• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

June 18, 1999

Air Date: June 18, 1999

SEGMENTS

Presidential Politics and the Environment

Announcements of candidacy have come from both presidential frontrunners in the past week. But when it comes to the environment, neither candidate has a clear platform. Steve talks with Living On Earth’s political observer Mark Hertsgaard about what’s at stake as Vice President Gore and Governor Bush jockey for the environmental vote. (05:15)

California Vineyards / Sally Eisele

In California, the wine industry is booming. A robust economy and high demand for premium wines have growers rushing to develop thousands of acres of new vineyards. But as the golden grassy knolls and woodlands of the California wine country are being replaced with vines, the wine industry is experiencing an unfamiliar backlash. Sally Eisele (EYES-lee) reports. (08:15)

Green Alaska

Steve talks with author and Living On Earth commentator Nancy Lord about her new book Green Alaska: Dreams From The Far Coast, in which she retraces the 19th-century Harriman Expedition, and finds that Alaska is not only green, but in much better shape than it was 100 years ago. (06:10)

The Living on Earth Almanc

Ohio's Cuyahoga River caught fire thirty years ago this week, changing U.S. environmental history. (02:32)

Plastics and Baby Bottles

Scientists have recently raised concerns that chemicals in the plastics used in some plastic wraps, baby bottles and teethers could leach out and be harmful. Steve talks with Ned Groth, director of technical policy and public service at Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, about the latest research. (05:30)

Fuel Cells for Homeowners / George Homsy

Living On Earth’s George Homsy reports on a company outside of Albany, New York, that wants to put a personal power plant in every home. Plug Power is developing a fuel cell that will convert natural gas into heat and electricity. Not only will the new fuel cell protect homeowners from the vagaries of the electric grid, but it is virtually pollution-free. (03:15)

Nuclear Waste Storage on Goshute Tribal Lands / Jenny Brundin

From outside Salt Lake City, Utah, Jenny Brundin (brun-DEEN) reports on the Goshute (GO-shoot) Indian Tribe’s plan to provide storage for the nation’s 77 thousand tons of unwanted nuclear waste. While it would bring money and jobs to the area, not all Goshutes like the idea. (08:10)

Mormons and the Environment

The Mormon religion has traditionally cultivated a connection to the earth, but author Terry Tempest Williams, herself a Mormon, tells Steve that in recent years, the Church has lost its way on the environment. She says the environmental movement will suffer as long as it remains a political one, and does not incorporate faith. (06:15)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

FIRST HALF HOUR

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Sally Eisele, George Homsy, Jenny Brundin
GUESTS: Mark Hertsgaard, Nancy Lord, Ned Groth, Terry Tempest Williams

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Texas Governor George Bush is bucking a conservative tradition to declare that global warming is a real threat. The policy shift is heating up a possible showdown on environmental issues between the Republican frontrunner and Vice President Al Gore.

HERTSGAARD: Governor Bush and his advisers recognize that the environmental vote matters, and Bush is in effect saying to Gore: Look, you can't take the environmental vote for granted.

CURWOOD: And in California, some folks who have made their fortunes in Silicon Valley are now creating vineyards and a possible glut of fine wine. Critics say it's all putting a strain on the wine country environment.

MOORE: It's unbelievable. I can't conceive that there's that much wine to be drank in the world as a whole as what they're putting in vineyards in the last 5 years.

CURWOOD: And the greening of Alaska, this week on Living on Earth. But first, this round-up of the news.

Back to top

(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Presidential Politics and the Environment

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Recently the Clinton Administration announced that it wants to push back the global warming treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, until the year 2001, a move it says will give negotiators more time to develop the treaty's "complicated compliance mechanisms." By then, a new President will be in office. And as the environment has become a more important issue to voters, the 2 Presidential frontrunners are finding that their positions on the issue are being watched more closely. Joining us now from the studios of member station KQED in San Francisco is Living on Earth's political observer, Mark Hertsgaard. Hi, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Hi, Steve.

CURWOOD: Mark, it seems like every other country is ready for this convention to happen next year, and in fact nine countries have already ratified the treaty just as it is. Why does the US want this extra time? Do you think Vice President Gore is trying to push the big decision here past the next election?

HERTSGAARD: I suspect that's part of it. But it's also important to remember that the United States has been the main foot-dragger on the global warming issue throughout the 1990s, going way back to the Earth Summit in '92, when again, a vast majority of the nations around the world signed that treaty. But our government, led by then-President George Bush, declined to sign it. So this is part of a larger pattern.

CURWOOD: So, if this treaty does get pushed back, and under the rules I think the United States has the power to do this, it's going to be an issue for whoever gets sworn in as President in the year 2001. What are the politics of that?

HERTSGAARD: They're very interesting politics. Of course, most people would think, well, this is Al Gore's signature issue, global warming, and we know how he'll deal with it. But to me, the most fascinating part of this, is that Governor Bush of Texas, the presumed Republican frontrunner, has recently announced that he has discovered that global warming is real after all. At a press conference on May 12th in Austin, he told reporters that, quote, "I believe there is global warming," unquote. Now, this from a man who just a few weeks before had been saying that the science is still out on global warming, which was sort of the basic industry boilerplate position, marks a major shift. And I think it's something that the political reporters in this country have largely overlooked. But it shows that Governor Bush and his advisers recognize something about Presidential politics that the reporters don't. Which is that the environmental vote matters, and you cannot be elected President in this country, in this day and age, unless you at least sound like you're an environmentalist. And you cannot sound like you're an environmentalist if you're saying that global warming is not real.

