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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

September 15, 1995

Air Date: September 15, 1995

SEGMENTS

National Parks Under Budget Pressure / William Drummond

National Parks have become the latest budget battleground between Congress and the White House. The Clinton Administration claims Republicans' proposed cuts to the National Park Service would decimate a valuable recreational resource. Fiscally conservative Republicans say that only the most important and most popular parks deserve tax dollars. William Drummond reports on the debate. (07:00)

To be Green, or Not to be Green: The Republican Party

Bills to reduce environmental regulations have continued to pass in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, but with each vote the margin of victory becomes slimmer. Now, House Speaker Newt Gingrich has formed a task force of leading House Republicans to find some common ground between the party's anti-regulation and pro-environment camps. William Reilly knows what it's like to manage a house divided on the environment. He served as EPA Administrator in the Bush White House. Reilly joins host Steve Curwood to discuss Republican efforts to close ranks on green issues. (06:00)

Long Slow March to the Sea / Daniel Grossman

Sometimes, attempts to save endangered species can cause more problems than they solve. Daniel Grossman reports on one example from the Florida coast. There, efforts to save four species of sea turtles from human encroachment have had some unforeseen results. (07:15)

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
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Alex Kirby, Lisa Labuz, William Drummond, Dan Grossman
GUEST: William Reilly

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. America's national parks are costing the public too much money, says a majority of Congress, and some Republicans want some parks closed.

REGULA: People want to go to the Grand Canyon, or to Yosemite or to Yellowstone. But they don't visit the little parks. Let's at least look at parks that are maybe so underutilized that they don't justify the annual expenditure.

CURWOOD: Also this week, good intentions haven't been enough to protect endangered Florida sea turtles. A hatchery was built to keep baby turtles out of danger from people, but someone forgot about the natural predators.

WYNEKEN: If you put a hatchery out without knowing what's going to happen to the hatchlings once they get in the water, you may just be wasting your money. You may just be feeding the fish.

CURWOOD; This week on Living On Earth, first the news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living On Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. A British court has fined an energy company more than half a million dollars for a safety lapse at a nuclear power plant off the coast of Wales. In the trial, experts testified that it took Nuclear Electric 9 hours to shut down a reactor after a crane fell into it. Alex Kirby of the BBC reports from London.

KIRBY: In July 1993 part of a refueling crane fell into the reactor, an elderly magnesium oxide model. It could have caused a fire in one of the more than 6,000 fuel channels. The carbon dioxide gas used for cooling the reactor would then have become radioactive, and if that had escaped the area round the facility would have had to be evacuated. The operators should have shut down the reactor as soon as they realized part of the crane was missing. But instead they waited for 9 hours before taking it out of service. The court heard tape recordings of them laughing and giggling as the hours wore on. The prosecution said it was a classic example of people with their brains in neutral. The head of Britain's nuclear inspectorate called the accident potentially the most serious he'd dealt with in the job. He said there'd been a blatant failure of the state owned company's safety culture. Its more modern reactors are to be sold to private investors. It's already under strong commercial pressure to run all its facilities as hard as possible. This is Alex Kirby in London for Living On Earth.

NUNLEY: China says it will halt production of ozone depleting chemicals by the year 2005, 5 years sooner than previously planned. Reuters reports that Chinese officials moved the target date up after receiving pledges of international aid to upgrade the country's industries. China is the developing world's biggest producer of chlorofluorocarbons and other ozone-depleting chemicals. Officials say it will take 260 million dollars to phase out CFC's. By August, China had received 27 million from the world bank and other international agencies.

China's decision comes in the wake of a report that the Antarctic hole in the earth's atmospheric ozone layer is now nearly as large as the continent of Europe. The U.N.'s world meteorological organization says the ozone decline is the most rapid on record, at one percent a day. The ozone layer blocks most ultraviolet rays coming from the sun. Scientists predict any sustained surge in radiation reaching the earth's surface would lead to an increase in cancer and a reduction in crop yields.

