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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

January 19, 1996

Air Date: January 19, 1996

SEGMENTS

1996 Presidential Candidates Profile Series: Indiana Senator Richard Lugar / Peter Maloff

Agriculture reform is at the vanguard of Lugar's vision for America under his leadership. Peter Maloff of New Hampshire Public Radio reports. (07:25)

Oregon Hot Seat / Ley Garnett

Ley Garnett reports on the two candidates vying for Bob Packwood's recently vacated Oregon Senate seat: Democratic congressman Ron Wyden, and Republican state senator Gordon Smith. The politics of logging and pollution are heating up as Oregonians decide the future of their leaders' careers. (07:02)

Living on Earth Profile Series #20: Edward Abbey: Voice of the Desert Southwest / George Hardeen

Author Edward Abbey wrote passionately of the unique and unspoiled beauty of the desert Southwest in his many novels and non-fiction writings. From Arizona, George Hardeen profiles Abbey and the impact of his word paintings. (06:01)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Fun facts on subways. (01:00)

Budget Upsets: EPA Shutdown Backload

The Environmental Protection Agency has been hit hard by the recent federal government shutdown. Steve Curwood talks with John Cushman, a reporter with the New York Times about the many repercussions of the closure on businesses and citizens. (06:22)

Sudbury, Ontario: From Moonscape to Greenscape / Bob Carty

Once a severely polluted city, efforts were made on many fronts to return this landscape, devastated by nickel mining and deforestation, back to its more natural state. Bob Carty reports from Ontario, Canada on how it was done. (15:28)

Listener Letters

Living on Earth listeners speak out on what they would like to ask the 1996 presidential candidates. (02:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright c 1996 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: Terry FitzPatrick, Stephanie O'Neill, Peter Malof,
Ley Garnett, George Hardeen, Bob Carty
GUEST: John Cushman

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

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. The environment is smack in the middle of the race to fill Oregon's US Senate seat vacated by Bob Packwood. Republican Gordon Smith says some environmental laws have gone too far.

SMITH: I have no interest in engaging on any broad assault on environmental laws, but I have yet to meet any law that through experience can't be improved.

CURWOOD: Democrat Ron Wyden has a different view.

WYDEN: Federal environmental laws now require that the polluters pay for their violations. The Newt Gingrich Congressional majority wants to toss out this requirement and actually have the taxpayers start paying the polluter. I'm going to fight them every step of the way. (Applause and cheers from the audience.)

CURWOOD: On Living on Earth. First the news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley.

Global warming, drug resistance, and evolution itself are combining to create new health threats and resurrect old diseases. That's the conclusion of 242 reports on the threat of infectious diseases, published jointly in 36 international medical journals. Researchers already knew that global warming is increasing the range of disease carrying insects, but a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association says warmer climates mean mosquito-borne dengue fever is growing faster inside the insects, making them bite more frequently, and the bacteria are evolving so fast that they defy treatment with current antibiotics.

More than 70% of Americans questioned in a recent poll say global warming is a serious threat. That concern holds up across party lines with 60% of Republicans and three quarters of Democrats and Independents worried about climate change. The poll also shows Americans want tougher energy regulations. Ninety-four percent favor increasing the fuel efficiency of cars and light trucks. The poll, sponsored by a coalition of clean energy groups, was conducted by Research Strategy Management headed by GOP pollster Vincent Breglio.

Thirty-five years after signing and international agreement to limit nuclear devices in Antarctica, the US is removing its last piece of nuclear powered equipment from the southernmost continent. From Antarctica, Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports.

FITZPATRICK: The device is a small, automated weather monitor that's powered by a battery made of radioactive strontium. The National Science Foundation, which runs US polar research, says this nuclear battery does not technically violate the Antarctic treaty, which bans atomic weapons testing and the disposal of waste. But the US is striving to reduce radioactive devices anyway. The effort began in the 1970s with the removal of a nuclear power reactor and 12,000 tons of contaminated soil. The weather monitor is the last of 14 atomic powered devices to be removed. Workers shoveled for 2 days to retrieve it from under 6 feet of snow. It was towed 600 miles to a French base and then flown to the American camp where it now awaits a ship for the US. Even after the weather monitor is gone, the American program won't be nuclear free. Major research facilities have X-ray machines for medical emergencies, and scientists are permitted to use radioactive materials in experiments. For Living on Earth, this is Terry FitzPatrick at McMurdo Research Station, Antarctica.

NUNLEY: The US says it will appeal a World Trade Organization ruling that Federal clean air standards discriminate against foreign oil refiners. The ruling upheld a complaint from Venezuela and Brazil that US regulations force foreign producers to make cleaner gasoline than US refiners. The WTO says that gives American companies an unfair advantage over competitors. US trade representative Mickey Kantor says the requirements ensure that imported gasoline meets new standards set by the 1990 Clean Air Act. The dispute is an important test case for the WTO.

A shift to the right in the California legislature may mean the end of a highly touted smog cleanup plan in the Los Angeles area. Stephanie O'Neill reports.

O'NEILL: The program, called Reclaim, was under development for 3 years and was intended to improve the Los Angeles air by setting pollution limits for business and then allowing companies to buy and sell smog credits, much like the stock exchange. Three hundred companies already regulated under the first phase of the Reclaim program will not be affected. But the plan to add a thousand more businesses lost support recently, when more than a dozen of the top corporations involved in drafting Reclaim and previously strongly supportive of it reversed their position, calling it completely unworkable. Their change of opinion coincides with Republicans taking power in the state legislature, and with the appointment of anti-regulation members to the Southern California Air Quality Management District Board. Environmental activists who have long criticized the smog exchange program as too lenient on industry say they're now concerned alternatives to Reclaim will cause further delays in establishing a viable air pollution program for southern California. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neill in Los Angeles.