CURWOOD: Interesting, then. You see the Republican frontrunner moving to a harder line on climate change, and some would say that the Democratic Administration, with Gore who's been so interested in the environment, is softer on this issue.

HERTSGAARD: It sure looks that way, and it's interesting. Bush is, in effect, saying to Gore: Look, you can't take the environmental vote for granted. And I think Vice President Gore has done that throughout most of the eight years in office. The assumption is that look, the environmentalists have no place else to go, I'm the guy who wrote the book on the environment, and they're going to support me. But when you look at Gore's record on this, it's not that strong. For example, the single greatest measure that the Clinton Administration could have taken against global warming would have been to increase the fuel efficiency standards in this country, up to 45 miles a gallon. That's what Bill Clinton promised to do when he was running for President in 1992, but as soon as he got in the White House that plan was dropped. And a whole other series of initiatives have also been watered down. So, I think it's going to be hard for Gore to say hey, I'm the guy who has delivered on this issue.

CURWOOD: I'm wondering if the reason that Gore backed away from this is the fear that it will be too costly economically to deal with climate change.

HERTSGAARD: I'm sure that's a large part of it. He relies on labor union support, he relies on donations from big companies, he doesn't want to look like he's an environmental extremist. But it's quite ironic, because he showed, Gore showed in his book, that he knows better than that. And the evidence is very strong from throughout the world that fighting global warming is actually good for economies. It makes you money. You can go to Germany and see that in Japan. And even here in the United States, there's a new book out this month called Cool Companies, by Joseph Romm, that shows how big American firms are actually making money, getting returns of investment 50% and 100% by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. We're talking about companies like Compaq and 3M and Hewlett-Packard and Toyota. These are not marginal players in the world economy. And the political candidate who is smart enough to recognize how you can link the environment with the economy, which is the issue that really decides most Presidential elections, is going to have a very strong campaign. It remains to be seen whether George Bush or Al Gore or perhaps someone else will have the wit to do that.

CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth's political observer. His latest book is called Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of Our Environmental Future. Mark, always a pleasure.

HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

California Vineyards

CURWOOD: In California, the wine industry is booming. A robust economy and high demand for premium wines have growers rushing to develop thousands of acres of new vineyards. As the golden grassy knolls and woodlands of the California wine country are being replaced with vines, the wind industry is facing an unfamiliar backlash. Sally Eisele has our story.
(Plane engine)

MOORE: This is an aerial photo of about 600 acres of ranch land...

EISELE: Seventy miles north of San Francisco, Kevin Moore's small farm overlooks the lush Alexander Valley, one of the most abundant grape-growing regions in Sonoma County. From the kitchen he studies an old map of the way the area used to look: rolling hills interspersed with orchards, oak groves, and the occasional verdant vineyard. Now, Kevin Moore says vineyards dominate, and the trend is obvious all over the north coast.
MOORE: It's unbelievable. I can't conceive that there's that much wine to be drank in the world as a whole as what they're putting in vineyards in the last five years.
(Bulldozers)

EISELE: One of those vineyards is going in right next door. Two bulldozers crisscross a slope, clearing branches and brush from what used to be a small forest. Now an eight-foot barbed wire fence separates the property, and limits access to one of the only local water sources for wildlife. Again, Kevin Moore.

MOORE: Be interesting to see what happens with the water, the wildlife, and everything, but we won't know for 50 years, maybe 100 years, and it'll be too late, then. You'll never see a tree like the one that's right behind you ever again in this spot. Seventy-five feet tall valley oak. Not in our lifetimes.

EISELE: Scenes like these are playing out around California. The state has added some 100,000 acres of wine grapes since 1990, a 30% increase in vineyard land. Eleven thousand of those acres are in rural Sonoma County. Visitors come from all over the world to see the wine country, but Mark Green, executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action, says increasingly the locals don't like the view.

GREEN: Vineyards can be beautiful, particularly if they're backed by hills that aren't vineyards. Hills that look like green corduroy and have every stick that isn't a vineyard taken off it are not particularly beautiful, and most people in Sonoma County feel that way.
EISELE: Aesthetics are a big part of the debate, but it's more than that. Edina Merenlender is a natural resource specialist with the University of California, Berkeley Extension. She's been studying the development trend now for three years, recording the data on a computer map.

MERENLENDER: If you zoom into this information and look at it on the map, what we see is that later vineyards are up on steeper slopes than vineyards developed before 1990.

EISELE: Ms. Merenlender is concerned about soil erosion on those hillsides, and loss of habitat, particularly oak woodlands. She says thousands of acres of those native trees have been lost to vineyard development. Perhaps the most visible example is in Santa Barbara County, a rapidly-growing agricultural county on the southern California coast. In 1997, Kendall Jackson Winery cut down more than 800 old oak trees for a massive new vineyard, a highly- publicized move that drew criticism around the state. Increasingly, large vineyard development projects are meeting with community resistance. But Mark Green says another, less visible part of the problem is the influx of newcomers drawn by the romance of the wine country.

