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

April 28, 1995

Air Date: April 28, 1995


More Bomb Blasts: Anti-Environmentalism / Terry Fitzpatrick

Strong anti-government feeling drove the massive destruction in Oklahoma City and may also be a force behind the recent bombing of a U.S. Forest Service facility in Carson City, Nevada. The County’s Movement, which champions local control over federal land has links to the right wing, Wise Use and Militia Movements, and some say they have fostered an environment of fear in Carson City among forest service workers. The County Movement leaders claim the attacks were staged by the government. Terry Fitzpatrick reports. (05:00)

Mapping Extremism

Anti-environment violence expert Daniel Barry speaks with host Steve Curwood about the ties between the Wise Use movement and anti-government militia groups. (05:36)

LOE Profile Series #2: Phil Shabecoff


Portland's Public Bikes / Patrick Cox


Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1995 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: Steve Inskeep, Michael Lawton, Terry FitzPatrick, Patrick Cox
GUEST: Daniel Berry

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

As the alleged Oklahoma City bombers are being linked to a radical fringe of the right wing, there have been recent bombings of Federal environmental and resource agencies in Nevada, a stronghold of the anti-environmentalist Wise Use Movement. No one has claimed responsibility for the Nevada bombings or been charged in the cases. A county official does say the Federal Government is not welcome on his territory, and as far as he is concerned, the Feds have no standing to enforce laws on Federal lands.

CARVER: Bureaucrats out here have no criminal law enforcement jurisdiction. They don't have a right to stop people on the highway or in a canyon. That's the type of action that we're afraid somebody's going to get hurt.

CURWOOD: The shared ideology of anti-green extremists and the anti-government Militia Movement on Living on Earth. First this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. Federal and state authorities continue to investigate a chemical plant explosion in northern New Jersey that killed 4 workers. Officials blame inattention or incompetence for the blast, which sent toxic fumes into the air and poisoned a nearby river. From WBGO, Steve Inskeep reports.

INSKEEP: Authorities in Lodi, New Jersey, say they'll never allow the Knapp Chemical Company to rebuild its plant, which stood a short distance from residential neighborhoods. Knapp Chemical denies any wrongdoing, but investigators say company employees all but ignored a problem with smoldering chemicals for a full 12 hours before a huge blast tore apart the factory. A cloud of chemical smoke that stretched for miles forced evacuations. Firefighters dumped thousands of gallons of water and foam on the blaze, but those liquids mixed with chemicals ran off into the nearby Saddle River, killing hundreds of fish. Jean Fox is Regional Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

FOX: DEP employees saw a fish literally jump out of the water onto land, which is I guess what a person does jumping out of a burning building sometimes.

INSKEEP: For a time the river ran green with a dye from the factory. The dye wasn't poisonous, but a chemical called phenol effectively sucked the oxygen out of the river. Authorities say industrial fires like this one lead to water pollution far too often because so many old industrial complexes are built next to rivers. For Living on Earth, I'm Steve Inskeep in Newark, New Jersey.

NUNLEY: The World Bank has approved a $99 million loan to help Russia pay for cleaning up last year's massive Arctic oil spill. An aging Soviet pipeline collapsed last September, spilling more than 100,000 tons of oil, 3 times the amount dumped by the Exxon Valdez. The World Bank loan will first go toward reinforcing dikes and other containment structures. Officials are racing against the clock to prevent further contamination because an earlier than usual spring thaw may mean even greater harm to the region's already polluted rivers and water supply.

Garbage dumps are a major source of air pollution. That's according to University of Maryland researchers who've documented for the first time the hazardous air pollutants being released from landfills. One site emitted more than 4 times the legal limit of smog-forming gases. The dumps are also a significant source of methane and cancer-causing agents. EPA regulations requiring pollution control devices for landfills are expected to be finalized in July, but won't take effect until 4 years after that.

