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

Bush on Brown Fields

Air Date: Week of

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush unveils a plan to speed the cleanup of the nation's abandoned, contaminated industrial sites called brown fields. Host Steve Curwood talks with the National Journal reporter Margaret Kris about what's in the plan.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. On most fronts, the campaign for the White House is now in a quiet phase. But when it comes to the environment, the race is starting to heat up. Earth Day 2000 is coming up at the end of the month, and George W. Bush is seizing the moment to come out with the first part of his environmental agenda. The move puts the Texas governor ahead of his rival, Al Gore. The Vice President has yet to issue his own broad environmental blueprint. The first priority in Mr. Bush's plan is to speed the clean-up of toxic sites that have been abandoned by industry. These so-called brownfields are often found in poor urban areas. Margaret Kriz, a correspondent for the National Journal, is here to talk about the two major parts of the Bush plan.

KRIZ: One prong would be to allow more flexibility for the way they're cleaned up, what kinds of standards that are used for the different kinds of brownfields. Another one is, once brownfields developers has [sic] cleaned up the location and met the state standards for cleanliness, Bush would like to lift all liabilities for the developer, so that any lingering pollution problems on the site or newly-discovered pollution problems wouldn't be their responsibility.

CURWOOD: Now, you've talked with Mr. Bush's environmental advisors. Why has he picked brownfields?

KRIZ: I think he picked something that he knew about, that Texas has been proactive about. They have already cleaned up a good 450 or so brownfield sites. And also, this is part of his approach of state's rights. On education and a lot of other issues he's trying to talk about having the states take more authority, more responsibility, for the issues that are involved, as opposed to being dictated from the federal government. And he sees getting Washington, or getting the bureaucrats out of the state's way as being the best way to clean up the environment, or at least that's how he's portraying this. And that's all part of his bigger agenda.

CURWOOD: Who do you understand is the audience of Mr. Bush's announcement?

KRIZ: Well, I think holding it in Pennsylvania, which is an important state for both Bush and Gore, made sort of the urban target. A lot of brownfields are located in Pennsylvania, in Pittsburgh where he held the press conference. So he was partially targeting them. I think also he was looking for the suburban swing voters, the soccer moms and the people in SUVs in the suburbs, or the new technology guys who are out in Silicon Valley, who are very interested in the environment. But they're kind of these middle of the road guys. They might be a little bit more fiscally conservative, want to get government out of their lives. So they're not sure exactly how they're going to vote. If they're perceiving George Bush to be anti-environmental, it might push them more toward Mr. Gore.

CURWOOD: Margaret, I'm wondering why did he leave so much out of his first discussion of an environmental agenda for his campaign?

KRIZ: I think that this was something that was easy to do. He knew about it. He left aside some of the more vulnerable issues that he has, such as the fact that Texas has a real air pollution problem. Houston has surpassed LA as the smog capital of the nation. And there are a lot of other issues that they're not quite sure how they're going to approach at this point, because they are liabilities for him.

CURWOOD: What's the response that Mr. Bush is getting to his environmental plan?

KRIZ: Well, a lot of this is non-controversial. It's stuff that EPA has been doing in the past. But the two first proposals that he's come up with, the two planks that he's talked about, allowing more flexible standards and alleviating the liability for developers, have been things that people are real concerned about in the environmental community. They're afraid that he's going to be too easy on polluters. They feel that the federal government should perhaps dictate a little bit more where the money's going, so that the problems that they see as the worst problems get handled, instead of getting caught up in, perhaps, state politics. The Gore camp, interestingly enough, put out a press release right after Mr. Bush's speech, and noted that Mr. Bush had cut funding for Superfund clean-ups in his state. So, by Mr. Bush saying that more money should be dedicated to developing cleaner technologies is kind of an ironic statement as far as the Gore camp is concerned.

CURWOOD: If you were giving points for the advisors and the campaign strategists on this, which campaign picks up the points on this one? The Bush one or the Gore one?
KRIZ: I think the Bush campaign picks up a solid B+ on this from me. It's solid enough to look like a strong program. It isn't real aggressive, so it doesn't alienate anybody. I think that he's sort of put out his marker and said: I'm not going to give up the environment as an issue. I'm not going to take your criticism of me lying down. I'm going to come up with some real positive ideas, at least as far as the voters can see. Use this as a proactive, positive idea. And it kind of muddles up people's minds when they're thinking, okay, who is the most environmentally inclined? Well, who's come out with their first proposal? It's been Mr. Bush, not Mr. Gore. And, you know, for the man who wrote Earth in the Balance, which Mr. Gore did, this is kind of a lapse on his part.

CURWOOD: Margaret Kriz is correspondent for the National Journal. Thanks for taking this time with us today.

KRIZ: Thank you.



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