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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

February 3, 1995

Air Date: February 3, 1995


New Salmon Plan / Jennifer Schmidt

There appears to be consensus on the recent National Marine Fisheries Service plan for the replenishment of Pacific Northwest salmon stocks — no constituency likes it. Jennifer Schmidt of member station KPLU in Seattle reports. (03:00)

Winds of Change in Maine / George Homsy

Living on Earth's George Homsy reports on a proposed controversial wind farm in the Maine woods. Several conservation groups, which normally support wind power, are opposed to the plan because they fear its effects on wildlife and their habitat. (06:08)

Czech Pollution: 5 Years Later / Mark Huntley

While the economy in Czechoslovakia has vastly improved in the last five years, industrial pollution has not. Mark Huntley reports how slow the country has been to adopt clean technology. (07:14)

Poland as Clean Leader

Steve Curwood speaks with Zbigniev Bochniarz of the University of Minnesota about Poland's marked success at combining far reaching environmental objectives with economic reforms. (04:05)

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
REPORTERS: Robin Finesmith, Jennifer Schmidt, George Homsy, Mark Huntley
GUEST: Zbigniev Bochniarz

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Wind power may be clean and plentiful, but a massive wind project planned for the north Maine woods is running into stiff opposition from environmental advocates.

ST. PIERRE: This is essentially taking a large scale industrial power generating facility and putting it into one of the most fragile environments in our entire region.

CURWOOD: Also, tough new environmental regulations are cleaning up Poland's air and water, but next door in the Czech Republic, the Prime Minister advocates a free market instead of regulation.

KLAUS: Private property, Russian prices, and individual responsibility are more important for environmental protection than the activities of governments, legislators, environmental organizations.

CURWOOD: On Living on Earth; first news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley. A New Mexico tribe has rejected plans to build a nuclear waste storage facility on their land and industry representatives say that puts pressure on the Federal Government to open its own repository. The Mescalero Apaches surprised most observers when they voted against the plan, which had been endorsed by tribal leaders. The repository could have brought the tribe $250 million over the next 40 years. A spokesperson for Washington's nuclear energy institute says the Federal Government may be pressed to build a proposed facility in Yucca Flats, Nevada, to take in spent fuel from the 26 US nuclear plants that will run out of storage space in the next 3 years.

A couple of new studies may mean radical changes in how scientists predict the rate of global warming. Research from the State University of New York and California's Scripps Institute of Oceanography proves clouds are absorbing more excess heat than scientists had thought. Computer models presently used to predict climate change have had some problems figuring in the role of clouds, and researchers now must recalculate those models.

A Michigan copper company has been hit with the largest fine in the 25-year history of the Clean Air Act. But most of the $205 million penalty will be reinvested to clean up mining and smelting operations by one of the largest polluters in the Lake Superior Basin. From the Midwest Bureau of Living on Earth, Robin Finesmith reports.

FINESMITH: Two hundred million dollars of a settlement with the Copper Range Company will be devoted to a new state-of-the-art smelting facility which will reduce emissions of mercury and other toxins by up to 98%. In the past several years, mercury accumulations in Lake Superior have resulted in fish consumption advisories and elevated levels of mercury in the blood of subsistence fishermen, especially in the Anishanabe tribe. Copper Range President John Sanders says the new smelter will not only stop the pollution, but reduce the company's operating costs. He also says the lawsuit spurred the company to reinvent itself, developing a new mining technique, and finding ways to collaborate with government and the public to preserve jobs and help the environment. The settlement also calls for $4.8 million in civil penalties, $3 million of which will be used to restore damaged habitat, monitor mercury pollution in the Lake Superior Basin, and educate children on environmental issues. For Living on Earth, I'm Robin Finesmith in Cleveland.

NUNLEY: In central Mexico, the death of tens of thousands of birds may be the first big test of NAFTA's environmental enforcement powers. Since November, as many as 40,000 migratory water fowl and tropical birds have died after drinking from an irrigation reservoir in the state of Guanajuato. The government report blames the deaths on pesticides, and environmentalists point to high levels of chromium in the water: byproducts of a massive tanning industry in nearby Leon. One of the largest tanneries is owned by the governor of Guanajuato. Representatives of the national Audubon Society say it's a perfect test case. They expect to file a complaint with the new North American Commission on Environmental Cooperation. It would be the first case brought before that intergovernmental agency, which was set up as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Two influential members of Congress vow to start from scratch on Superfund's reauthorization. The chairs of subcommittees overseeing the nation's toxic waste clean-up law say they'll put aside last year's compromise between environmentalists and industry officials. New Hampshire Senator Bob Smith and Ohio Representative Michael Oxley now say everything is back on the table, including the question of who's responsible for clean-up. Currently, anyone legally connected to a polluted site is liable for some portion of its clean-up, and that's meant legal costs have taken the lion's share of Superfund money. Since the law was enacted in 1980, billions of dollars have been spent on the program, but only a fraction of the nation's 1,200 contaminated sites have been cleaned up.