NUNLEY: After searching 200 stars for signs of intelligent life, astronomers have finally developed a system that can tell the difference between a space alien and a microwave oven. Scientists from the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, spent months testing an automated system to sort earthly noise from alien intelligence. The team noticed they were picking up a lot of noise around the dinner hour. After a test run with the observatory's own microwave oven, scientists decided their 120-foot radio telescope was listening attentively to the sound of frozen cuisine.

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

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1996 Presidential Candidates Profile Series: Indiana Senator Richard Lugar

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Richard Lugar is widely recognized as a man of integrity, discipline, serious, deliberate, prudent. Which may explain why the Indiana senator is not doing so well in his race for the Republican presidential nomination. Plenty of character, not enough charisma. Still, he forges ahead, methodical, consistent, determined. Like the tortoise, Senator Lugar thinks he's the steady plodder who will ultimately pass the hare, Senate majority leader Bob Dole. And like President Clinton, Mr. Lugar is a Rhodes Scholar, educated at Oxford. In 1994 he started his fourth term in the US Senate, where he chairs the Agriculture Committee. New Hampshire Public Radio's Peter Maloff caught up with Senator Lugar in the campaign trail and prepared our report.

MALOFF: The rhetoric has already been flying high for months here in the Granite State. The issues: a balanced budget, the size of government, taxes, family values, and ...

VOICE OVER (with dramatic music): To prove their threat, terrorists will lead authorities to only one ...

MALOFF: Nuclear terrorism.

VOICE OVER: Mr. President, since the break-up of the Soviet Union, we've had nuclear material leaking out...

MALOFF: Senator Richard Lugar, who used to head up the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is probably the only candidate who could be taken seriously, playing to fears of a frenzied world marketplace of nuclear weaponry. Foreign policy is one area in which he's generally considered unassailable. Another is farm policy. And it's in these areas that Lugar can best articulate environmental positions. For example, he's making something of a splash in Florida, defending the Everglades, which he calls one of the most important and complex ecosystems in the country, and one that's been severely damaged by agriculture. He wants to tax sugar producers there two cents a pound to pay for an Everglades restoration fund.

LUGAR: The whole flow of water has been affected. It floods Palm Beach and it floods the other coast. It does not get down to the Bay of Florida, and it certainly doesn't get to the Keys, so we're seeing coral reef deterioration, we're seeing algae in the Bay of Florida. And that can be corrected.

MALOFF: Senator Lugar admits he was largely drawn into the Everglades issue by its agricultural hook. He fervently wants to see an end to almost all farm subsidies and the sugar tax, he says, would partially offset the help those growers get from the government. Senator Lugar says the only farmers who should continue receiving subsidies are those growing crops used for alternative, cleaner-burning fuels. He says an end to subsidies should not mean an end to the development of sustainable growing methods. He says such practices are here to stay.

QUESTIONER: Would your administration take a leadership role in transforming the agricultural methods into more sustainable and more ecologically sound practices?

LUGAR: Yes.

MALOFF: Senagar spoke with a New Hampshire citizen panel in November.

LUGAR: Clearly that is safer for all of us as Americans and the food supply, as well as the residual dust that flies around is less expensive, in terms of the bottom line...

MALOFF: Senator Lugar was a strong champion of the Reagan era Conservation Reserve Program, which takes some of the most erodable farm lands out of production. He's also on record as supporing a strengthened Clean Water Act and enforcing regulations to protect drinking water, wetlands, and farming water sources. Environmental clean-up is one of the very few government areas where he says Federal spending should be increased, and unlike many of his presidential campaign opponents, Lugar says it's a responsibility that should not be handed over to the states. All of which sounds pretty good to environmentalists.

ANDERSON: He's talking the right talk. I mean, his rhetoric seems to be more focused on the environment, but his votes aren't matching up.

MALOFF: Sarah Anderson of the Washington, DC-based League of Conservation Voters, says Lugar's lifetime environmental voting record is 36%. Relatively okay for a Republican, she says, but last year Lugar only earned a 17% score. Republicans, she explains, are under increasing pressure from inside the party to vote against environmental regulations, which not long ago enjoyed bipartisan support. Lugar says he's still open-minded about regulatory issues.

LUGAR: A good number of Republican causes seem to conflict from time to time with the conservation ratings. I understand that. But at the same time, most conservationists understand that with me they have someone they can visit with that is reasonable, has worked through a lot of problems.

MALOFF: Regulatory issues on which Senator Lugar has made up his mind? Reduce the scope, he says, of the Endangered Species Act. Perform cost-benefit analyses of environmental laws. Positions that mollify Conservative groups like the American Farm Bureau, which isn't exactly thrilled about Lugar's stand against farm subsidies. The Farm Bureau's John Keeling.

KEELING: I would hope that we would always be able to work with the Senator to strike some balance between ensuring that we do the proper things to protect ourselves environmentally and health-wise, and ensuring that we not go off and, you know, jeopardize the legitimate business activities of any industry based on what turns out to not be prudent either economic or scientific understanding.