While many Americans think the environment should be protected, many also think the government shouldn't regulate private property. That contradictory view came out of 2 polls conducted just before Earth Day. According to a survey by Louis Harrison Associates, 59% of Americans say the Federal Government has no right to regulate the use of private property. But more than 75% think government should prevent landowners from developing property if it harms the environment. Forty-two percent think the environment will only get worse by the year 2000. On the other hand, the USA Today/CNN Gallup poll shows that almost two thirds of those surveyed believe little or no additional action needs to be taken to clean up the Earth.

German anti-nuclear activists have suffered a major defeat now that a shipment of spent nuclear fuel rods has finally been delivered to a storage site in Gorleben in southern Germany. Protesters had tried to disrupt the rail delivery by bringing down overhead power lines. From Cologne, Michael Lawton reports.

LAWTON: Six and a half thousand police protected the nuclear train as it made its way from a power station in southern Germany to the rail head in the north, where the container was transferred to road for the final few miles. At times traveling at walking pace and surrounded by police, the train and then the truck ran the gauntlet of angry protesters, from schoolchildren who sat on the tracks to farmers who blocked the road with their tractors. Local people are deeply disappointed that their 10-year struggle to prevent waste storage at Gorleben has finally failed. They promise that they'll protest every future delivery as well, and that could turn out to be expensive. The train journey cost $40 million. For the nuclear industry, it's money which had to be spent, even though it'll be the tax payer who will have to cough up, since high level waste has to be disposed of if there's to be any future for nuclear energy in this country. For Living on Earth, this is Michael Lawton in Cologne.

NUNLEY: That long commute in your car might become a way to fight air pollution instead of contributing to it. The New Jersey-based Englehard Corporation has developed a chemical catalyst that breaks smog down into oxygen and carbon dioxide. The new catalyst would be painted onto automobile air conditioners and radiators, and engine heat would activate the chemical process. EPA officials say the catalyst holds great promise for improving air quality, and even though it's still years away from the market, the Ford Motor Company has already committed to testing the product.

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

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(Theme music up and under)

More Bomb Blasts: Anti-Environmentalism

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The Oklahoma City bombing has brought into sharp focus right-wing extremist groups who bitterly resent the actions of Federal law enforcement agencies. But officials who manage America's public lands have also come under fire. Two Federal buildings in Nevada have been bombed in the past 18 months. The most recent attack, on the Forest Service headquarters in Carson City, came just 4 weeks ago. We sent reporter Terry Fitzpatrick to investigate the attacks and how they affect the debate over environmental control in the West.

(Wood being cleared)

FITZPATRICK: There's still debris outside the office window of District Ranger Guy Pence of the US Forest Service in Carson City.

PENCE: The explosive device was set up under this flashing, in order to - to retain some of the impact...

FITZPATRICK: On March 30th, at night when the office was closed, a small bomb here caused $5,000 of damage.

PENCE: ... and then this part of the wall was blown away, and then...

FITZPATRICK: It was the second explosion at a Federal facility in Nevada. In October of 1993, just past midnight, someone blew a 20-foot hole in the roof at the Bureau of Land Management in Reno. No one was injured in either blast and no one has been arrested, but the attacks have brought attention to the growing conflict here, over who controls and manages Federal lands.

PENCE: The goals and objectives of managing national forest lands are for long-term sustainability, and I, you know, sometimes we make decisions that are not - they just don't make everybody happy.

FITZPATRICK: Restrictions on grazing, logging, and mining have some people so angry that they formed the County Supremacy Movement. They believe the county is the highest form of government and they're challenging Federal authority throughout the west. One of their leaders is Dick Carver, a rancher and county commissioner in Nye County, Nevada, about a 4-hour drive from Carson City.

CARVER: We're not governed by elected officials any more. We're governed by these bureaucrats that work for the Federal government, and what we've got to do is back these bureaucrats off. We have to govern our people in our own counties.

FITZPATRICK: Carver has a history of organizing his neighbors in confrontations with Federal officials.