GREEN: The problem is that most of those people don't have a clue about farming. But they have enough money to buy a piece of land which may be nearly vertical, and the next thing you know, they're out there stripping these very, very steep slopes without any kind of adherence to erosion control, sticking vines in the ground. Then they don't understand why people are mad when it all ends up at the bottom of the hill.

EISELE: That anger is beginning to result in local efforts to limit vineyard development. In Santa Barbara County, negotiations continue on a measure to protect the oak woodlands. In Sonoma County this spring, officials approved an ordinance intended to reduce erosion, which can deplete valuable topsoil and clog waterways with sediment. The measure limits vineyard development on steep hillsides and requires all growers to submit their vineyard plans to the county for approval. Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner John Westoby is charged with enforcing the measure.

WESTOBY: It will put growers on notice, what their responsibilities are. And in the end it'll be good for the growers and the environment.

EISELE: The debate over vineyard development has many growers on the defensive, arguing the actions of a few irresponsible farmers are giving them all a bad reputation.
SMITH: Most growers are very conscientious and realize that if they lose their soil, they're not going to have anything to farm in the long run. (Spilling water)

EISELE: Stuart Smith is a co-owner of Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery in Napa County. At this steep hillside vineyard, even the water they use to wash their vehicles is carefully managed.
SMITH: The water's got to go somewhere, and if you don't take into consideration in your engineering of the layout where that water goes, it'll go where you don't want it to go. And if it does that, you're going to have soil erosion.

EISELE: In this mountain vineyard, it's easy to see how soil erosion could be a problem. From the winery, the land dips sharply downhill. The rows are contoured in wide horizontal stripes to protect against runoff. If you look carefully, you can see crude drains which route water and sediment to a small holding pond for later recycling. Cover crops interspersed with the vines also help keep the soil in place.

SMITH: We have some mustard here. Here is a little bit of blando broom. There's fillery...

EISELE: Mr. Smith says farmers have learned these techniques through trial and error, not by government regulation. He's been growing grapes since the early 1970s, when the industry was just coming into its own and experimentation was the order of the day.

SMITH: We had the ability to be free and open, and we weren't encumbered by government restrictions, government regulations. And that's all changed. And that, I think, bodes ill for the future.

EISELE: Mr. Smith sits on a task force currently reviewing Napa County's own hillside development rules. He worries too many government restrictions will ultimately hurt the California wine industry's ability to compete in a world market. But the trend is in the direction of more regulation, not less. And as public pressure mounts, vineyard owners are responding. Some of the biggest growers are leading the way. (Tractor engine)

EISELE: A former farm along the Rogers Creek Watershed is Beringer Vineyard's latest acquisition. Here, a tractor prepares the soil for new vines. The hilly 600-acre parcel near the town of Sonoma is studded with trees. The law doesn't require any particular protection for these trees, but vineyard manager Bob Steinhower says they're all staying.

STEINHOWER: We have turned down many pieces of property where it would require major tree removal and forests and what have you, just because we didn't want to be the people that were doing it. I think that's a valley oak over there, and you can see all the live oaks. We haven't taken out any trees here.

EISELE: To be sure, Beringer has taken out plenty of trees as it's grown over the years into an industry kingpin with more than 10,000 acres of grapes. But Mr. Steinhower says the company's philosophy has evolved.

STEINHOWER: We're learning to live with the environment, and I see that as all very positive. We're not the only people doing this. There's many, many people that are taking on natural farming technology, trying to protect the environment, and trying to do the best they can and still remain in business.

EISELE: Some of the neighbors at this development still don't like the fact that a vineyard is going in next door. They worry the county is losing its rural character. But as north coast growers are all quick to point out, land prices here are skyrocketing. Prime farmland can sell for upwards of $50,000 an acre. And they say better vineyards than the kind of development that has turned the prune orchards south of San Francisco into the suburban sprawl of the Silicon Valley. For Living on Earth, I'm Sally Eisele in Sonoma County, California.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: We welcome your comments on our program. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or send us an e-mail at LOE@NPR.ORG. Once again, LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can find our Web page at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up...despite a devastating oil spill 10 years ago, overall Alaska's environment seems to be getting greener. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Green Alaska

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. One hundred years ago the wealthy industrialist Edward H. Harriman loaded up a large steamship with some of the world's most noted scientists and naturalists, and headed north and west to Alaska. The scientists collected specimens of the unique species they encountered. And naturalists, including John Muir and John Burroughs, captured the landscape in writings, paintings, and photographs, that gave many Americans their first glimpse of the vastness and beauty of territory purchased from Russia in the mid-19th century. Last year author Nancy Lord retraced the route of the historic Harriman expedition. The result is her new book Green Alaska: Dreams from the Far Coast.

LORD: I've lived in Alaska for about 26 years and I've always heard about the expedition. I would run across references in books or see photographs or hear people say something. I guess I was particularly interested because John Burroughs and John Muir were part of it, and they're both some of my favorite writers and naturalists.