MALOFF: One environmental issue that Senator Lugar might be expected to have a lot to say about but doesn't is toxic pollution. Indiana has a sizable industrial section on Lake Michigan, and the use of agricultural chemicals is widespread in other parts of the state. The Senator's a long time friend of a Conservative GOP activist, Gordon Durnil, who has recently been calling for the phase-out of some widely-used chemicals. New studies have convinced Mr. Durnil that they can lead to serious hormonal and immune system problems, lower sperm counts, and cancer. Lugar says he's read Durnil's book, The Making of a Conservative Environmentalist, and agrees with it. But he's not prepared to recommend new policies on toxic chemicals.

LUGAR: I always believed that even when there is a strong position presented by a friend, I'm trying to find out where the other positions are. I must admit this is an area in which my knowledge is not fleshed out in the same way it is, I think, in the agricultural or natural resources area. But I clearly am a good listener. I have followed intellectually the arguments of a good many people over the course of my public service, to conclusion.

MALOFF: Senator Lugar, true to his reasoned form, says he has to hear all sides of every debate before taking action. It's this kind of thoughtful countenance that makes some would be supporters wonder why he isn't trying harder in his campaign to distinguish himself on the environment, an issue most Americans say they care a lot about. Republican activist Peter Powell, co-founder of New Hampshire Republicans for Responsible Conservation.

POWELL: He seems like a common sense, solid thinker, and as a farmer I hope he'll maybe spark on this issue, and that he'll take a little more interest in it, and if he'd like to track some broader constituency to his campaign, which hasn't been particularly successful in the polls, that this might be something worth spending a little energy on.

MALOFF: And while one probably wouldn't describe Lugar as an environmental activist, there is evidence that his eyes are not particularly clouded by special interests. Campaign funding analysts point to several instances where the Senator voted against the wishes of his main corporate contributors. For Living on Earth, I'm Peter Maloff in Concord, New Hampshire.

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Oregon Hot Seat

CURWOOD: How much do Americans agree with the creed of the new Republican activists in Congress who rail against environmental regulation? There's an election later this month in Oregon that may provide an important clue. Last fall, scandal forced Bob Packwood to resign from the Senate, and a special election has been called for January 30th. The Democrat is Congressman Ron Wyden, who is making support for environmental protection a theme of his campaign. The Republican is State Senate President and businessman Gordon Smith. Senator Smith's firm has been fined for pollution, and Senator Smith himself has worked to scale back a number of Oregon's environmental laws. Oregon Public Broadcasting's Ley Garnett prepared this report.

GARNETT: For almost 30 years Oregon has been represented by 2 moderate Republicans in the US Senate. Bob Packwood and Mark Hatfield have often been at the forefront of key environmental legislation, setting themselves apart from most other western Republicans. No matter which of the contenders wins this special election, the politics of Oregon's new senator will be different.

SADLER: It's been a long time since Oregon has had such a clear-cut choice between candidates on environmental issues.

GARNETT: Russell Sadler is a political scientists with Southern Oregon College.

SADLER: Ron Wyden is a mild form of suburban green. He neither pleases the environmental organizations, the more extreme ones, nor does he please the timber industry. But Gordon Smith, despite his youth, definitely has old time commodity attitudes.

SMITH: What people often want to lose sight of is that all wealth comes out of the earth.

GARNETT: Forty-three-year-old Gordon Smith sometimes breaks from hard right stances. For instance, he supports expansion of Portland's light rail system, but he generally falls in line with the so-called Wise Use philosophy that has become popular in the rural west, and which stresses resource use over preservation.

SMITH: Before you can bring products into interstate commerce you have to either fish it, farm it, log it, mine it. These things provide us, if done on a renewable basis, the ingredients for interstate commerce, which provide to Americans the most abundant lifestyle on the planet.

GARNETT: When Republicans took control of Oregon's legislature in 1994, Mr. Smith became president of the State Senate. The legislature then embarked on an agenda to weaken some environmental regulations, an effort that was blocked by Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber. Mr. Smith says some environmental laws have spun out of balance with the needs of people and their jobs.

SMITH: I have no interest in engaging on any broad assault on environmental laws, but I have yet to meet any law that through experience can't be improved.

GARNETT: Along with his State Senate duties, Mr. Smith runs one of the nation's largest frozen food businesses, which he bought from his father. The plant's environmental record has become a key issue in the campaign.

VOICE OVER: Gordon Smith. Even a moderate Republican called him anti-environmentalist. Gordon Smith's factory was fined again this year for polluting Oregon's ....

GARNETT: This TV attack commercial is sponsored by the Sierra Club Clean Senate Campaign. It's part of the Sierra Club's first independent political campaign in its 104-year history. The effort also includes protests at Smith campaign rallies.

VOICE OVER: When Oregon's air and water quality are under attack, can we really afford to send this Mr. Smith to Washington?

GARNETT: The Smith food plant has been cited for 18 infractions in the 15 years that Gordon Smith has owned the plant, including one serious violation in 1991. According to state records, a discharge pipe ruptured and spilled organic wastewater into a creek. Before the leak was detected 15 days later, all aquatic life along more than 20 miles of the creek had perished. After initially charging the state's investigation was politically motivated, the company paid what at the time was the largest water pollution fine in Oregon history, and restocked the creek. Mr. Smith says he acted as a good corporate citizen, and compensated for an industrial mistake. But Michael Nixon, the former state environmental officer who investigated the accident, says he found Smith and his company to be far from apologetic.

NIXON: As far as I'm concerned, Smith Frozen Foods and Gordon Smith are trying to flim flam the people of Oregon about their, you know, about the truth, about what happened there, and why it should never have occurred. And then trying to cover up their initial attitude, which was very indignant and cavalier, saying that they're just a bunch of trash fish anyway.

