caused the country at least to think that they were not just pursuing new means, but abandoning the goals of environmental protection. And quickly discovered that wasn't going to work. They got their heads handed to them. They're smart people, I think, running this Congress, and I don't think they're going to make that mistake.

CURWOOD: Also, getting perspective on gloomy environmental forecasts. And Cuba's bid to put on a sunny face, literally, with an eco-tourism campaign. This week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. A top secret Air Force base is the focus of a criminal investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department. U.S. News and World Report says officials are looking into alleged violations of Federal environmental statutes at the Nevada base known as Area 51, which the Air Force won't even acknowledge exists. The criminal probe follows 2 civil lawsuits filed by a group of anonymous current and former workers. They charge they were exposed to hazardous wastes which were illegally transported to Area 51 and burned in open pits there. Neither the EPA nor the Justice Department would confirm the existence of the investigation.

The largest US study of the effects of electromagnetic radiation has linked it to brain cancer, but the study failed to corroborate earlier research linking EMFs to leukemia. University of North Carolina scientists studied almost 139,000 electric utility workers and found that those most exposed to electromagnetic fields were at greater risk of developing brain cancer but not leukemia. This is the opposite of an earlier study of thousands of Canadian and French utility workers who were found to be at an increased risk of leukemia but not brain cancer. Other smaller studies have linked EMFs to both diseases. The latest survey, funded by the industry-backed Electric Power Research Institute, appears in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Motorists and lawmakers are up in arms over EPA requirements for tougher inspections of auto emissions. Protests have occurred in a half dozen states including Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. In Virginia, the governor has taken the issue to court. From WVTF in Roanoke, Fred Echols reports.

ECHOLS: Saying the time has come to stand up to the Environmental Protection Agency, Virginia Governor George Allen has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Federal sanctions designed to force compliance with EPA regulations. The action comes after a year in which Allen has battled with EPA officials over Virginia's air pollution permitting program and vehicles emissions testing in the smoggy DC suburbs. Virginia could lose a billion dollars in Federal highway money if its emissions testing plan fails to pass Federal muster, and EPA is threatening to take direct control of the air pollution permitting in the state. Meanwhile, Texas officials say they'll ask for changes in tailpipe testing regulations after protests by motorists there, and several bills have been introduced in the Minnesota legislature that would change or abolish an emissions testing program. EPA officials say they're trying to be reasonable, but they stress the regulations will be enforced. For Living on Earth, I'm Fred Echols in Roanoke, Virginia.

NUNLEY: The US Supreme Court will hear a case on whether the habitat of endangered species is protected by Federal law. The interior department wants the high court to overturn a ruling that the endangered species act protects only rare plants or animals, not the habitat in which they live. The case was brought by a coalition of Oregon developers who claim the Federal government has no jurisdiction over their private property, as long as they do not physically hurt an endangered species. Preservation of wildlife habitat is a cornerstone of the Interior Department's ecosystem-wide species protection efforts, which could be seriously threatened by a ruling against the government.

Efforts to save coho salmon in the Pacific Northwest are in high gear this month now that spawning season is under way. In urbanized areas near Seattle, volunteers are working to restore the fish. Terry Fitzpatrick reports.

(Running stream water, followed by metal being positioned)

FITZPATRICK: Many streams in the Pacific Northwest are becoming less productive for salmon spawning. But the problem is worst in urban areas because of pollution and drastic fluctuations in water flow. So, the Seattle suburb of Bellevue this month is helping the fish by planting 30,000 coho salmon eggs. Joe Harlicker and Virginia Seaton volunteer for the project.

FITZPATRICK: Why are you doing this?

HARLICKER: Because I'm first of all an avid salmon fisher. And we're eventually, if somebody didn't do something, we just kill all the fish, there would be no fish in Puget Sound.

SEATON: If the salmon will come up here and spawn I think, you know, anything we can do to help them is worth it.

FITZPATRICK: The eggs came from a hatchery, but the fish will be considered wild since they'll hatch and mature in open water. Planting salmon eggs is part of a year-round campaign to improve local streams. Biologist Deborah Dahling coordinates the program.