The Environmental Protection Agency's budget has been slashed by 800 million dollars. The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted to impose 6 new restrictions on environmental laws, including limits on the agency's ability to clean up new hazardous waste sites and to restrict radon in drinking water. The panel rejected all but one of a House version's restrictions on EPA's regulatory powers. The senate committee cut still gave the EPA a slight boost above the deep cut made in the House. But President Clinton has vowed to veto either version of the bill.

The city of Chicago has unveiled the world's first emission-free mass-transit bus. While the hydrogen-powered bus would eliminate diesel air-pollution, it comes at a steep price. From WBEZ, Lisa Labuz reports.

(Bus sound under)

LABUZ: That familiar black plume of diesel smoke may become passé next summer when the Chicago Transit Authority begins using three prototype buses powered by hydrogen. Deborah Boldt works in the Mayor's Department of Environment. She says the busses built by Ballard Power Systems are driven by electric motors.

BOLDT: It's an electro-chemical process using hydrogen as a fuel and the result is that you get power with zero emissions. The only thing that comes out of the tailpipe is some water vapor.

LABUZ: To prove the safety point at the unveiling, Mayor Richard Daley and CTA President Robert Belcaster drank emissions straight from the bus tailpipe. Boldt says the buses are one step towards reducing the city's dependence on imported oil and cleaning up the air.

BOLDT: Just between the city of Chicago and the CTA, we use over 50 million gallons of diesel fuel a year. So any alternative is welcome.

LABUZ: However, at 1.4 million dollars per bus, hydrogen technology isn't cheap. But Boldt says in 5 years the price is expected to drop to a cost comparable with a new diesel-fueled bus. For Living On Earth, I'm Lisa Labuz in Chicago.

NUNLEY: In Idaho, a 110-acre parcel of federal land that may contain a billion dollars worth of mineral deposits is being sold to a Danish company for $275 dollars. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt okayed the sale under protest, saying his hands were tied by an 1872 law requiring the government to sell the land for as little as two-and-a-half dollars an acre. Congress put a moratorium on issuing land purchase agreements this fiscal year, but a number of applications already in the pipeline were exempted. Recently the House voted to continue the moratorium, but the Senate wants to lift it. Those differences must be resolved by the end of the month or the moratorium will automatically expire.

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

Back to top

(Theme music return)

National Parks Under Budget Pressure

CURWOOD: This is Living On Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. From Yosemite to Yellowstone, America's national park system has become a battleground between the Clinton Administration and the Republican majority in Congress. It's the latest confrontation in the broad dispute over public lands that has ranged from calls by Republicans to drill for oil in the Arctic and Rocky Mountain Preserves to attempts by the Administration to raise fees for mining and grazing on federal property.

Earlier this year a House committee proposed to cut the Parks Service budget by 36 percent, which the White House said would force the closing of more than 200 national parks. That plan has been scaled back, and Republicans say the Administration's alarm is just politics. But the Park Service still faces a 10-percent cutback, and a bill is pending to start a process of closing some parks. In any event, it seems that as the presidential campaign gears up, public support for national parks is likely to become part of the debate. William Drummond prepared our report.

(Sounds of tour bus)

VOICE: This bus will go on to the Sentinel Bridge, Housekeeping Camp, Currey Village, Happy Isles, Mirror Lakes, Stables, the Pines Rivers Campgrounds.

DRUMMOND: So many people visit California's Yosemite Valley that the parks service runs its own rapid transit system to cut down on traffic congestion on the valley floor. Yosemite has more than 3 million visitors a year, and the numbers continue to grow. Nationwide the national parks attract 270 million visitors annually; making national parks perhaps the most popular U.S. government program. On a recent visit to Yellowstone National Park, President Clinton embraced what he saw as a winning environmental issue. The President seized on the public's love affair with the parks and went on the offensive against Republican budget-cutters.