GARNETT: Last May, the state ordered the Smith plant to upgrade its wastewater system as a condition of renewing its operating permit. Smith says he'll comply. Smith's chief opponent is Democrat Ron Wyden, a 46-year-old former college basketball player and activist for the elderly who ironically took office during the Reagan sweep of 1980. After winning a close primary in December over fellow Congressman Peter DeFazio, Wyden sought right away to link Gordon Smith with House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

WYDEN: The choice in this election is between mainstream values and extreme values. Federal environmental laws now require that the polluters pay for their violation. The Newt Gingrich Congressional majority wants to toss out this requirement and actually have the taxpayers start paying the polluter. I'm going to fight them every step of the way. (Applause and cheers from the audience.)

GARNETT: As a Congressman, Wyden made the Hanford nuclear weapons plant, located upstream on the Columbia River, his chief environmental issue. But during the Senatorial campaign, Wyden has mainly focused on the new salvage logging law. The law releases dozens of old growth timber sales that had been protected from logging.

WYDEN: I thought it was part of the far Right's effort to gut the environmental laws. I think it has been shown that it's being abused, it's being abused, used in effect as a Trojan horse to go out and cut in other areas, in areas that are healthy and environmentally sensitive.

GARNETT: Gordon Smith supports the salvage law, and lines up with Conservative western Congressional Republicans on national environmental issues like grazing, mining, and reform of the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole says he'd appoint Smith to replace retiring senator Mark Hatfield on the powerful Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Commentator Russell Sadler says the Smith-Wyden race should neither be viewed as a referendum on the environment, nor as a barometer on the Republican agenda in Congress. He says the key to the election is whether recent immigrants from Southern California have swung the Oregon electorate to the right. Nevertheless, national interest groups and both political parties are pouring millions of outside dollars into this election and are eager to spin a national perspective into the results. Polls show the race as a dead heat. Whatever the outcome, it's possible the loser will jump right back into a campaign for the Senate seat that Senator Hatfield vacates this fall. For Living on Earth, I'm Ley Garnett in Portland, Oregon.

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CURWOOD: The man who brought the desert into the hearts of millions is just ahead on Living on Earth. Stick around.

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Living on Earth Profile Series #20: Edward Abbey: Voice of the Desert Southwest

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. If there's one part of the US where the hand of humans seems to have barely scratched the surface of primeval creation, it is the desert southwest. The bold mesas, canyons,and plateaus of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, support only the most tenacious forms of life, in a landscape still being sculpted by the eternal elements of wind, water, and sun. It is also a contested land, fought over through the centuries by natives and settlers, Mexicans and Americans, environmentalists and industrialists. Perhaps no one in this century has given voice to the landscape and the battles of the southwest, though from a partisan point of view, better than the late Edward Abbey. Author, journalist, and in the eyes of some, spiritual father of such radical environmental groups as Earth First. As part of our series of profiles of 25 leading figures in America's environmental debates, Arizona-based producer George Hardeen has this profile of Edward Abbey.

MAN: Well here we are, today this bridge stands nobly beside an older bridge. They each have their own mission...

HARDEEN: I recently covered the dedication of a new bridge spanning the Colorado River at Marble Canyon, Arizona, 20 miles downstream from the Glen Canyon dam.

MAN: The bridge is a steel tress arch approximately 900 feet long, with a main span of 726 feet...

HARDEEN: Federal, State, Tribal, and construction officials praised themselves for conquering the great natural canyon barrier before them. The ceremony was almost identical to the one Edward Abbey had described 20 years earlier in his novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, except that no one blew up the bridge. I wondered if it was possible that I was the only person thinking of this iconoclastic but eloquent writer, who inspired a whole generation to defend the sublime beauty of the southwest's slick rock deserts.

ABBEY: Each day begins clean and promising in the sweet, cool, clear, green light of dawn. And then the sun appears, its hydrogen cauldrons brimming, so to speak, with plasmic fires, and the tyranny of its day begins.

HARDEEN: This is Abbey reading from the book that made him famous, the now classic Desert Solitaire. It's a journal of his life as a ranger in southeastern Utah. On every page, in Abbey's evocative style, are delicate stone arches and ancient dust, domed sandstone, and thousand-foot canyon walls, flash floods, the land, the sky.

ABBEY: By noon the clouds are forming around the horizon. And in the afternoon, predictable as sunrise and sunset, they gather in massed formations, colliding in jags of lightning and thunderous artillery, and pile higher and higher toward the summit of the sky in vaporish mountains, dazzling under the sunlight.

RONALD: Certainly Abbey was the first real popularizer of that kind of writing in the late 60s and early 70s. It's a bandwagon now that there are hundreds and hundreds of writers who have climbed on it.

HARDEEN: Ann Ronald is Dean of the College of Arts and Science at the University of Nevada at Reno, and author of The New West of Edward Abbey. In Desert Solitaire, and the novels, essays, and journalism that followed, Abbey wrote passionately about keeping the desert empty, untouched, and especially free from development. Ironically, it was his words that helped usher in a boom in tourism that now brings millions to the region every year. But he also inspired protest and action to protect the land. Some say his fictitious Monkey Wrench Gang, which disabled loggers' bulldozers, and coal company railroad tracks, spawned the real life radical environmental group Earth First, whose credo is to defend the earth at any cost.

SLEIGHT: His greatest contribution was that he put it in words what everybody would like to have said.