DAHLING: The city would not be able to do this without the help of concerned and committed citizens. And not only that, this provides the citizens an opportunity to have a personal interaction with the resource.

FITZPATRICK: This is the fourth year Bellevue is planting salmon eggs. But because the fish take 3 years to mature, it's too early to tell if the program will be a success. For Living on Earth, I'm Terry Fitzpatrick in Bellevue, Washington.

NUNLEY: That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)

The Outlook for Republican Cooperation

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. As the 104th Congress gets underway, most of the attention has been on likely flash points between the 2 parties. But when one looks at environmental issues, the most important fights probably won't be between the Democrats and the GOP, but among the Republicans themselves. Alongside the large new group of conservative lawmakers, there's also a powerful group of veteran Republican moderates, especially in the Senate, where Rhode Island's John Chaffee, Oregon's Mark Hatfield, and Vermont's Jim Jeffords are long-time advocates of environmental regulation who are now in key positions of power. William Reilly headed the Environmental Protection Agency during the Bush Administration. He's now a Visiting Professor at Stanford University. I asked him how he expects environmental issues to play out in the new Republican Congress.

REILLY: Well, there are two ways of looking at the environment. One is to say that the protections that we've built up over the years have required a great deal of government control and intrusion. And they're part and parcel of the bureaucratic excesses that a lot of people who have just been elected to Congress have run against. And so, from that perspective, they're likely to have problems with EPA, with a lot of the environmental laws that are on the books. There is another way of looking at it, and I think some conservatives historically have taken this approach, and that is that - that conserving the natural resources, the productive ecosystems on which all life depends, is the very essence of conservatism. Is serious, responsible. And not only that, but our efforts to do this over the past 20 years have been the greatest success story in modern governmental history in the United States, of which we ought to be proud. Now, I can recall a conversation I had with Newt Gingrich, just probably a few months after I took office in 1989 as EPA Administrator. When he looked at the condition of the party and said to me, he said, "You know, you are going to have a more difficult time than almost everybody else in the Bush Administration. Because our party has been hearing for the last 8 years at least that your issue, the environmental issue, is a trivial issue. Or worse, it's a Democratic issue." But he said, "As I understand what you're doing, you are reframing that issue and looking for new means to solve environmental problems. With economic incentives, with science-based standards, voluntary programs, comparative risk assessment, cost-benefit analysis." And the message that I would deliver to this Congress is, let's redirect our environmental energies into these kinds of approaches. They have the support of mayors and governors. They can continue to command support from the public at large, which by the way, shows no signs of losing interest or support for the environment.

CURWOOD: Who do you think are going to be the most important players in the environment in Capitol Hill during the 104th Congress?

REILLY: We're obviously going to see the new leadership in the House play a significant role. I think they are likely to take on the Superfund Reauthorization. It's a statute that has to be reauthorized in this Congress. The money is going to run out under the Taxing Authority this year. So that's likely to be a major issue on the part of speaker Gingrich and majority leader Army. You will see some of the new committee chairmen play key roles. Congressman Tom Blyly of Virginia is going to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee with somewhat reduced authority. My sense is that we're going to see an across-the-board effort to rein in unfunded mandates and to pass fairly early in the new Congress a requirement that any new regulation that's promulgated out of Washington be accompanied by assistance from the Federal Government. If it's to be, if it's to entail cost, that obviously could impact across the board on many environmental laws.

CURWOOD: Let's talk a bit about the Senate panel on the environment. The Environment Public Works Committee is chaired now by John Chaffee of Rhode Island. And a number of environmental activists really like his record. But the panel that he's leading has a number of people that would have lower ratings from environmental activists. What do you think he's going to be able to do?

REILLY: Well you know those - those ratings in my view disregard the fact that some of the people whose ratings haven't been so great have been terrific on key aspects of our environmental achievements over the years. Senator Alan Simpson, for example, of Wyoming, was critical to our passing the Clean Air Act in the form that we have it. Senator Domenici gave us great support on that. Senator Chaffee's an old hand, a very sophisticated, experienced, and savvy legislative operator. I think he's going to be sensitive to some of the priorities that we, that we see identified in the House. He's obviously heard the same message that much the rest of the Congress has heard about the need to downsize government and have more cost-effective government. But I think he's also likely to be friendly to the kind of approach I've just outlined, where you do ask, are there real problems associated with this problem we're going to try to correct? How does it compare with other problems that we might spend the money on? Is it worth it? You ask those kinds of questions, I think you have the basis for downsizing to some degree. Even the EPA operation. But getting it more focused, getting it more directed in solving some of these problems.