(A bulldozer running)

FITZPATRICK: Last summer, on the Fourth of July, Carver and dozens of supporters used a bulldozer to reopen a road that the Forest Service had closed to the public. They made a videotape of their activities. The incident turned into an armed showdown when a Forest Service police officer arrived.

CARVER: When he showed up with a gun on, about 50, I would say at least 50 people out there put guns on also.

FITZPATRICK: The officer stood in front of the bulldozer with a sign ordering Carver to halt. But Carver would not and the officer was forced to step aside. Carver maintains that his actions were legal. That's because Nye County has declared all Federal land claims to be unconstitutional, and Federal law enforcement invalid. Federal officials are concerned that confrontations like this might have spurred the bombings in Reno and Carson City. They say Carver is not a suspect; no evidence links him to the blasts. But Ranger Guy Pence thinks Carver's tactics and rhetoric have created a highly charged climate.

PARKS: I guess the word that I would use is inciteful. And I think it's irresponsible, I think it's dangerous for us as a society.

FITZPATRICK: Carver denies responsibility for the attacks, and has his own suspicions about who set off the blasts.

CARVER: Are you sure that it isn't the Forest Service employees themselves doing it to paint a bad picture on Dick Carver?

FITZPATRICK: Federal authorities respond it's ludicrous to think they would bomb their own buildings. Fearing that the situation is getting out of hand, the Justice Department has asked the courts to reaffirm Federal authority in Nevada. While the case is pending, government workers travel in pairs and avoid wearing uniforms. Some carry pepper spray. Dick Carver realizes his declaration of county rule has created a volatile situation, and he worries someone could get hurt.

CARVER: Bureaucrats out here have no criminal law enforcement jurisdiction. They don't have a right to stop people on the highway or in a canyon. They don't have the right to have these lights on their pickups. They don't have the right to carry guns out here and arrest people for not wearing a seat belt. That's the type of action that we're afraid somebody's going to get hurt. Because people are going to just take so much of that.

FITZPATRICK: Carver says the County Supremacy Movement is a peaceful cause and the issue can be resolved in court without violence if, for now, Federal authorities will stay away. For Living on Earth, I'm Terry Fitzpatrick in Nye County, Nevada.

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Mapping Extremism

CURWOOD: Back in the late 1800s, the Federal Government actively promoted the settlement of the American West by helping people with land giveaways and cheap access to grazing timber and minerals on public lands. But today, many westerners see Uncle Sam as anything but helpful. Much of the west is still owned by the public, and this land is under the care of a host of Federal agencies. And as they have imposed more and more restrictions to protect environmental quality, and have asked for higher fees for resource extraction, many local residents have felt less and less happy. Some have joined the anti-environmentalist Wise Use Movement, and the related County Movement. And, according to Daniel Berry, head of the Clearinghouse for Environmental Advocacy and Research in Washington, DC, both of these movements have some overlap with the anti-government Militia Movement.

BERRY: The County Movement is a part of the Wise Use Movement, the anti-environmental, anti-regulatory Wise Use Movement. The primary concern of the County Movement is to challenge the authority of the Federal Government. Part of that ideology is based is interpretations of the Constitution that they claim say that the main power of government rests at the county level.

CURWOOD: What are the specific grievances that the County Movement has against the Federal Government? I mean, why replace the Federal Government with the counties?

BERRY: Their main grievance is that Federal land use regulations, particularly those that regulate extractive industries such as grazing and mining and timber operations, that Federal Regulations inhibit the custom and culture of the - of the county residents, and keep them from making an honest living. Their grievance is based in language in one of the original environmental pieces of legislation, the National Environmental Policy Act, saying that any Federal and state land use regulations need to comply with the custom and culture of the county. One of the main organizations pushing county ordinances around the country is the National Federal Lands Conference, the NFLC. They're based in bountiful Utah. Their main political mission is to push ordinances that challenge the authority of the Federal Government to rule at the county level.