HARDEEN: Ken Sleight was one of Abbey's oldest friends and the model for seldom-seen Smith, the river running polygamist Jack Mormon in The Monkey Wrench Gang.

SLEIGHT: It's not only myself, it's hundreds, thousands of other people that took the cue from Edward, and he came out and said well, enough's enough. We don't want any more.

HARDEEN: Abbey condemned the damming of western rivers, especially the Colorado. The Glen Canyon dam flooded the most beautiful of Utah's canyons.

(Birdcalls: the canyon wren.)

HARDEEN: Few people got to hear the song of the shy canyon wren there, but Abbey was one of them.

(Creaking wood, a boat being rowed)

HARDEEN: Abbey preferred the sound of oars to the din of an outboard motor. On a trip through Utah's Cataract Canyon, he wrote a piece called "Down the River with Henry Thoreau." The 2 writers loved simplicity and freedom. Both shared a strong suspicion of government. They believed in the joys of solitude, the human need for wilderness, and the duty of a writer to speak for these principles.

ABBEY: I see the preservation of wilderness as one sector of the front in the war against the encroaching industrial state. Every square mile of range and desert saved from the strip miners, every river saved from the dam builders, every forest saved from the loggers, every swamp saved from the land speculators, means another square mile saved for the play of human freedom.

HARDEEN: Abbey distinguished between civil disobedience and violence. At the end of The Money Wrench Gang, saboteurs succeed in blowing up the Glen Canyon dam. Once asked whether he would ever do that, Abbey said no, never. But he'd hold the coats for those who did. For Living on Earth, I'm George Hardeen in Tuba City, Arizona.

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CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. 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 in the environment; the Ford Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; the Great Lakes Protection Fund; and the George Gund Foundation for Great Lakes reporting.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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CURWOOD: How does the Environmental Protection Agency enforce the environmental laws with no money in the cupboard? Find out in the second half of Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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CURWOOD: For decades a big nickel mine ravaged the landscape in Sudbury, an area north of Toronto. It became so barren that Apollo astronauts studied it in advance of their moon walks. But then folks got together to reclaim it and the results of have been astonishing. The rebirth of Sudbury, Ontario, in this half hour of NPR's Living on Earth. First, this week's almanac.

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: In January of 1863, London's Metropolitan, the world's first underground passenger railway, opened to the public. It wasn't util 1897 that Boston became home to the first US subway. Seven years after that New York City one-upped Boston and started operating what was to become the world's largest subway system. The New York City subway runs over more than 490 miles of track and carries 1.1 billion people every year. Despite a recent fare increase to $1.50 per trip, the system is a money-losing proposition. Each passenger trip costs the system $1.80. Americans must have a special place in their heart for subways. There are 15 US cities with underground railway systems, far more than any other nation. The newest major subway is under construction in Los Angeles. If all goes according to plan, by the time it is finished it will include more than 95 miles of rail, a third of that underground. And the fare? Right now it's a quarter. The bargain fare is an effort to coax Angelenos out of their cars.

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Budget Upsets: EPA Shutdown Backload

CURWOOD: If you live near one of the nation's over 1200 Superfund sites, and wonder why activity was even less than normal, there's a good reason. The slowdowns and shutdowns at the Federal Government have left a huge backlog of work for all agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency. When EPA workers finally reported to their offices after the latest round of furloughs, they faced over a quarter of a million letters needing their attention. Nearly 30,000 phone calls to Agency hotlines had gone unanswered, and more than a million attempts to access EPA information via the Internet had drawn blanks. What does it mean when the EPA falls so far behind? The repercussions have been extensive, according to John Cushman, who covers the environment for the New York Times from Washington.

CUSHMAN: I think the 2 most notable examples are the virtual standstill in enforcement activities of the Environmental Protection Agency, meaning the inspections of treatment plants or factories to make sure that they are adhering to the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and so on. And secondly, on the Superfund side, there are hundreds of sites which have been shut down. One that comes to mind is in Douglasville, Pennsylvania, where there's a 2-acre pile of oil wastes about a dozen feet deep or so, and just open to the elements and leaching into the groundwater and running off into the Schuylkill River.

CURWOOD: What does this mean for public health?

CUSHMAN: It's hard to say right now that there is a public health crisis of any kind as a result of this. But I think there's a real concern at the Agency that something untoward is likely to happen down the road, maybe a cryptosporidian outbreak, maybe a small scale spill that will call attention to the problems of what happens when an agency like this grinds to a halt.

CURWOOD: Clean-up hasn't been the only thing affected. Haven't businesses as well been hurt by the shutdown?

CUSHMAN: Indeed they are. The Pesticide Office at the EPA, for example, is responsible for approving all new applications for new pesticides, and although they've lost 5 weeks of work during the government shutdown, the growing season isn't going to be delayed 5 weeks to accommodate them. That means that a lot of farmers and pesticide manufacturers will not have approval to bring new products to market and to use them in the field. And you have to bear in mind that many new pesticides have environmental benefits. They may require smaller applications, they may be less toxic than the existing pesticides. Certainly many of them are more cost effective and save the farmer money, and for the pesticide manufacturer the return on all that investment is waiting.

CURWOOD: What other businesses are hurting?

CUSHMAN: Oh, it's all over the place. Detroit has automobile emissions tests which the EPA participates in. And then there are many contractors, private companies, who actually do most of the EPA's work when it comes to things like cleaning up Superfund sites or when it comes to administrative functions like data processing. All of these people are being told that there's less money to pay them. And so now they're laying off workers as well.