While most US voters want to cut Federal spending, more than half want more money to go towards cleaning up the environment. A recent Time Magazine poll says 55% of Americans think government spending on the environment should be increased. Still, public willingness to budget for the environment is off from 1991, when 74% favored increased spending. A pollster attributes that decline to the general public sentiment for downsizing government.

Donations at a Paris sperm bank are down, literally. French researchers say sperm counts of men donating to the clinic have dropped by one third since 1973. Scientists writing in the New England Journal of Medicine say the quality and motility of human sperm cells is also decreasing. The researchers did not suggest possible causes for the decline, but other scientists say environmental pollution might be to blame. Recent research suggests that exposing animals to certain chemicals can cause decline in fertility among their offspring. Others maintain that changes in lifestyle and diet are affecting sperm counts. In an editorial accompanying the article, another scientist downplayed the importance of the study, saying sperm donors do not represent the general population.

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

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(Theme music up and under)

New Salmon Plan

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The numbers of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest have plummeted in recent years. And many species are already officially endangered. Restoring the salmon could also revive commercial and recreational fishing, but many in the region say the cost is just too high. About the only thing that environmental activists, Indian tribes, and industry groups can agree upon right now, is that none of them like the latest plan proposed by the Clinton Administration to save salmon on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. From Seattle, Jennifer Schmidt of member station KPLU has more.

SCHMIDT: After nearly a year of work, the National Marine Fisheries Service says it has come up with an affordable and financially sound plan to save the Columbia River Salmon. Spokesman Merritt Tuttle.

TUTTLE: I believe that we've done more in this particular biological canyon for Salmon than has ever been done before. It is a major change in the operation of the Columbia River system, and it's exactly what's needed to avoid extinction of these stocks.

SCHMIDT: The plan pinpoints the river's huge hydroelectric dams as the biggest threat to the salmon's survival. To help the fish through them, the Agency calls for releasing more water through spillways, which would flush young salmon out to the ocean. But environmentalists and tribe members have blasted the proposal for not going far enough. They think a big part of the solution lies in draw-downs, a drastic lowering of reservoirs to speed up the river's flow. Many scientists believe slow-moving water on the Snake River is a major killer of young salmon. Michael Rossotto of Save Our Wild Salmon says the plan avoids draw-downs because they're costly and opposed by many northwest law makers.

ROSSOTTO: I think they've come under intense political pressure, and that they are misreading the results of the November election. Rather than reading the results of the election as a citizen demand to get the job done, they are, I think, cowed at the notion that anything that takes an investment is going to be rejected by the voters.

SCHMIDT: Private industry groups are also disappointed with the opinion, although for very different reasons. Glen VanSelow of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association says there is no clear biological evidence that releasing more water into the river system will help salmon survive.

VAN SELOW: We're very much concerned that they're engaging in programs that will not be successful in rebuilding the stocks, and that those unsuccessful programs are very expensive.

SCHMIDT: The government is estimating its plan will cost rate payers an additional $160 million a year. The plan must still be approved by a Federal judge, the same judge who rejected an earlier version of the plan as grossly inadequate. For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Schmidt in Seattle.

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(Music up and under)

Winds of Change in Maine

CURWOOD: When the great hydropower dams of the Pacific Northwest were built during the Depression, few people thought much about the ecosystem destruction they might bring. Water power was deemed safe and clean. Today, wind power is being pushed as a safe and clean alternative to conventional sources of energy, but it, too, can sometimes be bad news for a local ecosystem. At least that's the concern of some environmental activists who don't want a proposed wind project in the Maine wilderness to get underway. Living on Earth's George Homsy reports.