CURWOOD: This ideology sounds much like that of the Militia Movement.

BERRY: Well, the County Movement does indeed share a lot of ideology with the Militia. In fact, there seems to be growing evidence that there are concrete connections between the Militia and the National Federal Lands Conference, in fact. October 1994, they published their newsletter with the title story entitled, "Why there is a need for the militia in America." At the end they gave credit to a couple of organizations that had supplied information for the article, including the Militia of Montana.

CURWOOD: So you're saying that the County Movement, which is part of the Wise Use Movement, is publishing material about the Militia Movement.

BERRY: Yes; indeed, that's the case.

CURWOOD: Are there people that are in both movements?

BERRY: Well, one of the primary links that we've discovered is, revolves around the Nye County Commissioner Dick Carver, who is pushing County Supremacy, and has appeared in the Jubilation, which is a publication of Christian identity, part of the Militia Movement, broadly speaking. So on at least that one occasion, that individual has shown up in 2 places. There is also evidence that Mr. Carver's speaking tour these days intersects to a large degree with Militia organizing as well. Some of this information is speculative that we're currently working on nailing down some of those connections.

CURWOOD: Why should we be concerned about this? I mean, these people have a constitutional right to meet, to discuss, to raise their concerns. They don't think the Federal Government is doing things right.

BERRY: In my work, what I see is, are comments and press reports where people connected with the Militia are using threats of violence to intimidate people, to prevent them from exercising their right to free speech and their right to assembly. There are several specific incidents where local officials and local activists have been threatened with the posse coming in to get them. And prominent Militia organizers have been quoted as saying, "Go look your legislator in the face because at one point you may have to blow it off." That's serious talk.

CURWOOD: Is there any evidence whatsoever that these groups, the County Movement, the Wise Use Movement, have engaged in any acts of violence against Federal officials or facilities?

BERRY: At this point, no, there's no direct evidence that we're aware of. A lot of the incidents that are being investigated now, I think we just need to be patient and see what kind of evidence comes out of those. But at this point we don't have any evidence that there are direct links to acts of violence against Federal facilities or Federal employees.

CURWOOD: Tell me, what are your deepest worries here?

BERRY: My main concern is that while people have a right to express their political views, and I hope people will, at what point does violent rhetoric become violence? One can argue that it's harmless for folks to level threats or to be aggressive in a public meeting, and to express their First Amendment rights in that respect. But in fact, we are seeing actual threats being leveled and we're seeing people's property being threatened and actually damaged. And at one point does it turn into bodily harm?

CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us. Daniel Berry is director of the Clearing House for Environmental Advocacy and Research in Washington. Thank you, sir.

BERRY: Thank you; it's a pleasure.

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(Music up and under)

LOE Profile Series #2: Phil Shabecoff

32 years with the New York Times, journalist Philip Shabecoff reported from many posts around the world. But Mr. Shabecoff is probably best known for his 14 years as the Times's environmental reporter, and is founding publisher of the environmental news service, Greenwire. In many ways, Phil Shabecoff helped to create the environmental journalism beat. As part of Living on Earth's series this year on 25 intriguing people involved with environmental change, Living on Earth's George Homsy produced this audio impression of Mr. Shabecoff's career.

(Asian music)

MAN'S VOICE: The New York Times, January 17, 1969.

(NPR woman reporter: "Asia, the hungry, sometimes desperate giant, received 2 rare graces in 1968. More food and more hope. Despite a major war and minor flare-ups, despite continued overpopulation and underdevelopment...")

SHABECOFF: When I was writing about other issues, including economic development, I was, without even realizing it, writing about the environment. I was writing about development in the poor countries of Asia. These countries were industrializing, but they weren't growing any richer. So it was, I was not writing about the environment, but the environment was a part of those stories even though I probably didn't even use the word environment at the time. I went in thinking it would just be about covering national parks, national forests. But then I started realizing how much economics was involved. And then that the environment was a social issue as well.

