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

Rating the Candidates

Air Date: Week of

Steve talks about the environment and the two major party presidential candidates with syndicated columnist Steven Chapman of the Chicago Tribune. Chapman says President Bush has made some bad calls on the environment, but that he's far preferable to Governor Clinton.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

The presidential campaign is entering its final weeks, and voters are hearing few environmental messages from President Bush or Governor Clinton, and virtually nothing at all from Ross Perot. But talked about or not, important decisions affecting the environment will be made by the next president. Stephen Chapman is a syndicated columnist with the Chicago Tribune. He says that while George Bush has made some bad calls on the environment, Bush is still the man he'd trust most to make those decisions.

CHAPMAN: On several issues, he's done some substantial things which, if you're an environmentalist, you ought to appreciate. I'm not sure I appreciate them because I'm not sure they're well-founded in science, I think they may go too far -- I think the benefits may not be as great as the costs. But I think he does have some genuine green credentials, for better or for worse.

CURWOOD: You said the President goes too far on some environmental issues?

CHAPMAN: Well, yeah. One is the Clean Air Act, which probably would not have been passed without him, and I think it's fair to say that it will pretty much eliminate air pollution in this country. Now, it's been estimated by some reputable economists that the costs of it are going to outweigh the benefits. But if you're an environmentalist, the Clean Air Act is an achievement. I think the Rio accord on greenhouse gas emissions commits the world to stabilize emissions, without any specific timetable, it's true, but you can be sure that that'll come in later years. I have serious doubts, and a lot of climatologists have serious doubts, about whether the evidence is there to justify that effort.

CURWOOD: And in other areas as well, you think the President has been a strong environmentalist?

CHAPMAN: He's been responsible for hastening the phase-out of CFC's, which are a danger to the stratospheric ozone, or at least they're alleged to be; he's been instrumental in ending driftnet fishing, in ending most oil exploration on the outer Continental Shelf, and pretty much ending ocean dumping of sludge.

CURWOOD: And you think these are good things to do?

CHAPMAN: I think they are arguably good things to do. They are undoubtedly pro-environmental things to do.

CURWOOD: Now, what about his opponent, Governor Clinton? How do you feel about his record?

CHAPMAN: I have to say, I don't know a lot about his record in Arkansas. I'm told by economists who favor Clinton, actually, that he doesn't have a very good record on water pollution -- the chicken feces in the rivers, and so on. I don't doubt that his policies, however, would be considerably more sympathetic to what environmentalists want than Bush's are. I'm not going to argue that Bush is a stronger environmentalist than Clinton; I would be prepared to argue that it's not a good thing to be more environmentalist than Bush is. Clinton has not talked much about the environment, and his own position papers are pretty skimpy on details, but there's a fair amount, from my point of view, to criticize in what there is. First and foremost is the choice of Al Gore as his running mate. Gore has written a book on the environment which is full of wild, exaggerated claims, of very apocalyptic visions of the future -- it's environmentalist propaganda of the highest order, I would say. And the the fact that that man is going to have the ear of the President, presumably, particularly on environmental matters -- that disturbs me a lot.

CURWOOD: How much attention do you think Americans are paying to the environment in this election?

CHAPMAN: Well, not a lot, because the presidential candidates don't really want to debate too much on that issue except in particular areas like Oregon, where there's some particular impact from existing law. But Bill Clinton doesn't seem to want to talk about it, and I think George Bush is happy not to have to.

CURWOOD: And why do you suppose Clinton doesn't want to talk about it?

CHAPMAN: Well, one reason is his running mate. When Bush goes to Detroit, he says Gore wants to abolish the internal combustion engine, and Gore says, well, that's silly. Well, it's not silly because it's in his book. But if I were Clinton, I don't think I would be focusing attention on the environment, because there's an awful lot to answer for in Gore's book that he'd probably prefer not to.

CURWOOD: And the President -- why would he just as soon not raise the issue?

CHAPMAN: Well, he has got a very bad press on the environment, and everybody assumes that he has been an awful villain, that he's no different from Ronald Reagan, and I'm sure he's convinced that it's a loser for him.

CURWOOD: Well, thank you very much. Stephen Chapman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Thank you, sir, for joining us.

CHAPMAN: Thank you.



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