(Open air urban street sounds)

HOMSY: By 10:30 in the morning, the temperature in downtown Portland barely reaches 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Merchants use music to entice customers to their shops, but there are few takers. Only a handful of pedestrians brave the Arctic chill that blows along Congress Street. It's the time of year that electricity usage is highest in New England. On this bitter January day, the power for electric furnaces and hot water heaters will come from a variety of sources. Coal plants, nuclear reactors, hydroelectric dams, and oil fired facilities all provide power to the region. But all of those energy sources have environmental problems. They pollute the air, or block rivers, or produce nuclear waste. A California company, Kenetech, says it can do better.

(Commercial: howling winds. Man's voice-over with dramatic music: "The wind. Powerful. Clean. A source of natural, unlimited energy. The power of the wind has shaped our history. Today, that power will shape our destiny...")

HOMSY: This corporate video goes on to describe Kenetech's electricity-generating wind farm: hundreds of sleek, airplane-like propellers, each sitting atop a tower, all connected together to produce millions of watts of power. In his Portland office high above Congress Street, Director of Business Development Chris Hurda uses a map to illustrate Kenetech's plan to put more than 600 wind turbines on remote ridges near Maine's border with Quebec. Hurda says the energy potential of the wind here is better than in California's Altamont Pass, one of the world's most renowned sources of wind power.

HURDA: As the wind coming from the northwest comes down the Quebec plain and starts climbing the foothills, and increases its velocity, making essentially the Quebec plain the beginning of a wind tunnel.

HOMSY: The plant would generate 210 megawatts of electricity. That's enough to supply 100,000 homes for a year. Hurda says most of that power will be produced in the winter, when demand for electricity in New England is highest. And, Kenetech says, its wind power is as cheap as the power produced by oil-burning plants. So, they reason, those polluting plants will have to run less. Does it sound too good to be true. For Jim St. Pierre, director of the Sierra Club's Northern Forest Campaign, it does.

ST. PIERRE: This is essentially taking a large scale industrial power generating facility and putting it into one of the most fragile environments in our entire region.

HOMSY: The power plant will be located in Maine's Boundary Mountain Range. The isolated site is 6 miles from the nearest public road. It's used by backpackers and snowmobilers. Mostly, it's timber country. The Sierra Club, along with the National Audubon Society and the Wilderness Society, all support wind power in general. But they worry that this project will spark other development in the northern forest, driving out many species such as hawks, bobcats, black bears, and the golden eagle. The Sierra Club's Jim St. Pierre.

ST. PIERRE: It's a tough call, because there are other wind power projects that are going to be coming along, and there are other development projects for high mountain areas that are going to be coming along. And it's going to be very difficult for the public agencies to say yes to this one and no to others that are going to be coming along.

HOMSY: St. Pierre wants Maine to delay the Kenetech project for a year, while the state studies other potential wind sites. But not all conservation groups oppose the project. Beth Nargusky is a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

NARGUSKY: There were trade-offs that had to be made, and we feel that the benefits of this project in terms of backing out oil and coal power plants, and proving a new source of energy so that we can retire our aging nuclear power plants with a cleaner energy source. But those benefits outweighed the costs of this project.

HOMSY: Nargusky's organization, along with the Conservation Law Foundation, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the Maine chapter of the Audubon Society, have agreed to support Kenetech's proposal. In return, Kenetech will work to make sure the wind turbines don't hurt bird populations. And they've agreed to fund studies of golden eagle habitats and migration in the region. The state is expected to rule on the Kenetech wind plant by this spring. Regardless of the outcome, project supporter Dan Sosland of the Conservation Law Foundation says the issue has forced an important debate.

SOSLAND: The fact of it is any energy source is going to have some impact. And in this particular case we were willing to say that we are in such dire need to change our energy system that you can't just say the land use implications mean that you shouldn't build this project. Similarly, you can't just say that the energy value is so important that you have to ignore the land use impacts. I mean, what this project has done is challenge groups to strive toward some sort of balance between 2 environmental goals which in a sense may compete or conflict in this particular case.

HOMSY: In cases like the Maine wind project, reaching that balance will mean someone's agenda must be sacrificed. So as new, renewable energy sources become more popular, some environmentalists may find they are compromising, not with their traditional adversaries in government or industry, but with each other. For Living on Earth, I'm George Homsy.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Blow some wind in our direction. Our phone number is 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or you can write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Our Internet address is LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. Transcripts and tapes are $10.