CURWOOD: So, it's their relationship that really sparked your interest. I'm wondering, actually you wrote in your book something about this, on page 15. I wonder if you could read that for me.

LORD: Sure. "These two men, destined to be the two great nature writers of their age, were absolute contrasts. East and west, quiet and loud, mild and combative, they praised entirely different natures. Muir was said to have badgered Burroughs on the expedition, criticizing him for his bovine contentedness back in the East and for failing to speak out for the protection of forests, Muir's latest mission, and other conservation causes. All this he did with rather good humor, apparently, with a fondness that Burroughs returned. But Burroughs, too, could twist a barb. Describing Muir in his official expedition account, he wrote, "In John Muir, we had an authority on glaciers, and a thorough one. So thorough that he would not allow the rest of the party to have an opinion on the subject."

CURWOOD: (Laughs) One of the pictures I get of John Burroughs in your book is that, well, he may have liked nature but he would have maybe perhaps rather stayed on deck of the boat with a meal nicely served to him. He wasn't about to go, you know, camp out in it and get his hands dirty in it.

LORD: He was very often seasick on this two-month tour of the coast of Alaska, and he was also usually cold. So he wasn't really too interested in being out in the wet and cold. The parts of Alaska that he enjoyed the most were the sort of pastoral kind, especially Kodiak Island and some of the rolling green tundra that appealed to him the most. He was really not that much taken with the steep mountains, the mountain peaks, and the glaciers, and the wilder part of it.

CURWOOD: Now, Alaska as a place, you think of ice and snow. So your book is called Green Alaska. Why green Alaska?

LORD: For a number of reasons. First, because of just what you said, because of the misconceptions that people have about Alaska being locked in ice and snow all the time, which it's not. Secondly, Burroughs titled his account of the expedition, "In Green Alaska," so I was playing with his title or taking off from that. And third, I wanted to use the word "green" in the environmental sense. That green stands for what's environmentally correct, or environmentally well taken care of, and that the future that we may have in Alaska is a green one.

CURWOOD: You write about greenness in your book. I'm wondering if you could read from your chapter entitled, "Green," in which you write about the Schumegan Islands.

LORD: "What I see in the lowering light is more fiery Irish green, spilling like liquid down the slopes. Colors seeming to drip from rock to catch and concentrate on every level surface. It's that same green about which Burroughs waxed all the way from Kodiak, this way and beyond. He adored this country for its, as he saw it, pastoral splendor, all the smooth rounded hills as green and tender to the eye as well-kept lawns. All the sweep of green skirts, green carpet, vast meadows, for suggesting endless possibilities of flocks and herds and rural homes. 'Green is a lawn,' he says again and again. Five times I find Burroughs comparing this treeless green country to tended lawns. I see the same green splendor, the same openness that Burroughs saw, and I adore it, too, for entirely different associations and near-opposite reasons. I look upon these achingly green islands and see not lawns and farms, nothing tame or domesticated, but wildness. What I see is seamlessly green and tirelessly unrolling, untracked by man or woman or domestic beast. Not tended, not mown, not made useful."

CURWOOD: What was your big surprise when you did this research on this expedition? What was the one thing you found that you really didn't expect to find?

LORD: What surprised me in writing the book was to find out how heavy the impact had been 100 years ago on wildlife and fisheries, that the unregulated hunting and fishing was really kind of devastating then. And things are in much better control today, and the populations of wildlife and fish are actually better.

CURWOOD: Hmm. So, Alaska's better off today than it was when the Harriman expedition took place.

LORD: In a sense, yes. They had a very hard time finding any bears, and they never saw any sea otters. Bears are very plentiful today. Sea otters are very plentiful. The fisheries are well-managed. They were quite upset when they saw the cannery operations at that time, where the canneries were barricading stream mouths and taking all of the salmon and essentially wiping out entire runs.

CURWOOD: Well, thank you, Nancy.

LORD: Well, thank you, Steve. It was a pleasure to talk to you.

CURWOOD: Nancy Lord's new book is titled Green Alaska: Dreams from the Far Coast.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

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

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; Church and Dwight, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.
(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Just ahead: Why you may want to discard some of those old plastic baby bottles. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

SECOND HALF HOUR

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Stonyfield Farm Yogurt: If the planet's health isn't our business, whose is it?

The Living on Earth Almanc

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

(Music up and under: "There's a red moon risin' on the Cuyahoga River. Rollin' into Cleveland to the lake...")

CURWOOD: Immortalized in song, the image of flames leaping off Ohio's Cuyahoga River 30 years ago this week stunned the nation. It happened under a wooden railroad bridge not far from the downtown center of Cleveland, where trash and debris choked the river's surface and a slurry of oil, chemicals, and heavy metals created vibrant swirls of color.

(Music up and under: "There's an oil barge winding on the Cuyahoga River, rolling into Cleveland to the lake...")

CURWOOD: In this toxic mix, a spark from a passing train set the debris on fire and ignited the oil floating on the river's surface. Flames shot 50 feet in the air and badly scorched the railroad bridge. The fire was over in half an hour and no one captured it on film, but it changed the course of environmental history.

(Music up and under: "Cleveland, city of light, city of magic...")