MAN'S VOICE: The New York Times, April 1, 1986.

(WOMAN'S VOICE: Big T's Bait and Tackle Shop is lined with soda cans, boxes of candy bars, crackers, and beef jerky, artificial flies and worms, fishing rods, and a sign reading "Stop The Nuclear Incinerator." About a half mile away...")

SHABECOFF: I think I was one of the first reporters to start writing about those issues that now are identified under the rubric of environmental justice.

(WOMAN'S VOICE: "...residents contend that their area was selected for the plants because it has a median family income about half the national average, and has historically wielded little political power, and because half the people are black or American Indian. It's the same waste management...")

SHABECOFF: Things that are wrong with our environment are things that are wrong with our economy, and things that are wrong with our social structure: the way Americans and other people relate to each other, all spring from the same general base. The way we have organized and structured ourselves as a society.

(Music up and under: "April in Paris.")

SHABECOFF: In high school, I lived in the Bronx and used to go to Van Cortlandt Park in the North Bronx. And there's one wooded area there that was a particular favorite. I used to take my sweethearts there. And one day I went there with my girlfriend and it was just a big mass of dirt. And they just threw a multi-lane highway right through the middle of that park. And I thought: this shouldn't be. And I was vague, sort of had this vague feeling ever since that somebody has to do something to keep highways and other things from happening to places that people love and want to preserve.

MAN'S VOICE: The New York Times, September 3, 1981.

(WOMAN'S VOICE: "Interior Secretary James G. Watt is considering a recommendation to permit strip mining next to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, Department officials and environmentalists reported today...")

(Music up and under: pop rock)

MAN'S VOICE: The New York Times, November 14, 1980.

(WOMAN'S VOICE: "Members of Ronald Reagan's special group on the environment said yesterday that his administration would probably seek to modify or discard anti-pollution regulations that had no economic or scientific justification...")

SHABECOFF: Sounds as if it could have come straight out of the Contract With America, don't they? But it was a different political climate at the time. The American people, while they supported Reagan, clearly objected strongly to his initiatives to a weakened environmental protection. Let me tell you why I went into journalism. I determined at an early age that I wanted to be a newspaper reporter because I thought I could help make democracy function better, by giving people the information they needed to know on important things. And it's the same thing with the environment. I was not an advocacy environmental reporter. I just presented the facts about what I considered to be important issues, so that citizens could know the facts and make important decisions about it themselves.

CURWOOD: Phil Shabecoff left The New York Times in 1991, rather than take reassignment from his environmental beat. His most recent book is a history of the environmental movement called A Fierce Green Fire.

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(Music up and under)

Portland's Public Bikes

CURWOOD: Private property is often seen as a sacred right, but some folks in Portland, Oregon, say when it comes to transportation, common ownership has its advantages, especially if the object is a simple bicycle. Patrick Cox of Oregon Public Broadcasting has our story.

(Noise of downtown area)

COX: Downtown Portland is a compact, bustling grid of offices and stores. To those who use the city's light rail and buses, downtown is known as the Fare-less Square because the trip is free. Now there's another way to get around town without paying. Paul Johnson is a city resident.

JOHNSON: I was just in Fare-less Square going up to pick up some forms at the IRS. There was one outside the building there. Got my forms and so I picked it up and started riding around. And rode down to where I live down here. Forgot that I made a bank deposit because I was having too much fun.

COX: Johnson is sitting on the saddle of a community-owned bicycle. The bikes are painted a garish shade of yellow and placed at strategic points around the city for use by anyone. Organizers have dropped 200 of them around town, promising hundreds more will follow. Each bike bears a sign reading, "Free Community Bike: Please Return to a Major Street for Others to Use. Use At Your Own Risk." Veteran activist Joe Keating launched the program after hearing of a similar effort in Amsterdam. Keating says Portlanders have a hard time with the idea of common ownership.