Czech Pollution: 5 Years Later

CURWOOD: Five years ago, the Velvet Revolution swept the Communist regime of the former Czechoslovakia out of power, and the world began to see the full extent of the ecological destruction wrought by decades of Communist production. Today, the Czech Republic is a shining example of modern free-market capitalism, with a thriving stock market, widespread deregulation, and an economy that boasts the best growth among the former Eastern Bloc nations. But as Mark Huntley reports from Prague, the country's ecological recovery has been far slower to take hold.

(A child cries and gags)

HUNTLEY: At the Children's Hospital of Most, a city in the north Bohemia region of the Czech Republic, a young boy lies confined to a respirator, which supplies his weakened lungs with oxygen. He is one of many infants here suffering form asthma and other respiratory afflictions caused by the burning of low-quality brown coal mined nearby.

(Machinery in motion)

HUNTLEY: Just outside Most, dozens of massive, tentacled mining machines gnaw into what soil remains intact after 40 years of intensive mining. Trains cart the coal across the exposed grey-brown subsoil to nearby power plants belching untreated smoke. In the Communist past these smokestacks were symbols of progress. Now they're glaring reminders of how little has changed in environmental terms. Five years after the Velvet Revolution, north Bohemia remains a severely damaged human and natural environment. And it's only the worst in a litany of ecological challenges facing the Republic. Heavily-polluted water sources, leaky toxic waste sites, and other lurking disasters, dot the countryside.

(Men's voices calling to each other)

HUNTLEY: Sixty miles away on Wenceslas Square in downtown Prague, BMWs and Mercedes cruise past Benetton, K-Mark, and McDonald's storefronts.


HUNTLEY: Life in the capital has changed in 5 years. It's hard to argue with the Czech economic miracle. As other former Socialist countries sink into a miasma of unemployment and hyper-inflation, the Czechs' ambitious economic reforms have brought quick privatization, low unemployment and inflation, and lots of foreign investors. The primary practitioner of the Czech miracle is Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. An economist, his answer to the Republic's environmental problems is the same as his answer to most of its others: free markets and a hands-off government.

KLAUS: [Speaks in Czech]
TRANSLATOR: By dismantling Communism, and by creating a free society and market economy, we have undoubtedly made the most important contribution to improving the quality of life. Private property, Russian prices, and individual responsibility are more important for environmental protection than the activities of governments, legislators, and of environmental organizations.

HUNTLEY: Klaus and his Civic Democratic Party are conservatives in the Margaret Thatcher mold. Their laissez-faire philosophy espouses that regulations are the problem, not the solution. Where environmental regulations and emissions limits are on the books, enforcement funds are lacking and fines are too low to have much impact or effect. Officials say that the government is working, and with limited public funds, to move the country away from heavily-polluting enterprises. But they all stress the importance of private action over public policies. Critics acknowledge the country's impressive economic success, but contend that the government is ignoring crucial environmental and economic problems. Eva Kruzikova is Director of the Institute for Environmental Policy.

KRUZIKOVA: Our economy is still energy-demanding, material-demanding and polluting at the same extent as it was before, and if there is an improvement, for example, some decrease of emissions, it's not because of some cleaning measures. But it's rather the recession and decrease of production.

HUNTLEY: Kruzikova asserts that experience in the West has shown it unrealistic for governments to expect individuals and industry to regulate themselves. Five years ago, there was an expectation that the problems of north Bohemia and other damaged areas could be cleaned up with a leap from outdated, inefficient polluting industry to new, efficient, green technology. That hasn't happened. Where change is occurring, it's mostly from one conventional source to another. The Czechs are slowly closing polluting coal plants, but will replace their capacity by resurrecting a half-completed Soviet-designed nuclear power plant. Foreign aid could be looked at as a source of enlightened environmental policy, but for many working to clean up regions like North Bohemia, it seems that much of the aid flowing into the Czech Republic is going to pay Western contractors to study what already seems quite evident to those on the ground. Margo Banner is a US Peace Corps volunteer working with an environmental organization in North Bohemia.

BANNER: Even the Czech people in general, I think, are tired about hearing about another study.

HUNTLEY: What do they want?

BANNER: Well, they would rather see scrubbers put on the smokestacks, cleaning up of toxic landfills. These things that are affecting people's health right now.

HUNTLEY: But even many activists acknowledge that it's not just a lack of money, resources, and government commitment that prolong Czech environmental problems. It's also a lack of real public concern. Immediately after the Velvet Revolution, the environment was the number one concern voiced in public opinion polls. Now allowed to participate in politics, the Czech public's interest has moved elsewhere. Jindrich Petrlik, head of Children of the Earth in the Republic, explains.