CURWOOD: One of the issues that's been coming up a lot, as we've talked to people in the incoming Congress, is the Endangered Species Act. What do you think will happen with the Endangered Species Act on Capitol Hill this time?

REILLY: I think there's very likely, frankly, to be a standoff on Endangered Species. The Wise Use Movement and some of the more ideologically fervent critics of that law have cast the issue as one that they really intend to make a great deal of. And I think to some degree have caricatured the law. On the other hand, the law is out of date. It needs reform; it needs to be adjusted to what we now understand about species' needs and habitat requirements. It needs to take a regional approach rather than just looking, one, at species by species when the wreck is about to occur. There are significant forces in Congress, I think, that are not simply going to ask the question, "What's wrong with this law?" but, "How can we continue to accord species protection while we promote economic growth and development and jobs?" And to the extent you ask that question, I think you'll get a more acceptable and probably enactable reform of that law.

CURWOOD: What advice do you have for the present EPA chief Carol Browner? How should she be preparing for this session?

REILLY: You know, I think the issue coming up in this Congress with respect to any number of pieces of legislation can be framed in terms of ends versus means. She could choose to defend a whole welter of environmental laws and approaches that by and large have been successful. In my view, though, that would be a mistake. The kinds of approaches that have brought us as far as we've come, I don't think are so suited to deal with the problems we've got right now. Back 20-some years ago, the major problem we had, say, with respect to pollution, was a small number, a relatively small number, of extremely large sources of pollution. Those problems have largely been addressed. They're either under control or under court order or government directive to get under control. The big problem we've got now is individual behavior, or smaller businesses, dry cleaners, gas stations, print, printing companies, that now in the aggregate add up to a number of problems. Those are a different kind of problem, and I think they're suitable for different kinds of solutions. I would also, if I were running EPA now, acknowledge that this Congress is not just creating this sense of excessive governmental intrusion and bureaucracy out of whole cloth. It's the country that's concerned, and the governors and the mayors. I think I would start looking to cooperate in reforming some of the environmental laws on the books, and hope that the Republicans in Congress remember that once before, back in the early Reagan Administration, the Republican administration caused the country at least to think that they were not just pursuing new means, but abandoning the goals of environmental protection. And quickly discovered that wasn't going to work. They got their heads handed to them. They're smart people, I think, running this Congress, and I don't think they're going to make that mistake.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking all of this time with us today. William Reilly was head of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Bush Administration. Thank you, sir.

REILLY: You're very welcome.

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Doom and Gloom or Smile and Denial?

CURWOOD: As the country's leadership turns sharply to the right, commentator Andrew Bard Schmookler has some thoughts on the future of environmental policy.

SCHMOOKLER: I'm in no position to make an independent judgment on the scenarios of global warming or ozone depletion, or food and population imbalance. But with uncertainty inescapable, I know where I'll place my bet in the debate between repent and change, and business as usual. Consider first which side is more likely willfully to distort the science. These days we hear a growing chorus of voices that dismiss the environmentalists as purveyors of doom and gloom, who have made an industry out of conjuring up threats to our future. But the bright, highly educated people I know in the environmental movement could have made much more money in some other job than prophet of doom.

And what about the other side? The greatest powers of the modern world are entrenched on the side of, "Don't worry, be happy." I don't know whether the growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere threaten in the next century to ruin the climate that now grows our bread. But I do know how much bread is in the pockets of those with a vested interest in our continuing to burn fossil fuels.

It's no surprise to me that there are scientists getting significant air time to deny that any scientific consensus exists on one scenario of danger or another. If there were great corporations with a vested interest in our believing the earth to be flat, you can bet that scientists would be found to argue that the blue ball photographed from our space ships is but an optical illusion.