CURWOOD: Now, if the EPA gets going again with an appropriation, is it just a matter of playing catch-up, or has the Agency been crippled by these delays and shutdowns?

CUSHMAN: Let me just explain briefly what's happening with the Agency's budget right now. The Congress passed a bill that would cut the Agency's 1996 spending by nearly a billion dollars, almost 15%, from what they actually spent last year. President Clinton vetoed that bill. And since that time the Agency has been getting by on a series of stopgap spending measures interrupted by total shutdowns for periods of days or weeks. Now what can the Agency expect? The managers of the EPA tell me that if the funding that they end up with for this year is at the level that was in the bill that the President vetoed, then on about May 1st they will lay off 3,000 to 5,000 of their 17,000 workers. That is, those people will be fired; they'll lose their jobs. If on the other hand, they are required to continue at the partial funding levels of this stopgap or temporary spending measure known as a continuing resolution, then they really believe that in the summer time, June, July, and August, they are going to have to furlough essentially everybody at the Agency. Because right now they've been unable by law to lay off any workers, but they've been operating on only two thirds of their budget. So they've been borrowing next summer's payroll to pay workers today, even though the workers are often at home doing nothing.

CURWOOD: I'm wondering, was this shutdown, was this budget impasse in part allowed to go forward because some would like to see the function of the EPA be extinguished? That they'd like to see the Agency not be able to do its work?

CUSHMAN: Well, whenever you have an impasse or gridlock I think you have more than one party involved, and in this case it's hard to say who is ultimately responsible for the shutdown of the EPA. After all, had President Clinton signed the bill that Congress passed, it would have funded the Agency at a higher level that it's now getting. But I think that the thing to bear in mind is that environmental protection enjoys very broad public support. In all the polls people say, by margins of 70% to 30%, that they really want stronger environmental protection. And I think that the Administration recognizes that it has a strong claim on the environmental issue during the election campaign. At the same time, the Congress is trying to change the way that environmental protection is done in this country, and they are responding to very real constituencies as well. I think that the more revolutionary, if you will, members of the Congress may be taking a line out of Lenin's book: you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

CURWOOD: Jack Cushman, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.

CUSHMAN: It's been my pleasure.

CURWOOD: John Cushman is a reporter in the Washington Bureau of the New York Times.

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CURWOOD: Just ahead in Living on Earth, from ravaged moonscape to verdant landscape. The story of Sudbury, Ontario. Stay tuned.

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Sudbury, Ontario: From Moonscape to Greenscape

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In the middle of Canada, about 300 miles north of Toronto, is the site of what was once one of the most scarred landscapes on Earth. Sudbury, Ontario, is home to one of the world's largest metal smelting complexes, which for decades poisoned and denuded the landscape. But at the Earth Summit in 1992, the United Nations honored Sudbury for turning its environment around. The city made the mining company reduce emissions to a fraction of former levels. It's planted 2 million trees. It's re-greened what once looked like a moonscape. How did Sudbury do it? What were the key ingredients of this apparent success story? We sent Bob Carty to Sudbury to find out.

(Children playing in water and laughing. Woman: "Come here, baby!")

CARTY: In the middle of Sudbury, Ramsey Lake is an oasis of deep blue waters with sailboats and canoes and kids splashing on the shore, all framed by pine trees and rugged, ancient rock. Ramsey Lake is where Bernie Picher comes to fish, where Joan Kuyek runs with her dog.

KUYEK: It's much more beautiful. I mean, it's a real treat to live in a city with 22 lakes and the green coming back. When I first moved here Sudbury looked like Mordor in Lord of the Rings. It was a terrible, ugly, ugly place. You could tell you were coming into Sudbury because 30 miles out you'd start getting a catch in your throat from the sulfur.

(Children playing and laughing at the lake.)

PICHER: We thought it was normal. When the sulfur blew through it would kill your plants. It would kill the flowers. My grandparents would have peonies out and they'd all turn brown. The leaves on the trees would wilt and die. But we really feel good about this now; you can sit here and catch a pickerel, up to 5 pounds. Nature comes back really well.

CARTY: Nature's comeback is a matter of civic celebration in Sudbury. Residents are proud to compare today's environment to what it was like when they were young. But others compare it what it was like when the country was young.

GUNN: Before the area was settled by the Europeans, we were a very dense area of lakes, crystal clear lakes, and a rich red and white pine forest, probably a meter of soil kind of covering the whole area.

CARTY: John Gunn is a scientist with the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Province of Ontario. He demonstrates how Sudbury went from idyllic forest to industrial nightmare with the help of a picture taken from space.

GUNN: What we're looking at here is a satellite image taken of the Sudbury area in 1987, and the real striking thing is the picture in the middle of the blue-gray area, and that's the devastated area around the smelters. It's one of the largest kind of localized damage sites on Earth, with almost 100,000 hectares of damage associated with the forest in this area. And right at the epicenter of that is about 20,000 hectares of barren land. We're talking complete devastation with a beautiful pine forest and the soil and shrubs and wildlife that were in those areas, gone.

CARTY: That complete devastation of the environment started in the 1870s. And as David Pearson explains, it all began with a legendary cow, a lamp, and a fire in Chicago.

PEARSON: If we'd been here about 100 years ago, or maybe 110 years ago before there was any mining activity, we might have found ourselves looking here at a logging camp, loggers taking out white pine. For example, for the rebuilding of Chicago in the middle of the 1870s. Much of the lumber for that project, after Mother O'Leary's cow had burned the city down, came from the north shore of Lake Huron and some of it from the Sudbury area.