CURWOOD: Though it wasn't the first burn on the Cuyahoga or the worst, and it wasn't the only US river to catch fire, this Cuyahoga blaze alerted the public that something was horribly wrong with our waters. A few years later the landmark Clean Water Act was passed. Since then the Cuyahoga has become a cleaner river. A stretch of it, once devoid of a single fish, is now home to more than 50 species. There's a national recreation area along the river's banks. And visitors flock to restaurants along Cleveland's revitalized downtown waterfront. But the Cuyahoga still has a ways to go.

(Music up and under: "Burn on, big river. Burn on...")

CURWOOD: Today, heavy rains still flush oils, fertilizers, pesticides, and other contaminants into the river. And the numbers and diversity of the fish aren't high enough yet to pronounce the river fully healthy. But local governmental agencies, citizen's groups, and industry are working together to educate the community and create a remedial action plan for the river's continuing clean- up. It's their hope that the lasting impression the Cuyahoga leaves on people's memories today will be more positive than the one that smoked through Randy Newman's mind some 30 years ago.

(Music up and under: "Burn on, big river. Burn on.")

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

Back to top

 

Plastics and Baby Bottles

CURWOOD: An infant snacks on a slice of cheese, sips from a bottle, and then chews on a teething ring. It sounds innocent enough, but scientists are raising doubts about the safety of plastics used in some plastic wraps, baby bottles, and teethers. That's because a variety of chemicals, adipates in plastic wrap, bisphenyl-A in baby bottles, and phthalates in baby teethers appear to leach out of the plastic in minute quantities. Ned Groth is director of technical policy and public service at Consumer's Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. I spoke with him at a recent conference on children's health and he told me that lab tests involving these chemicals are causing concern.

GROTH: When you give a laboratory rodent a large dose of some of these chemicals, with the phthalates you can get cancer, you can get other toxic effects on the nervous system, on the liver, on certain growth and reproductive effects. With the adipates, there are some similar toxic effects on the liver and the kidneys and so on. Again, at high doses. And with bisphenyl-A in particular, we know it acts like the hormone estrogen at relatively low doses in that case.

CURWOOD: So, if a baby bottle has bisphenyl-A, which is like estrogen, like a hormone, what risk could a baby run drinking milk or liquid out of a bottle like that?

GROTH: Well, in animals, there are changes in the growth and development of the male reproductive tract. And the most sensitive animal study done to date, which is only one study, showed effects at a level that's only maybe a factor of 10 greater than a baby might be exposed to if someone heated formula for a long time.

CURWOOD: Dr. Groth, the Food and Drug Administration has come out and said that polycarbonate baby bottles are perfectly safe. Do you agree?

GROTH: I think the Food and Drug Administration has not really looked into the issue from the perspective of possible hormonal effects. They may be taking a fairly legalistic posture, which is until there's more convincing evidence of harm they can't say it's harmful. It's one thing to say we can't say it's harmful; I think everyone would say that. It's another to say we know for sure it's safe.

CURWOOD: Is there any kind of plastic that would be safe to use for teething, for babies to have for their bottles, to use for plastic wrap?

GROTH: Sure, there are lots of plastics that don't leach chemicals into whatever food they're in contact with. I mean, our test of cheeses, we looked at 7 different kinds of plastic cheese wrap, and only 1, polyvinyl chloride cling wrap, had DEHA plasticizer in it. The rest were all fine. Similarly, there are alternative plastics used in baby bottles. There are products on the market including some tinted plastic bottles that are made of polypropylene, which is not a problem in terms of leaching. There used to be, I hope there still are, some bottles made out of polyethylene, which is the material that milk jugs are made out of. So, the message is not that all plastic is bad. Most plastics are fine. But there are a few materials, and a few additives used in some plastics, that are problematic. And we're trying to focus attention on them.

CURWOOD: Under what circumstances do chemicals leach out of plastic?

GROTH: Well, it depends on the chemical and the kind of plastic. In the case of food wraps, it helps if there is a high fat content in the food. That tends to make the plastic leach out more rapidly. It's one reason we looked at cheese: it's a high-fat food that's consumed in large quantities by children. Temperature will increase the rate of leaching. Plastic that babies chew on, like the teethers, the physical action of chewing and the presence of saliva is a factor that might tend to extract some of the plasticizer. It's a low-level exposure in all of these scenarios. It's just a question of, we don't know if it's a safe exposure.

CURWOOD: Now, a number of toy manufacturers are phasing out vinyl teethers. Even companies including Nike say they're just going to try to get rid of polyvinyl chloride. What about the manufacturers of plastic wrap and baby bottles?

GROTH: We haven't heard much from the plastic wrap industry. We have been in some dialogue with the baby bottle manufacturers. I think that will continue. I think many of the companies that make polycarbonate bottles make other bottles as well, and they may find that if people tend to steer away from one type of plastic they may go toward the other. So it may be a wash for them in terms of their business. Historically in the United States, the government has had to prove that there's a risk before the industry will change the product. We've had a lot of cases in this country where companies that make products that are particularly designed for use by babies have seen an issue coming like this and have said: We're not going to wait till the government proves there's a risk. Why worry about it? Let's change. The teether industry is now eliminating phthalates, for instance. I think this is the way a lot of these issues should be resolved, because it will take science decades, really to nail down answers to the questions. And babies don't need to wait that long. We can solve the problem economically, efficiently, much faster than that.