KEATING: It's sort of like a quizzical look, saying what do you mean, free? And then, sort of a like a wry smile takes place, and then usually what happens is after they've - they understand the word free, then the next question is, well, what happens if someone steals this bike?

COX: Keating's response is you can't steal something that already belongs to you. Nonetheless, a certain amount of hoarding does seem to be going on. The bikes are disappearing almost as fast as organizers can put them out. But Keating says feedback from the public suggests the bikes are being used.

KEATING: We're getting calls on a continual basis to have the bikes picked up for repair. If they have a flat tire or the chains go bad or something goes bad, folks are actually giving us a call to come out and pick up the bikes and that's - you know, as far as one of those indicators, I think it's a pretty good one that says that there's a system out here that's being respected.

COX: The bike program costs practically nothing to run. The public donates the bikes, which often come in parts. Local auto body shops spray paint them for free, and U-Haul donates trucks for bike distribution. As a result, the program has won universal approval, not least from Portland's most famous cyclist, Bud Clark, a former Portland mayor, who traveled to City Hall every day come rain or shine on his bike.

CLARK: I think the purpose is to introduce people into bicycling. And if it does that, it's fine, and it's not costing me anything and it's not costing the government anything. And if they get them donated and people do that, that's great.

(Bike shop noises. A man speaks: "What we're doing is taking the derailleurs off, and we're sending them into the middle gear...")

COX: The yellow bikes are prepared for use here at a workshop donated by the county. A team of grade school mechanics strips the bikes of all but the basics: handlebars, brakes, wheels. Organizers know the race is on to get hundreds more bikes out on the streets. Brian Lacey is in charge of retrofitting the bikes.

LACEY: We do need to achieve what, you know, the so called critical mass of bikes, so that the idea catches on. That it's not a bike for you or for me; it's for everybody.

(Man: "We've got all these yellow bikes to put out. The city's waiting for them." Child: "Okay." More shop sounds.)

COX: On sunny days the bikes are quickly snapped up on Portland streets.

LEBRUN: I'm just going to go drink a cup of coffee on the wheel and just cruise...

COX: Portland resident Steven Lebrun is another regular yellow bike user. As to the scarcity of bikes available, Lebrun relates an all too familiar tale.

LEBRUN: I see 'em parked in places they shouldn't be. They're supposed to be left out in public when you're done with them. I see them stashed, you know, like that.

COX: With private property rights in the political ascendancy these days, a program that preaches sharing may face an uphill battle. But yellow bike organizer Joe Keating, a revolutionary at heart, says he's out to change the mindset of at least some Americans.

KEATING: Ownership is not the be-all and end-all. Happiness and joy is really where folks should go. And a lot of time ownership doesn't equal happiness. And hopefully the yellow bikes are a symbol of that. But it certainly has shaken up a few psyches already, that's for sure.

COX: No one expects a few hundred bikes to solve problems like congestion and air pollution. All the same, Portland's yellow bikes seem to have sparked a lot of interest. Keating says he's snowed under with inquiries from more than 80 other North American communities, including that most car-friendly of cities, Los Angeles. Keating says he doesn't quite know what advice to offer. After all, he says, the idea of sharing a one-speed, beat-up bicycle is the essence of simplicity. For Living on Earth, I'm Patrick Cox in Portland.

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(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our comment line is 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or try us on the Internet. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $10.

Living on Earth's news editor is Constantine Von Hoffman. Our staff includes Peter Thomson, Deborah Stavro, George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Jan Nunley, and Julia Madeson. We had help this week from Heather Corson and Alex Garcia-Rangel. Our WBUR engineers are Keith Shields and Laura Forest. Michael Aharon composed our theme. Special thanks to Larry Bouthillier and to KPLU in Seattle.

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.

ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major funding provided by the National Science Foundation for coverage of science and the environment; and all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt - whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside. Support also comes from the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the George Gund Foundation.

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