CLINTON: There was an effort in Congress to cut the balanced budget that could have forced the closure of 200 of these parks, and that's wrong. There are some people who say we ought to sell some of our national treasures off to the highest bidder, and that's wrong.

HANSEN: Well I about threw up when I listened to the President stand up there in Yellowstone and say we've got to save this park. Who on God's earth is going to close up Yellowstone? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.

DRUMMOND: Jim Hansen is a Republican Congressman from Utah and chairman of the House subcommittee on national parks, public lands and the forest service.

HANSEN: And to stand up there and say we have to save this park from the ravages of the Republican party is asinine. I give every hour of my day trying to get more money into these parks. But the thing is, is at the same time, you've got to realize the American people are tired of us doing deficit spending. They are tired of a 4 trillion dollar debt.

DRUMMOND: As part of its deficit-reduction plans, the House passed a bill calling for 126 million dollars in parks service cuts, and the Senate version calls for 100 million dollars in reductions. The proposed cuts are less drastic than an earlier Republican budget proposal which the Administration said could have led to the closing of 200 National Park units. Ohio Congressman Ralph Regula of the Appropriations Committee said under the current plan, no parks have to be closed.

REGULA: Well that was a little bit of crying wolf. It's simply not happening. We are getting the 10 percent cut, 11 actually, but we're doing it by not having land acquisition, by not starting new projects, so we have made savings in some of the places other than the operations of the parks.

DRUMMOND: But while Republican leaders deny any intention of closing parks, a bill sponsored by Republican Representative Joel Hefley of Colorado would do just that. The bill would create a citizen's panel to look at the possibility of removing some lands from the parks service domain. The bill's supporters such as Congressman Regula say the park service needs to spend its resources on its major attractions.

REGULA: People want to go to the Grand Canyon, or to Yosemite or to Yellowstone. But they don't visit the little parks. Some of these parks have an overall expenditure of approximately 25 to 30 dollars per visitation because the visitors are so few. So I think the Hefley bill has merit. Let's at least look at parks that are so underutilized that they don't justify the annual expenditure.

PRITCHARD: It's gone from worse to bad. But it's not better.

DRUMMOND: The easing away from drastic cuts has not satisfied Paul Pritchard, president of National Parks and Conservation Association, a Washington based environmental lobbying organization claiming more than 400 thousand members. Pritchard says budget cuts don't seem to be the issue here.

PRITCHARD: The National Parks Service's budget is less than one-third of 1 percent of the total federal budget. Reductions of major magnitudes are going to have very little consequence in terms of the federal budget. One can only conclude that this Congress is carrying out a war on the parks.

DRUMMOND: Pritchard says the Republican majority has it in for the parks, the wildlife refuges and the public lands in general because the Republicans favor exploitation of natural resources above preservation and conservation. Representative Regula and other republicans in Congress say that resource exploitation on some public lands is a national security priority and is compatible with preservation. For his part, President Clinton seems to be drawing a line against increased development in and around public lands and national parks. But he does say park finances need to be rethought. The President's plan includes higher fees from those who run the concessions in the parks and letting parks keep a share of their visitor fees. In a radio address, Mr. Clinton said his is the right way to go to preserve the parks.

CLINTON: The wrong way is to say that this is an investment no longer worth making, to close the parks and sell them off to the highest bidder. Some people want to do that, but it wouldn't be in faith with the kind of common sense values that have made our country great. And the kind of common ground we've had over our national parks throughout the 20th century.

DRUMMOND: Claiming the "common ground" theme appears to be an effort by the President to stake out safe but fertile environmental territory for his upcoming reelection campaign. The president has adopted the same "reform it, don't wreck it" approach on a number of issues. He has threatened, for example, to veto Republican sponsored bills to scale back the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency , as well as the budget cuts for the national parks system.

(Hubbub among tourists)

As visitors get an eyeful of Yosemite during the final weeks of summer, the conflicts in Washington appear not just miles away, but in another world. But the outcome could bring big changes for the 360-plus national park units, and it could help determine who has the momentum: the President or the Republican opposition heading into the elections next year. For Living On Earth, I'm William Drummond.