CURWOOD: Thanks for joining us.

GROTH: Thank you very much, Steve. It's a pleasure being with you.

CURWOOD: Ned Groth is Director of Technical Policy and Public Service at Consumer's Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. You can find more information on plastic baby bottles on our Web site at www.loe.org. And in the July issue of Consumer Reports.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Fuel Cells for Homeowners

CURWOOD: Some people dream of making their homes energy self-sufficient. And the latest path to a personal power plant is a residential fuel cell, a device which combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, hot water, and heat. Scientists at Plug Power in Latham, New York, say the units they are developing will be reliable, and will also cut energy costs while reducing the amount of greenhouse gases sent into the atmosphere. To refine their design, the company is testing a fuel cell in an employee's home. Living on Earth's George Homsy stopped in for a visit. ACKER: Let me show you around.

HOMSY: Plug Power Vice President William Acker leads me through the side door of a modest suburban ranch.

ACKER: As you can see in the kitchen here, we have a microwave oven,refrigerator, electric oven, electric range top. We have a window air conditioner in the dining area here. (Air conditioner goes on.)

HOMSY: How much power does this house use? ACKER: On average it uses between one and two kilowatts of electricity. And that's fairly standard for a home.

HOMSY: But the power source for this home is anything but standard. This is the first house in the nation to generate its own power from a battery-like device called a fuel cell. Mr. Acker shows me the prototype located in the shed outside.

(Buzzing)

ACKER: This is the Plug Power 7000.

HOMSY: Whining quietly in the corner is a blue box about the size of two refrigerators. This fuel cell produces up to seven kilowatts of power by mixing oxygen and hydrogen across a thin membrane. The resulting chemical reaction generates enough electricity to run every appliance in this home. This prototype gets its hydrogen from tanks in the back yard. Eventually, Mr. Acker says, the hydrogen will be converted from natural gas.

ACKER: When you operate this device on natural gas, the only things that come out of the device are water and some carbon dioxide. So, your environmental benefits are vast.

HOMSY: But environmental friendliness is not the fuel cell's only selling point, says Plug Power CEO Gary Middleman.

MIDDLEMAN: If all we were doing was cleaning up the environment with this device, we'd have a tough time getting it out there. The fact is, we're going to save people money at the same time.

HOMSY: The company estimates more than 25 million homes nationwide can save money using fuel cells to convert natural gas to electricity. Future models will capture the waste heat given off by this cell to heat rooms and hot water, making the units even more cost-effective. Assistant Secretary of Energy Dan Reicher supports fuel cells, but he doesn't think they'll become a dominant power source. Instead he expects them to be part of an energy mix, including solar and wind power, biomass, fossil fuel, and nuclear, that will make tomorrow's energy grid more reliable.

REICHER: What we're going to add is some resiliency to the grid. We're going to add some diversity to the grid. We are not so completely dependent upon very large power stations that can be disrupted by any number of natural and manmade factors.

HOMSY: Plug Power expects to start selling its fuel cells in the year 2001. Earlier this year, the appliance giant General Electric signed an exclusive contract to sell the fuel cells worldwide. For Living on Earth, I'm George Homsy in Latham, New York.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up... a prominent Mormon speaks of her religion and environmental stewardship. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Nuclear Waste Storage on Goshute Tribal Lands

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It's proving hard to find a home for the glowing remains of the nation's nuclear power reactors. So far, not one state has volunteered to store the more than 77,000 tons of highly-radioactive fuel rods piling up at dozens of sites around the country. But one Indian nation has. Leaders of the Goshute tribe, who manage a tiny reservation about 75 miles west of Salt Lake City, say a temporary storage site will provide jobs and millions of dollars for the disadvantaged tribe. But other tribal members worry about the danger. Jenny Brundin reports.

(Bird song)

BRUNDIN: Shouldered by snow-capped mountains, the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation is a wide swath of desert grass and sagebrush, in places desolate and barren. The tribe's 118 members mostly live off the reservation, but five families live here on this land in a few trailers, dilapidated shacks, and wooden homes. Margene Bull Creek sits in her yard under apple and prune trees and tall weeping willows.

(Footfalls)

BRUNDIN: Bull Creek walks partway up a dirt road behind her home to a patch of dusty sagebrush often used in Goshute religious ceremonies.

(Rubbing)

BRUNDIN: She closes her eyes and breathes deeply into the sage.

BULL CREEK: Mm. Smells so good. Here, smell.

BRUNDIN: The wind sends the fragrant sage swirling.

BULL CREEK: Our people believe that the wind sings to us, and if you listen close enough you can hear it singing. And so this spiritualness that we have, that we need to protect.