CARTY: David Pearson teaches geology at Laurentian University, and sometimes gives historical tours of the Sudbury area. He explains that a few years after loggers cut down the white pine forests, railway workers discovered nickel near Sudbury. It was a case of good timing. Industrialists had just discovered that as an alloy in steel, nickel made armor plating impenetrable. The history of warfare would never be the same, and neither would Sudbury. The US Department of the Navy put up the money to open up nickel mines in Sudbury, and the environment paid the price. The problem was that Sudbury's nickel is found in rock that's loaded with sulfur. From before the turn of the century, and for the next 4 decades, mining companies got rid of the sulfur by using one of the most ecologically damaging smelting processes: roast beds. Three stories high, a football field wide, and more than a mile long. David Pearson.

PEARSON: All was piled here, covered with wood, and the wood was obtained from the trees in the area and that was part of devastating the landscape. And then was set alight. Those piles, those roast beds, were left burning for 2 and 3 months, and out of the bottom came the richer copper and nickel matters, it was called. And from them came clouds of sulfur dioxide that rolled across the landscape poisoning the plants and acidifying the soil. We would have found ourselves then looking at a totally barren black landscape that was as different as you could imagine, almost like another planet.

CARTY: Almost like the moon, in fact. So much so that in the early '70s, when Apollo astronauts came here to study geology, their visit gave rise to the urban myth that this was the only place on Earth you could train for a moon walk. The early 70s is when things began to change. Their provincial government told the nickel companies to improve local air quality. The biggest company, INCO, responded by building the world's tallest smokestack. The superstack did let the people of Sudbury breathe easier. It dispersed 2 million tons a year of sulfur dioxide high into the atmosphere. But that only started acidifying lakes and killing trees hundreds of miles away. The superstack became a target of the growing outrage over acid rain. The government passed tougher pollution legislation. But according to community organizer Joan Kuyek, it was a labor dispute that finally made the INCO Corporation change its ways.

KUYEK: During the 1979 INCO strike, which lasted for 9 months and was effectively won by the strikers and their wives, INCO became the most hated multinational in Canada. I think the company got really nervous, and certainly this kind of public image was not something that they needed in a place where they were tied by the ore body to the community. They can't just pick up and leave. They had to change their public relations and they knew it.

(horns blaring, construction equipment)

CARTY: INCO changed its public relations by making changes here, at its smelter plant. The company spent $560 million to modernize its milling and smelting process. Capturing the sulfur it used to burn off, turning it into sulfuric acid, which it now sells for a profit. Good ecology is good business, according to INCO's environmental coordinator Ellen Heale.

HEALE: Now as of 1994, our sulfur dioxide emissions are approximately 265,000 tons of sulfur dioxide annually, which is a significant reduction in terms of emissions of approximately 90%.

CARTY: Why did the company spend that amount of money?

HEALE: Well it certainly has had a tremendous impact in terms of improvements to the quality of life in Sudbury, and also for the company in terms of productivity, energy savings, just a real all around benefit for INCO and the community.

CARTY: The reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions by INCO and other companies was the turning point resarch scientist John Gunn was waiting for. Gunn watched for changes out at a small body of water on the south side of Sudbury.

(Birdsong)

GUNN: Well, we're on the edge of Silver Lake. And Silver Lake has the wonderful distinction of being one of the most polluted lakes on Earth, where the pollution source is entirely from the atmosphere. It's called Silver Lake because it's crystal clear and it has, almost from the air you'll see it as a blue turquoise, looks like people's swimming pools.

CARTY: There are 7,000 lakes in the Sudbury area, acidified like Silver Lake. But when the smelters curtailed their emissions, Silver Lake began to recover on its own. There are still no fish, but insects have re-colonized. And in the rocky hills around it, weeds, grasses, and a few trees are beginning to take root. And that's exciting stuff for John Gunn. It shows the importance of cutting off the source of pollution. This would seem like quite an obvious idea, but back in the 1980s, during the Reagan Administration, there were frequent denials that acid rain was bad for lakes and forests. There was widespread opposition to clean air legislation.

GUNN: Prior to this a lot of nay-sayers were saying well, we're sorry the damage is done, but what can we do at this stage? Sudbury shows the world that you can shut down pollution and see some natural recovery, which is really important to see, but then people can get together and industries and government can get together and start to repair something in a reasonable time frame.

CARTY: And that's what they did. The second major part of Sudbury's restoration was the re-greening program launched by the city government. Over the past 15 years, it's cost the city $15 million, about $100 per citizen. How did they get the taxpayer to go along? Well in part, people were fed up with the city's tarnished reputation. And then in the early 1980s, the nickel companies laid off hundreds of workers. So there was political support for putting the unemployed and welfare recipients to work at re-greening the barren rocks around the city. Those workers are the unsung heroes of this story. By hand they first spread lime, 5 tons per acre, to counter the acidity in the soil. Then a layer of fertilizers. Later they came back to plant seedling trees. In the past 15 years, workers have restored more than 7,000 acres of barren land and planted more than 2 million trees. And you can really see the difference, according to Professor David Pearson.

(Traffic sounds)

PEARSON: The Trans-Canada highway is just a stone's throw over to the south from where we're standing, and around us are red pine and white pine. They're about 15, 16 feet high, and they were planted just over a dozen years ago at the start of the re-greening effort in the Sudbury area. They're deliberately close to the roadside, because that was where the image of the city was going to be most easily changed, as travelers came in and out of the city. But over the slope, at the head of the slope here, just about 200 meters away from the edge of the road, the scene is very, very different.

