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

State Initiatives

Air Date: Week of

Drowned out in the barrage of election news and analysis were several small, but noteworthy, state and county initiatives. From Alaska to Louisiana people spoke up on the right to hunt, cyanide gold mining and genetically engineered agriculture. Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports.


CURWOOD: One success story claimed by environmental groups in the elections unfolded in Colorado, where people said “yes” to more wind and renewable energy for the Centennial State. Voters in several other states also had their say on environmental questions, and Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports.

LOBET: Let's start in Washington State. In a strong rejection of current federal policy, people there voted overwhelmingly to stop the Department of Energy from sending more radioactive waste to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation until the site is cleaned up. Residents await construction of a plant that will solidify millions of gallons of leaking radioactive liquid left over from Cold War bomb making. But, meanwhile, the government has recently allowed more waste to be sent to the site, sometimes putting it in unlined dirt trenches.

CARPENTER: People out here have said enough is enough

LOBET: Tom Carpenter is with the Seattle office of the Government Accountability Project, a watchdog group. He tracks Department of Energy activities.

CARPENTER: They don't have the authority that they once had to simply decide where waste goes and how it should be put into the ground or disposed of. We have some say-so, as a state, to mandate that they do dispose of waste in particular ways, in ways that are protective of the environment and certainly that comply with the law

LOBET: A spokesperson for the Department of Energy says it's studying options in light of Washington's vote. It is expected to sue the state. A federal court could well see this measure as an intrusion into the government's right and responsibility to manage a national problem. But Michael Robinson Dorn who heads the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Washington says the state could prevail.

DORN: It's going to be tough sledding. Courts are generally hostile to what they view are actions that impinge upon federal powers, or that interfere with federal purposes or block the free flow of commerce. That said, if such a case can win, and I believe it can be won, it certainly presents that case.

LOBET: Moving over two states to the east, voters in Montana for the second time rejected a common method of mining gold that uses cyanide. Montana is the only state where cyanide leach mining is banned. One company in particular, Canyon Resources, wants to build such a mine there and put 3 million dollars into reversing the ban. It had many backers, including local chambers of commerce and county farm bureaus, but voters forcefully said no, they’ll keep their ban in place.

In California, residents of Marin County decided to outlaw the planting of any genetically modified seed. That makes three California counties that now prohibit planting seeds whose genetic material has been altered in the laboratory. But Californians in two other counties where there is more agriculture voted to keep the door open to biotechnology.

Jamie Johansen was one of them. He has 40 acres of olive trees and 20 cows in Butte County, California, and he says he hopes one day he'll be able to stop using chemicals against the olive fruit fly and use a biotech method instead.

JOHANSEN: What if we could put trees or a plant in our orchard, say three or four plants every acre, that attract the fruit fly and handled them that way, instead of having direct contact with the food supply that we provide to the consumers, as far as pesticide use and all that. So, it's that sort of dreaming that’s going on in agriculture.

LOBET: Nevertheless, activists in a dozen other California cities and counties are still working for GM bans or moratoria. Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, says too much is at stake for organic growers who don't want their fields contaminated by the natural drift of pollen from GM crops. Strategy, though, for the GM-free movement in the United States may be shifting away from bans which can be locally divisive, and toward food labeling laws. Cummins is working on a proposal to require labels on all GM food in California.

CUMMINS: The practical impact, we believe, of having mandatory labeling pass in a large state like California will be to basically cripple the industry. Because, as in Europe, large food corporations and supermarket chains are not going to be willing to sell genetically engineered foods or foods that have genetically engineered ingredients if they have to tell their consumers that this unpopular technology is part of their product line.

LOBET: And finally, in this election voters came out for hunters' rights in four states--Alaska, Montana, Maine and Louisiana. Alaskans and Mainers affirmed the right of bear hunters to use treats to lure bears to traps. And Montana and Louisiana overwhelmingly passed measures to enshrine in their state constitutions the right to fish and hunt. They join seven other states that have made similar pre-emptive moves to protect hunters in anticipated clashes with wildlife authorities and animal rights activists.

For Living on Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet

[MUSIC: David Holmes “No Man’s Land” p MUSIC FOR THE MOTION PICTURE (Thrive – 1998)]



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