BRUNDIN: This connection to the land is why Bull Creek says she's founded a group to halt the plans to store nuclear waste here. She's one of 30 Goshutes to join a lawsuit filed against the Federal Government and Private Fuel Storage, a consortium of 8 nuclear power companies. The company has worked out an agreement with the Goshute tribal leadership to lease reservation land for the nuclear storage facility. Bull Creek's lawsuit charges that the deal is unlawful because it didn't require environmental, health, and safety studies. Bull Creek points across the valley to the site that could house up to 40,000 metric tons of highly-radioactive fuel rods. She worries about the fuel leaking and contaminating the land.

BULL CREEK: It's going to destroy us. It's going to destroy who we are as Native Americans.

BRUNDIN: But many Goshute disagree. In fact, a slight majority seem to be in favor of a storage facility. Tribal chair Leon Bear believes the facility would bring 40 to 50 permanent jobs to the tribe, and would keep young people from leaving the reservation.

BEAR: If a person looked at Skull Valley, who would want to stay in Skull Valley? I mean, you know, what is in Skull Valley? There's nothing in Skull Valley.

BRUNDIN: Bear, his long black hair draping down the back of his black sports coat, comes from a long line of chiefs. His great great grandfather signed the Goshute land treaty in 1863 when, Bear says, the best lands were taken from the tribe.

BEAR: We don't have oil. We don't have gas. We don't have coal. And the land is the only thing we have. I mean, we have 18,000 acres out of 7.3 million acres we used to roam in, our traditional territory, our aboriginal territory. And we had to fight for what we got.

BRUNDIN: Bear says attracting investors to the reservation is difficult because of the site's neighbors. There's the Army's chemical and biological warfare laboratories and testing range, three hazardous waste dumps including one for low-level nuclear waste, an incinerator that burns 43% of the nation's stockpile of chemical weapons, and an Air Force bombing range. But the facility will bring with it new roads, a sewer system, health clinic, and fire station. Neither tribal leader Bear or the companies involved will divulge how much money will exchange hands, but it is likely to run in the tens of millions of dollars. Scott Northard is the project manager for Private Fuel Storage. He says the nuclear waste is encased in zirconium-clad tubes, and those are nestled inside thick steel containers. And, Northard says, the waste won't be staying in Utah forever.

NORTHARD: The canisters themselves are designed for approximately 40 to 50 years. Scientists have said they would last well in excess of 100 years. But again, this facility here will only be temporary. Once it goes to Nevada it will be put in what's called a disposal package, which is designed to last for the life of the repository, which is several hundred thousand years.

BRUNDIN: But tribe members who support the waste disposal site are up against some powerful opponents, including Utah's Republican Governor, Mike Leavitt. Governor Leavitt says he's worried the site will become permanent, and he's concerned about having the waste shipped along major highways. He vowed to fight the project during his recent State of the State address.

LEAVITT: It is not the State of Utah versus a small struggling Indian nation. It is one state slugging it out with 11 major utility companies eager to spend billions of dollars of ratepayer money to move high-level nuclear waste out of their back yards and into ours, where it would remain lethally hot from now until the year 11,999: ten thousand years.

BRUNDIN: Governor Leavitt's opposition is based in part on his background. In the southwestern Utah area where he grew up, many residents say they have suffered from the radioactive fallout from above-ground testing in the neighboring Nevada desert in the early 1950s. But the debate splits the Goshute tribe and is reflected here in a shouting match between two young women at Salt Lake's Riverside Park.

WOMAN 1: Look, your storage facility is what I'm dealing with now, because it's one that's coming on my reservation.

WOMAN 2: Well you should --

WOMAN 1: -- It's my problem with and that's what I'm dealing with now.

WOMAN 2: If you're so concerned with Mother Earth, then you should be concerned with everybody else surrounding you.

BRUNDIN: At the rally, Goshute member Tiffany Allen asks where the governor was when all the other hazardous waste facilities were built in the west desert. She also doesn't trust him when he says he'll help the tribe with economic development. She says the nuclear fuel rods are the tribe's only hope.

ALLEN: We have no alternative. Governor Leavitt sits there and says we have economic development for the tribe. I would like to know what it is. It's my right to know.

(A flute plays)

BRUNDIN: But other Native Americans at this rally don't want their lands to be dumping grounds. Viola Hatch is from Oklahoma and is a member of the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe. She says the debate among the Goshute is just one example of the difficult choice facing Native American reservations across Utah and the country: accept continued economic decline or be used as sites for waste disposal. She knows where she stands.

HATCH: (Speaking into microphone) And I got a call from attorneys, and they offered me that if I went along and made my reservation a dumping ground, that our tribe would get millions of dollars. And I told him to go to hell.

(Audience whoops and applauds)

BRUNDIN: Back on the Goshute reservation many tribe members are concerned that the decision of whether to store spent nuclear fuel here won't be entirely in their hands. Although reservations are sovereign nations, Governor Leavitt plans to gain control of county roads and Federal land around the reservation to block potential shipments, creating a sort of moat around the tribe. Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is collecting evidence as it prepares to decide on whether or not to grant Private Fuel Storage's application. If approved, the company hopes to start building on the reservation in 2001. For Living on Earth, I'm Jenny Brundin on Utah's Goshute Reservation.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Mormons and the Environment

CURWOOD: Utah is home to the Goshute tribe, but today it is Mormon country. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints account for nearly half of the state's population. A strong tenet of the Mormon religion is a deep respect for the land. Mormon founders press the theme as a road to salvation, and encourage individuals to live simply and sustainably. But over the decades even Mormon ties to the land appear to be weakening. Terry Tempest Williams is one Mormon who holds that view. She is co-editor of the anthology New Genesis: A Mormon Reader on Land and Community. And she says the genesis of the Mormon connection to the land is very real and very close to home.