There's one more point. Let's say we were to judge the question of plausibility to be a toss-up. How should we call the coin? The environmentalist David Orr recalls the famous wager of the French philosopher Blaise Pascal. Uncertain whether there is a God who rewards the good and punishes the wicked, Pascal decided that prudence dictated that he act as if there were such a God. If it turned out there were none, he'd have lost little. But if there were such a God, but he acted as if there were not, he would pay dearly in Hell through eternity.

Likewise, if we wrongly disregard the fearless counsel of those who say "full steam ahead," our unnecessary caution will make us a bit less fabulously wealthy than we could have been. But if they prove wrong, but we have imprudently followed their reckless advice, we will find ourselves in a Hell of our own making.

We gamble, whichever way we choose. I'd rather place my bets with those who give us doom and gloom than those whose message is, "Smile and denial."

CURWOOD: Andrew Bard Schmookler is the author of The Illusion of Choice: How the Market Economy Shapes Our Destiny. He comes to us from member station WMRA in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

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What do you think? Should we prepare for worst case scenarios even if it costs more? Give us a call on our listener line at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988.

(Music up and under)

Listeners on Microbial Diversity

CURWOOD: Our story on efforts to preserve endangered microbes brought this comment from Paul Ryan, a scientist at SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania: "I agree very strongly that there should be some action to save the varied and unique environments that microorganisms inhabit," Mr. Ryan writes. "Biotechnology would be impossible without many of the organisms described in your broadcast. Many of the antibiotics and antifungal drugs we have today were discovered from such microorganisms. Thanks for tackling a difficult issue. Most bacteria and fungi are not very cute, so it may be difficult to get people excited about their futures." Indeed, this listener from Albuquerque, New Mexico, was less than excited about bringing endangered microbes into the public eye, given the divisive fights over such creatures as the spotted owls.

CALLER: The sizable portion of the public was amazed that the eco-groupies were willing to put people out of work to save an endangered species that you can see. Let's not give Rush Limbaugh any more ammunition. Just as the biosphere is intricate and complex, the solutions to the problems are more so, because the economic, political, and social concerns are interwoven into this. With Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House, it's only a matter of time before James Watt is resurrected. As they say in Alaska, it's time to wake up and smell the low tide.

Back to top

CURWOOD: The number again, for your comments, is 1-800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. And you can reach us by regular mail at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $10.

(Music up and under)

Yankees, Come Visit!

CURWOOD: Every day around this time of year, thousands of North Americans fill cruise ships and airplanes bound for the Caribbean and warm relief from winter. But they pass right by the closest and once popular destination, Cuba. Cuba's been off limits to US citizens for a generation, but with its economy in tatters the isolated Communist state is making a play for tourists willing to test the US travel ban, and for those from other Western countries which have friendlier relations with the island nation. And the key to Cuba's new tourism push isn't luxury but ecology. In the last of our recent series on Cuba's new Green Revolution, Martha Honey filed this report.

(Surf and muted conversation)

HONEY: A long, raised wooden walkway leads from the surf through the mangrove swamp on Cayo Levisa, a tiny windswept island off Cuba's northeastern coast. It's surrounded by one of Cuba's best coral reefs, but until recently it was inaccessible to tourists. Now some are starting to arrive, staying at the recently built hotel.

(A band plays salsa)

HONEY: The path ends at the small hotel on the edge of a gentle white sand beach. Over a lunch of freshly caught red snapper, the hotel manager, George Medina, uses his smattering of English to explain that the walkway was designed to minimize the environmental impact of tourism.

MEDINA: It was intentional, because it is very natural for the conservation of nature. And we're ready to develop eco-tourism.

(Applause; the performers say "Gracias!")

HONEY: Eco-tourism is the new buzzword in Cuba and throughout the travel industry. But Cubans are carefully planning their tourism expansion to minimize environmental damage. Gisela Alonso is director of Cuba's Academy of Sciences.

ALONZO: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: We don't want to have the problems of the Mediterranean and Cancun. It must not be done in a disorderly way. So we have a National Commission on Eco-Tourism made up of tourism, scientific, and environmental members. We analyze the hotel capacity, the number of tourists we can receive in those areas so that we have the least effect possible on these tourism areas.