CARTY: Let's take a look.

(A train whistles)

CARTY: Only about 25% of the damaged land around Sudbury has been treated so far. And once you walk away from the highway, up a rocky slope, you can see how much work is yet to be done. Up here, you can see for miles in all directions. A treeless plateau of blackened rock, strewn with what looks like pieces of driftwood: the gray remnants of a forest.

(Bird calls in a forest)

PEARSON: Well let's grab one of these gray pieces of wood. And it's hardly rotted; it breaks up as you work at it. But it's not breaking up and rotting in that way that it would in a normal forest, because the microorganisms that do that job in a normal forest are not here any more.

CARTY: How far have you come here in Sudbury to real restoration to the former environment?

PEARSON: We're maybe 15 years into a 100-year process of restoration here. We have the flagships of the recovery, like the trees, the masts of the ship so to speak. But all of the working parts of the ecosystem that lie below the masts of the ship, in sort of the engine room and the real working parts of biological recovery around here, the soil and all the components of it, we're only a small step into that. And there are still question marks about the sustainability of what's being done. And we really don't know whether the liming and whether the fertilization that preceded the planting of the trees is going to hold for the next 20, 30, 40 years. But there is no question, though, of the success of what's happened.

CARTY: And a lot of people are now coming to learn the secrets of Sudbury's success. Delegations from Russia, Eastern Europe, and China, are looking for solutions for their own industrial messes. Visitors learn that it has not cost the city of Sudbury that much, and that the higher costs for the mining companies were offset by productivity and profit gains. They also learn that the linchpin was the enforcement of tough pollution legislation. Still, there's a big question about Sudbury's experience. Can it be repeated today? Sudbury, after all, launched its re-greening plan in the 1980s, a time when environmentalism was gaining force, and governments were still interventionist. The 1990s are different times, times of belt-tightening, environmental fatigue, and fierce international competition. Community organizer Joan Kuyek believes Sudbury can be copied elsewhere, but only if there are people, she says, like herself, screaming and yelling outside the gates.

KUYEK: It can be replicated in places where people are willing to fight for it to happen. And where communities are, feel that this is enough of a priority that they'll shift money to it from other uses and companies, think it's enough of a priority, shift money from other things that they're doing. But building political will isn't necessarily done by people all being nice to each other. Building political will comes from knowing that there's consequences for not doing it.

(Children playing in Ramsey Lake)

CARTY: The citizens of Sudbury are happy to have lost the title of The Pollution Capitol of the World. Across Ramsey Lake there are fresh signs of how far they've come. A housing developer has actually had to cut down some trees in order to begin construction. And there's another irony here, too. According to John Gunn there's growing talk in town in support of preserving a patch of Sudbury's barren, blackened rock.

GUNN: It seems an odd thing to preserve a damaged site. But most people in the area agree, and I do, too, that the people should be able to see the contrast. It doesn't have to be a big site, but something should be left in its devastated state so the history is obvious. That people can look to the left and see where we began and look to the right and see what we have achieved.

CARTY: For Living on Earth, I'm Bob Carty in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

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(Music up and under)

Listener Letters

CURWOOD: And now, we'd like to ask you, our listeners, to share with us your environmental success stories. It can be about something that was done in your community or in your household or on the job. Call us at 1-800-218-9988, and be sure to give us a daytime number because we may want to put your success story on the air. We'll give that number again and our e-mail address in just a few moments, but first we want to share with you some responses to last week's query. We asked you if you had the chance, what one question about the environment would you pose to the candidates for President of the United States? Here's what some of you said.

GREENFIELD: My name is Lisa Greenfield. I live in Corvallis, Oregon. My environmental one question for the presidential candidates would be asking them what they would do to help -- to fight against overpopulation. Because I think that's what almost all of our problems in general come down to, is too many people and a finite number of resources.

CURWOOD: Another Oregon listener, Bill Warner of Elkton, had this one question on his mind.

WARNER: Given the trend toward privatization and emphasis upon free market, why can we not set prices for grazing lands by competitive bid? Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: Tom Sharp from Edmond, Oklahoma, wants the candidates to answer this question: Won't turning environmental responsibility over to the states spur a race to deregulate in order to attract jobs and industry? And a listener from Ohio wants to know from the candidates how they would bridge what he calls the conflict between rampant consumerism and the necessity to preserve natural resources. In a similar vein came this query from Jennifer Fox, who listens to us on New Hampshire Public Radio. She asked when we will hear about sustainability.

FOX: Candidates are always talking about growth and how we need to increase our growth markets, and none of them ever seem to address the issue of sustainability and how, in a market where we have finite natural resources, what economics fit into that picture.

CURWOOD: We can't guarantee the candidates will answer your question, but as we continue to cover the race for the White House, we'll try to keep these and other questions you might have in mind.

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CURWOOD: And again, if you have a comment, or an environmental success story to share, give us a call at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. Again, that e-mail address: LOE@NPR.ORG. And if you prefer the post office, write us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes of the program are $12.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Senior producer for our program is Chris Ballman. Our editor is Peter Thomson and our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, and Julia Madeson. We also had help from Marney Kimmel, Christopher Knorr, Mark Borrelli, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, and Kathryn Bennett. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Karen Given and Laurie Forest. Our Harvard University engineers are Larry Bouthelliere and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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