WILLIAMS: There is a belief within Mormon theology that Eden was in North America, at a place called Adam on Diamant, which is in Davis County in Missouri.

CURWOOD: Well, that's a neat concept, that there actually is an Eden and it's right here and it's right here in North America.

WILLIAMS: Personally, I think it's a little west of Missouri (Curwood laughs). I think that's a personal opinion. But I think the point is, Mormon theology is truly imaginative, and it is unusual. And the impetus of this book was the idea that Mormonism is broader than the stereotype.

CURWOOD: Mormonism is broader than the stereotype. What do you mean, when it comes to the environment? There's supposed to be a stereotypic Mormon view of the environment?

WILLIAMS: In 1995, when Utah really was on fire politically because of the 1995 Utah Public Lands Management Act, this is right after the Republican sweep in '94, there was the assumption that you could be Mormon, Republican, and anti-environment, or Democrat, non-Mormon, pro-environment. And I think we, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, wanted to say no, that's too narrow. And we set out to really look at how nature has infused Mormonism, how Mormonism has eliminated a sense of place. It's in our history, and we seem to have forgotten that. As Harold Bloom has said, Mormonism has become the quote-unquote "American religion."

CURWOOD: Now, this is not unique to Mormonism. I mean, the whole Judeo- Christian tradition has a document. The first book of Genesis talks about Eden and the land and everything, and yet there are few sects in Christianity and Judaism that I would see as particularly environmentally active or proactive. Why do you suppose that is?

WILLIAMS: I think it's a good point, and one of the things that I think is very interesting is that there is a movement within religions, of all denominations, of looking at the Earth in a more holistic way. Call it the green cross movement. Much is being done. I think about Paul Gorman, who's the executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment. And he says something interesting. He says, "We have found again and again that when the issue of caring for Creation interests people's hearts, it has incredible resonance in their lives." I find this encouraging, because I think in the past, it may be said that the environmental movement has been a political movement. I think until it becomes a movement of conscience, it's going to become too narrow.

CURWOOD: Do you feel that Utah is a state that especially struggles with the church and its role in environmental issues?

WILLIAMS: I think Utah is a very complicated state, and maybe every state, well I'm sure every state has its complications. It is highlighted because, I think, of the dominant religion here, which is Mormonism. And I think it's largely a matter of interpretation. I think the church is changing as the people are changing. The Mormons settled Utah as anglo people with a spirituality connected to the land. They felt this was sacred ground, and that's where they staked their claim. Brigham Young has remarkable statements about sustainability. Everything from overgrazing to water conservation. And like I said, I think we seem to have forgotten that, as the church has become larger and more successful in its financial holdings.

CURWOOD: Why do you suppose Mormons have forgotten, or lost track of their roots to the land?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think Mormons reflect the American people at large. And I think we as Mormons have not just forgotten our connection to the land, but we Americans have forgotten our connection to the land. So much of the Constitution, I think, stakes its philosophical ground on North America. So, I think that this is an exciting time in that we're reimagining, reinhabiting North America, each of us within our own communities, finding out what that might mean.

CURWOOD: It's just about time for us to go. But before you do go, Terry, I'm wondering if you could read a portion of your essay in this book New Genesis: A Mormon Reader on Land and Community. I think you call your essay "West of Eden."

WILLIAMS: I'd be happy to. "A sustainable relationship with the Earth nurtures a sustainable relationship with God, because we acknowledge and honor the power of reciprocity, that there are in fact limits and consequences of what we desire. If we act on the premise that we are not alone, that other individuals and creatures have wants and needs, that our definition of community is not just human-centered but Creation-centered, then we begin to engage in a spiritual economics that promises to be more unselfish than our present relationship to other. We cannot continue to simply take from the Earth without giving back something in return, even if that means drawing on principles of restraint, generosity, gratitude, and compassion."

CURWOOD: Well, thank you very much. Terry Tempest Williams' new book of essays, hers and some other folks; it's called New Genesis. This essay was called "West of Eden." Thanks for joining us today.

WILLIAMS: Thank you so much, Steve.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, spiritual ecology on the other side of the world. In India, a population boom and massive industrialization are straining the Hindu belief of living in harmony with nature.

MAN: In order to attain a higher level of spirituality, one had to have an interior focus in one's life. And in order to do that, one had to reduce one's outer wants and to simplify one's life.

CURWOOD: Living green in the land of the Ganges, next time on Living on Earth. Our staff includes George Homsy, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Jesse Wegman, Miriam Landman, Stephanie Pindyck, and Anna Solomon- Greenbaum, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, James Curwood, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Allison Dean, Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger, Paul Ahn, and Mahri Lowinger. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Peter Thomson heads our Western Bureau. Our senior editor is Joyce Hackel, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new economic approaches to advance environmental protection and human prosperity: www.wajones.org

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.