HONEY: Alonso explains that academy scientists do environmental impact studies on all new tourist projects. For instance, before the hotel at Cayo Levisa was built, scientists surveyed the island and recommended the raised walkway, and appropriate size and construction materials for the hotel.

(Birdsong and motor vehicles)

HONEY: Cuba's newest and most innovative eco-tourist project is at the community of Las Terrazas in the rolling hills of Pinar del Rio Province. It's next to a rainforest which the United Nations has named Cuba's first biosphere reserve.

(Birdsong and waterfall)

HONEY: A tiny waterfall runs through the lobby of the new hotel. Birds nest in the large trees which shoot up through the roof. No trees were cut or hills leveled. Instead, the rambling Spanish-style hotel follows the contour of the land. And eventually, much of the hotel's electricity will be generated by solar panels.

(Ambient conversation amidst the birdsong)

HONEY: More than anyone else in Cuba, the community of Las Terrazas in this hotel are the dream of Osmani Cuenfuegos, Cuba's Minister of Tourism. He is also an architect, conservationist, and part of Castro's inner circle.

CIENFUEGOS: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: We are not going into eco-tourism because it is trendy. We're going into it because of our principles and our concern with protecting nature. The idea is that the tourists and the community together participate in all this. We think that the tourists will like that, and that it will help the community.

(More ambient conversation)

HONEY: At a meeting, community members and scientists explain that the eco-tourism project is a natural complement to their work reforesting the area around the reserve, and that the revenue will directly benefit the town.

WOMAN: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: The profits from this little tourism project will go to supporting the community's schools and the day care centers. It's not essential, but it's a supplement to our other activities within the bio reserve.

(Children speaking)

HONEY: Arnie Coro is a radio journalist and environmentalist who has long been involved in the Las Terrazas project. He says this project is an important model because the profits remain here. They are not absorbed into the central government's coffers. And, Coro says, eco-tourism is also having a positive impact on the next generation.

CORO: For example, children in that school are now aware of what bird-watching is all about. And that puts them quite ahead of a standard Cuban primary school kid.

HONEY: Cuban officials say a major factor in the success of their eco-tourism plans will be US policy. They say they need the US to lift the travel ban and allow Americans to come here. But while they point the finger outside, there are internal obstacles to success as well.

(Sounds of traffic)

HONEY: For the last 30 years everything in Cuba has been run from here, Havana, by the central government's cumbersome bureaucracy. Although the government now allows tourists to travel freely throughout the island, in reality it's very difficult. There is a lack of transportation and food. Government tour agencies remain geared to handling large package tours to beach resorts. And while they're carefully monitoring the environmental impact of all tourism projects, Cuba is still developing old-style, large-scale tourist resorts, some with the help of foreign investors. Such hotels have become magnets for prostitutes, beggars, and black marketers: problems Cuba had virtually eliminated since the Revolution. But now, like its people, the government needs every dollar it can get. So large package tourism will continue to coexist alongside its healthier cousin, eco-tourism. Marc Frank is an American economist who lives in Havana.

FRANK: In general, I think Cuba's very serious about ecology, very serious about protecting the natural environment. I think that that's not in any way a hoax. At the same time, Cuba does need to develop mass tourism, with all its negative impact, and the best they can do is try to make it as healthy as possible, but they can't stop its development because they need it in order to survive.

HONEY: Despite problems, Cuba's tourism push is helping the country survive and preserve the social programs which are the backbone of the Revolution. Tourism is up 25% since 1993, and Cuba is gaining recognition within the international tourism industry for its environmental innovations. But the success of its eco-tourism effort may ultimately hinge on Washington. On whether political changes there will allow Cuba to tap its strongest natural market for environmentally conscious travelers: the US. For Living on Earth, I'm Martha Honey.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. Our director is Deborah Stavro. Our coordinating producer is George Homey, and our associate producer is Kim Motylewski. Our production team includes Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, Julia Madeson, Jessika Bella Mura, David Dunlap, Heather Corson, Molly Glidden, and Amy Roe. We had help from engineer Jim Donahue. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Keith Shields and Frank DeAngelis. Michael Aharon composed our theme.

Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, and is recorded at the studios of WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

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