PETRLIK: I feel that Czech people, unfortunately, are now much more interested in their own financial situation or social situation. Environment is in fifth or sixth place.

HUNTLEY: While Czech citizens concentrate on the opportunities and concerns of living in an open society - money, crime, health care costs - the Czech government is making some incremental moves on the environmental front. In 3 years, stricter emissions limits passed by the first post-Communist cabinet, will come into effect, and the government has so far resisted industry calls to push them back. But the biggest agent of change could come through the Czech bid to join the European Union, and the tougher environmental standards that would require. EU membership for the Czechs looks realistic for some time after the year 2000. As Czech membership nears, the EU will require a program of environmental changes and likely provide aid to meet those goals, and start to push Czech ecological standards to a higher level. For Living on Earth, I'm Mark Huntley in Prague.

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Poland as Clean Leader

CURWOOD: While the Czech government's environmental record may have fallen short of some expectations, the country is still doing better than some of its neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe. Bulgaria and Romania, for instance, have yet to pass basic environmental laws. But perhaps Eastern Europe's leader in environmental reform is Poland. The country which led the way out of the Soviet sphere is now setting the standard for cutting pollution and improving infrastructure. According to University of Minnesota researchers, industrial pollution in Poland has fallen about 30% in 5 years, and 900 new water treatment plants have been built. Zbigniev Bochniarz is a Polish-trained economist who is now director of the University of Minnesota's Environmental Training Project. He says the integration of environmental and economic reforms in Poland has been the key to its environmental successes.

BOCHNIARZ: The major achievement of Poland is integration of environmental issues with economic and social issues. They even use the term sustainable development as a strategy for Poland.

CURWOOD: Okay, so can you give me some examples of how they did this?

BOCHNIARZ: The best example is, Poland environmental protection was put on self-financing base, which is predictable, which is stable, which does not depend on political fighting in the Parliament. It means that about 92% of all expenditures are out of budget. They are coming from special funds created from environmental charges and fines for pollution as well as for extraction of natural resources. They created a capital market which is now more than $1 billion, and which is about 1.3% of Gross Domestic Product. Which is very significant.

CURWOOD: What else did Poland do to give it the lead on the environment in Central Europe, in your view?

BOCHNIARZ: They created an environment which made enterprises interested in a reduction of emissions and investing in clean technologies, and in energy conservation. The price of liberalization and slashing of energy subsidies helped the environment very much.

CURWOOD: These are a lot of important changes. Why was Poland able to do this?

BOCHNIARZ: First of all, because the environmental economists were able to translate environmental objectives into the language of economic reforms. They spoke the same language as people from the Finance Ministry, and they convinced them that the environment should be a part of the big transition.

CURWOOD: What are the biggest problems still facing Poland in the environment today?

BOCHNIARZ: One of the problems is, the Western-style consumerism is really reducing the results, positive results coming from the industry. Industrial pollution is going down, but pollution from transportation, particularly from individual cars, is dramatically increasing. During the 40 years, the number of cars increased by 50%. So can you imagine the pollution coming out?

CURWOOD: What's your prescription for Poland and the other nations in Central Europe, then, to improve the environment?

BOCHNIARZ: In general, we need to take advantage of market and democratic reforms. We need to build in the environment to economic concerns, to political concerns. Not fighting with these changes, but somehow embrace them, would be my advice.

CURWOOD: Zbigniev Bochniarz is Director of the Environmental Training Project for Central and Eastern Europe at the University of Minnesota. Thank you, sir.

BOCHNIARZ: Thank you very much.

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(Music up and under, a Chopin Nocturne)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth's production team includes Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, Julia Madeson, Jessika Bella Mura, Heather Corson, David Dunlap, and Alex Garcia-Rangel. Our coordinating producer is George Homsy and our associate producer is Kim Motylewski. The program is directed by Deborah Stavro. The editor and producer is Peter Thomson. Our WBUR engineers are Louis Cronin and Mark Navin. Special thanks to Jim Donahue. The theme music was composed by Michael Aharon.

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

ANNOUNCER: Major contributors to Living on Earth include all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt - whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; the Great Lakes Protection Fund; the George Gund Foundation; and the Bullitt Foundation for Northwest reporting.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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