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

Campaign Analysis

Air Date: Week of

Living On Earth’s political observer Mark Hertsgaard joins host Steve Curwood for an analysis of the two Democratic frontrunners and their potential as environmental candidates.


CURWOOD: Living on Earth's political observer Mark Hertsgaard joins me now in the studio, to talk about how environmental issues are unfolding in the democratic primaries. Hi, Mark.


CURWOOD: Now, this week, with our reports on Gore and Bradley, we're looking at two men with extensive environmental credentials. But neither one is talking much about the environment. In fact, a woman got up at the debate in Iowa recently to ask about global warming from the back of the room before the cops hustled her out. Now, Republicans aren't talking much about the environment, either, but the Democrats, you'd think, would have something to crow about. What's going on here?

HERTSGAARD: Good question. I actually thought that incident in Iowa was a metaphor for what's been going on here, the silence of these two candidates. You can only assume that there is a method to the madness, and presumably they're figuring well, we're not that far apart on that issue, I can't really score that many points against the other guy. You know, Gore has praised Bradley's environmental record. Bradley knows that Gore is at least seen as Mr. Environment. So I assume that that's why they're not talking more about it. It's especially odd, though, in Gore's case, because certainly as he goes into the general election he is going to be painted as Mr. Environment whether he likes it or not. It is his issue. And so, you'd think that just tactically it would make more sense to run toward it rather than away from it.

CURWOOD: Let's talk a little bit about some allegations against both of these men in the area of the environment. They could take some hits on this. I'm talking of the work that's been done by the Center for Public Integrity. Could you describe some of the charges that have been brought up against them?

HERTSGAARD: Sure. This is this new book The Buying of the President 2000. And for those who don't know it, the Center for Public Integrity is a watchdog group in Washington, D.C., of journalists. They broke the Lincoln bedroom scandal, for example. And in this book they look at all the big money contributors to all the presidential candidates, and they say here's what they've given, and here's what it appears they've gotten in return. In Mr. Gore's case, as part of his reinventing government crusade, Gore opened up the Elk Hills oil reserve in California to commercial development. Beginning in 1912 that reserve was for the use of the Navy, for military emergencies. Nixon tried to get it away for the oil industry. Reagan tried three separate times to get it away for the oil industry. Gore succeeded in 1995. He and Clinton put the land up for auction, and in 1997 when the bids were won, it was Occidental Petroleum. Now, what's the connection with Gore? Well, Gore himself and the Democratic Party have received $500,000 in campaign contributions from Occidental, but his own relationship with Occidental goes way back, further than that. His father, Al Gore, Sr., worked for Occidental as far back as the 1940s, and he owned, at the time of the decision in 1995, Al Gore, Senior's estate still had half-a-million dollars in stock in Occidental Petroleum. Al Gore, Jr., is the executor of that estate.

CURWOOD: Now, the Center for Public Integrity is an equal opportunity complainer

(Hertsgaard laughs), and they have Mr. Bradley in their sights, too. What are the complaints there?

HERTSGAARD: They do indeed. And Bradley of course likes to say he wants to get the special interest money out of politics. But you read The Buying of the President 2000 and you learn that he has long been the favored candidate of Wall Street. But he's also done a lot of favors for chemical companies. And between 1988 and 1996, Mr. Bradley introduced 45 separate bills that sought to lessen the tariffs and other import restrictions on bringing in toxic chemicals to the United States. That is something that didn't come up in his League of Conservation Voters 86 percent approval rating.

CURWOOD: If neither Mr. Bradley nor Mr. Gore is excited about the environment at this stage of the campaign, firing up Democratic voters on this issue, which man do you think will do a better job during the general election, when the Republicans will be out there complaining about big government and too much regulation in terms of the environment?

HERTSGAARD: I would think that Gore would have a slight margin there, partly because he can say, as he has been saying repeatedly in these debates, that hey, I was there in the White House fighting you guys in 1995 when the Gingrich Congress tried to overturn all the environmental regulations. And there's something to be said for, you know, having an opponent who's going after you. And if the Republicans are going after the Democratic nominee, Gore is in a little bit better position to respond to that than Bradley would be.

CURWOOD: Which man, do you think, if he were to be elected in office, would actually make the most difference for the environment?

HERTSGAARD: I don't mean to dodge, but I think the question will depend largely on what listeners and environmental activists and the public in general do. The president in any party, what you end up doing on the environment, you have to fight a lot of special interests. Both men have said they want to fight those special interests, but it's very hard to do that without public support. And if the public gets out there and gets organized, that will be far more decisive than the difference between Al Gore and Bill Bradley.

CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth's political observer. You can listen to all our candidate profiles and analysis and link directly to the campaigns, the parties, and political watchdog groups by visiting the special election page on the Living on Earth website. Our address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. Thanks, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.



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