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

Environmental Fist Fight

Air Date: Week of

Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer speaks with host Steve Curwood about the upcoming Washington state primary. Presidential candidate Bill Bradley is turning the environment into a top issue there – and he’s turning up the heat in his attacks on Al Gore.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The environment is finally emerging as an issue in the Democratic presidential race, with Bill Bradley taking a new, more negative approach.

BRADLEY: The administration has just recently proposed an amendment to make it easier for big timber companies to cut down a million acres of old growth forest. (Boos from audience)

CURWOOD: Senator Bradley's attack on Vice President Gore is being mounted in Washington state, home of the next Democratic primary. Mr. Bradley is taking Mr. Gore to task on a number of issues, including the conflict over dams that are killing millions of salmon.

BRADLEY: He was voting for just about every dam project that came along. (Audience laughter) For me the environment is not just an issue. It's a core conviction. And that means more than paddling in a kayak for a photo op. (Audience laughter, applause)

CURWOOD: But then Mr. Bradley hasn't avoided the politics of photo opportunities, himself. Not long ago he was seen wearing a green sweater and shaking hands with a man dressed as a giant salmon. Joel Connelly, a writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, has been giving his views on Mr. Bradley's tougher tactics. Joel, what exactly is Mr. Bradley's beef with Mr. Gore?

CONNELLY: Bradley was arguing that he has walked his talk on environmental issues, specifically such complicated things as reforming the California Valley Project in irrigation water, saving Pyramid Lake in Nevada, and getting dams off our own Elwah River here in the state of Washington. By contrast, he was arguing, and Friends of the Earth, the environmental group that supports him, argues even more strongly that the Clinton-Gore administration has been willing to sacrifice environmental goals too often or has pursued halfway measures, when it should have been bolder and more active.

CURWOOD: Now why choose Washington state to make this stand? Why is Senator Bradley doing this now?

CONNELLY: This is a do or die state for Bradley. It's really his first opportunity to get at the vice president since New Hampshire. We are also a state with many independent voters, a state which has tended to wrinkle its nose at interest group appeals of the sort where a Democrat bows to the teacher's union and bows to the labor unions and bows to the senior citizens. Our voters tend to be a little more independent-minded than that. So Bradley has picked up what he thinks is an affinity and mood, and he desperately needs a breakthrough so that he will be on the talk shows the morning after the election, particularly if that morning is just a week before the California and New York primaries.

CURWOOD: Now, Bradley's turning pretty negative. I'm thinking, during the debate in Harlem recently, Al Gore in fact called him on it. And let's play that tape.

GORE: The problem is these attacks don't solve any problems. They do divide us as Democrats. (Audience applause) They distract us from the real enemy, the right wing extremist Confederate flag-waving Republicans who are trying to roll back the progress that we have made. (Audience applause and cheers)

CURWOOD: Now, does Bradley risk damaging the Democratic Party's hold on the environmental vote, do you think?

CONNELLY: Probably not, because the Republican party in this state has been strongly oriented toward property rights, toward resources, and our own senior U.S. senator, Republican Slade Gordon, has gained the nickname of the Bambi-Bashing Brahmin for his demonizing of environmental groups. At the same time, however, you do have a conservationist Republican, John McCain, who's a co-author of the Arizona Wilderness Bill, and helped clean up the air near the Grand Canyon, who is running on the GOP side and is attracting support from the old kind of wilderness, moderate Republican constituency here in the state.

CURWOOD: Yeah, I heard in fact that McCain had, what -- Roosevelt's granddaughter, Edith Williams, working with him?

CONNELLY: Edie Williams, who is 82 years old and has been a fixture at Sierra Club press conferences calling for reductions and a halt to the logging of national forests, is, in about an hour from when we are speaking, boarding the SS Straight Talk to join John McCain on a trip across Puget Sound.

CURWOOD: Has Gore made any response to Bradley's charges?

CONNELLY: A copious response, mainly using surrogates, though I suspect that he will be heard from a little bit later on in the week. What they have argued is, first of all, that the administration has walked its talk. It promised in 1992, both Gore and Clinton, that there would be a forest plan for the Northwest. There is one that has cut back logging of old growth forests by 85 percent. They have moved to protect 50 million acres of roadless national forest land in the American West. And above all, they argue that it has been Vice President Gore who has insisted in White House budget negotiations that anti-environmental riders be deleted from appropriations bills before President Clinton will sign them.

CURWOOD: All this attention the candidates are putting on the environment in Washington state, do you think that's going to translate into the broader national campaign?

CONNELLY: We should wait until next month to get a reading on that, because the author-organizers of the national Earth Day are going to turn it entirely into an attempt to inject the environment into the 2000 presidential campaign, and hope that it resonates with voters beyond those who are simply members of organizations committed to conservation.

CURWOOD: Joel Connelly is a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Thanks for joining us.

CONNELLY: Thank you for having me.



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