Back to top

CURWOOD: Tell us what you think. Should we close some parts of the national park system? Call us now at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or try our E-Mail address: that's LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is Living On Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. Living On Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. Transcripts and tapes are ten dollars.

To be Green, or Not to be Green: The Republican Party

CURWOOD: President Clinton's new visibility on the environment comes as Congressional Republicans are bickering over these issues, especially in the House. Efforts to reduce environmental regulation continue to pass the House, but by ever shrinking margins. Just before the summer recess, Republicans nearly lost a vote on cutting funds for Environmental Protection Agency when nearly a fifth of their ranks defected.

Now as the fall session opens, House Speaker Newt Gingrich has formed a task force of leading house Republicans to find some common ground between the anti-regulation and pro-environment positions. With us on the line from San Francisco to discuss these developments is William Reilly, the Administrator of the EPA under President Bush.

CURWOOD: Mr. Reilly, nice to have you back on the show.

REILLY: Nice to be here, thank you.

CURWOOD: Well tell me, what's going on now among House Republicans with the environmental legislation? Why the growing number of defections from the right to the middle?

REILLY: I think there is a sense that there has been some overreaching. A sense that perhaps this Congress which has taken such pride, this leadership, in getting in touch with the concerns of the American public perhaps misread them, insofar as the public was complaining certainly about excessive governmental interference and high bureaucracy and taxes and the rest, but was not asking for roll-backs in protections for health and ecology. We are not interested in defunding the Environmental Protection Agency as a country or disenacting important pieces of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. If those measures do come out of the Congress, President Clinton has raised the stakes, he's made clear that he's going to veto them. So we'll be back at square one anyway. So, then you have to decide whether you want to make a point, or you want to make progress and make real legislative changes.

CURWOOD: Now, with the election of the new Republican Congress we saw, of course, Speaker Gingrich thrown to the forefront here. And this very tough, anti-regulatory agenda is very much a part of what he's looking for, and yet we keep hearing from numerous quarters that he is fairly interested in being supportive to environmental issues. Now, he's assembled this task force. Does he just want to cool things down, or does he want to proactively pull his troops back towards the green direction?

REILLY: Well you know, during my experiences as administrator of EPA, Speaker Gingrich, then Congressman Gingrich, was very helpful to me. He was interested specifically in environmental issues. He was a wildlife buff, he supported endangered species and the Clean Air Act. I think he's obviously got a diffuse coalition and some of the folks have gotten pretty far out in terms of bashing EPA and bashing the environment and some of the aspects of regulation they most dislike. He's got to put it back together, though. So I think that to some degree, he wants to take the steam out of the polarized character of the debate, get people talking to one another and see if some serious business can't be done.

CURWOOD: What about the president in all of this? Why do you think he's becoming so much more active on the environment now?

REILLY: My sense is the Clinton White House perceives an opening. They perceive that the Republicans in the House, particularly, have overreached, that environmental groups have successfully focused the press on some of the consequences of the measures that either are pending or look likely to or even a few that have already passed. And the President sees an opportunity to appeal to a constituency he very much needs, which is a moderate constituency, very often a suburban constituency, and particularly a female constituency in those suburbs. That was a constituency that was very important to the decision that the political advisors to President Bush made back in the 1988 election campaign to encourage him to speak out on environmental issues. I think President Clinton sees the advantages now in reaching out to those people and trying to isolate some of the proposals in the House as extreme on the environment. Polls that are beginning to come in suggest that the environment is starting to register, and it's not registering positively, I think, for the Republicans.

CURWOOD: We've seen the President advance and retreat several times during his presidency on environmental issues. Why do you think that this offensive in favor of the environment by the White House will have any more persistence than the ones before?

REILLY: Well it's not clear to me whether this campaign by the President is going to lead to more than speeches. We'll hear a lot about it, but whether it leads to serious response remains to be seen. If he does, in fact, get some of the bills that are working their way toward him that are, that do, eviscerate environmental protections, serious ones - the Clean Water and the Clean Air Act, for example - and he does veto them, then I think that we will see an even wider gulf form between the two parties. That is not, I don't think though, the way he's likely to get these bills, if he gets them at all. We've got a lot of appropriations bills, some 13 of them, that are working their way toward him. It is very possible that in the crush of budget reconciliation, riders will go on to those bills, doing some of the things that we're talking about on the environment. Then his choice would be a much more complicated one. He'd have to decide whether he's going to veto the whole Interior Appropriations Bill, or the EPA Appropriations Bill for example, send it all back and possibly have some stalemate and some shut down of the governmental operation while that happens. That's going to be a harder calculation.

CURWOOD: Are you aware of any initiative between the Speaker's office and the White House to have some rapprochement on this?

REILLY: I am aware of a lot of initiatives involving members of the House to try to bring together the moderate and conservative wings. I can't say that I'm aware of anything, though, involving the White House and the Congress.

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

REILLY: It's good to have been here, thank you.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Long Slow March to the Sea

CURWOOD: There are nearly a thousand plants and animals in the United States that biologists fear may be going extinct. Prompt action is necessary to save them, but it has to be the right action if it's going to succeed.

Sometimes, attempted rescues can cause more problems than they solve. For example on the Florida coast, four species of sea turtles face possible extinction as their nesting grounds are paved over and turned into shorefront homes. But as Daniel Grossman reports, efforts to help the turtles have had some unforeseen results.

(VOICES: Look at 'em all, look at 'em.)

GROSSMAN: It's after midnight on a Florida beach just north of Fort Lauderdale. A crowd has gathered to see one of nature's most remarkable spectacles: a nest of sea turtles hatching, known as an irruption.

CHILD: They're all coming out!

ADULT: Please turn that light off.

GROSSMAN: The nest contained about 100 leathery eggs laid 6 weeks ago by a loggerhead sea turtle. Earlier today, the eggs hatched, and the tiny hatchlings are digging up through the warm sand. A motionless mass of hatchlings is visible by moonlight. Suddenly the pile begins to quiver and a dozen or more turtles scramble for the surf.

MAN: Wow!

WOMAN: I mean this is incredible!

GROSSMAN: The frail infants paddle for the Gulf Stream, just off shore, which will carry them past Europe and Africa. Miraculously, when they're ready to lay their own eggs, in a decade or so, they'll come back possibly to this very beach. But environmentalist Bob Worshoven says loggerheads, and smaller populations of 3 other turtle species; Leatherback, Hawksbill and Green, are severely threatened.

WORSHOVEN: I've seen them run over on the highways. I've collected them up in buckets, I've put the survivors in the water. I've done necropsies on the ones that are hit by boats, the ones that have been shot, the ones that have had fish hooks caught in the gut. Eventually it does get to you.

GROSSMAN: The chief threat to the turtles results from a behavior for finding the surf ill-suited to densely developed regions like the coast here in Broward County. Newly hatched turtles orient themselves by following the reflection of moonlight and starlight off the sea. But security lights and lit windows of shore-front buildings confuse hatchlings. Homes and tall condominiums line the water's edge here like a steel and concrete canyon wall. Jeanette Wyneken, a biologist at Florida Atlantic University says disoriented turtles climb into swimming pools and parking lots or crawl aimlessly until exhausted.

WYNEKEN: We've followed hatchlings that have gone down toward condo lights that've gone half a mile. And then they eventually crawl up on the dune or end up on the road. Either way they're pretty much dead turtles.

GROSSMAN: In order to protect the turtles, workers relocate nests from populated areas to less developed beaches. In Broward County, nests from practically the entire coastline are squeezed into 6 plots, each the size of a large vegetable garden. Like gardens, the hatcheries are marked with wooden stakes. These stakes represent a crop of more that 100 thousand eggs harvested from some 20 miles of shore. By collecting the eggs into hatcheries, fewer shoreline property owners are affected. But even here it's been tough to get some landowners to cooperate. Last summer one hatchery was located behind the condo of Jim Uebelhart.

UEBELHART: Our people are not too happy with the whole project of taking care of the turtles on our beach.

GROSSMAN: Why aren't they happy? What's the problem?

UEBELHART: They've made a kind of cemetery. It's like Normandy beach out there. Except they're not white crosses.

GROSSMAN: What does it look like?

UEBELHART: Have you not seen them?

GROSSMAN: No, no.

UEBELHART: Well I think you should come out and have a look. Let's look around.

GROSSMAN: Uebelhart leads the way around his blue and white concrete low rise to a narrow strip of sand.

UEBELHART: See what they've done here with the stakes. As far as I know each one of those stakes represents a nest of eggs. And at this stage the eggs are hatching and the turtles are either bound for the ocean or other parts.

GROSSMAN: But displeased abutters on shore may not be the turtles' worst problem. When biologist Jeanette Wyneken began studying hatcheries, she realized that the reception off shore was even more hostile.

WYNEKEN: When we shined a light out in the water it was a sea of eyeballs looking back at us.

GROSSMAN: Two years ago, Wyneken began to wonder if predators had discovered that hatcheries were a plentiful food source.

WYNEKEN: So then we went fishing and caught some of these fish, and looked to see what they were eating. And 75 percent of the fish were eating baby turtles.

GROSSMAN: With rods and reels, and the help of expert fishermen, Wyneken landed barracuda, tarpon, snapper and other fish. She tagged some and dissected others to determine their diet. Wyneken will continue her study this summer. But already she wonders if the country's helping hands could be harming the turtles.

WYNEKEN: If you put a hatchery out without knowing what's going to happen to the hatchlings once they get in the water, you may be just wasting our money. You may be just feeding the fish.

GROSSMAN: Someday, says Wyneken, her research could teach wildlife managers how to relocate nests so turtles hatch in a pattern predators can't discern. But environmentalist Bob Worshoven says the best solution is the one that least disturbs the turtles' natural patterns.

WORSHOVEN: I think the best policy would be to leave nests in situ. Allow turtles to do what they've done for millions of years, and modify the human environment around that. Sea turtles need some type of lighting modification in the form of an ordinance, which would encourage people to limit their lights, or perhaps modify their lights to a less harmful intensity or type.

GROSSMAN: Lighting ordinances do protect turtles in some Florida counties. But in Broward County, where people are more concerned about crime than endangered species, proposals to regulate outdoor lights have never been popular. Bob Worshoven and other environmentalists say in the long term, the best hope for the turtles is a public that has experienced them first hand and that understands their predicament.

WORSHOVEN: I think the animals probably will survive. Whether they survive in numbers that they were ever at in previous years is questionable. But I do believe they will make it. With some help.

WOMAN: Is that one lost?

WOMAN: Yeah, that's all one nest.

CHILD: This one's in the lead.

MAN: Okay, place your bets.

GROSSMAN: Back at the turtle irruption, amazed adults and delighted children are watching the stragglers. Soon the hatchlings will be swept into ocean currents. When they return as adults, these children will be adults as well. With luck, says Worshoven, they'll remember this night and will give these striking animals the help they need. For Living On Earth, this is Daniel Grossman.

CHILD: I bet fifty dollars on this one! It's a race.

Back to top

 

CURWOOD: Living On Earth's coordinating producer is George Homsy. Our production team includes Peter Thomson, Kim Motylewski, Deborah Stavro, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, Julia Madeson, Jessika Bella Mura, David Dunlap, Susan Shepherd and Catherine Gill. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Keith Sheilds and Frank DeAngelis. Special thanks to Jeff Martini and member stations WHYY, Philadelphia and KQED San Francisco. Micheal Aharon composed our theme. Living On Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, and is recorded at the studios of WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

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