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

Election Wrap-Up

Air Date: Week of

Steve, Reporter Laura Knoy and veteran environment beat reporter Phil Shabecoff survey the likely new environmental policymakers in Washington and the results from races around the country where environmental issues were in the forefront.


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

Rarely in the US do we see the kind of political shift that's now underway in Washington. After 12 years in power, conservative Republicans are cleaning out their desks in the White House, and the transition team for President-elect Bill Clinton is laying the foundation for a decidedly more liberal Democratic administration. Now, one of those areas in which we can expect major changes is environmental policy. We'll look into our crystal ball from several perspectives this week. First, we turn to Phillip Shabecoff in Washington. He's covered the environment beat for years, including a long stint in the Washington bureau of the New York Times. Currently he's publisher of Greenwire, a daily electronic digest of environmental news. Phil, how will President-elect Clinton change America's relationship to the environment, do you think?

SHABECOFF: I think there'll be a very big difference between the way a Clinton Administration and a Bush Administration deal with environmental matters. The Bush Administration viewed environmental protection as essentially an obstacle to economic growth and job creation. The Clinton-Gore Administration apparently will take a diametrically-opposite view. They regard environmental protection, protection of natural resources, as essential to economic growth, job creation, and to industrial policy.

CURWOOD: Who do you think the President-elect will bring with him? Who, for instance, are the candidates to take over from Bill Reilly of the EPA?

SHABECOFF: There are a number of names floating around right now. They include Bruce Babbitt, who is the former governor of Arizona, is now chairman of the League of Conservation Voters; Gus Speth, who is president of the World Resources Institute, a respected environmental policy think-tank here in Washington; Madeline Kunin, former governor of Vermont, who has also been very active and outspoken on environmental issues; Tom Jorling, head of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the former assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Carter Administration; and Peter Berle, who's head of the National Audubon Society, and used to be head of the New York State DEC.

CURWOOD: Now what about the EPA itself -- there's talk of upgrading it to a Cabinet position. Do you think that'll happen, and does it matter if it does?

SHABECOFF: First of all, yes, I do think it will happen. It nearly happened during the Bush Administration -- Bush did recommend that the EPA be upgraded to Cabinet level. I think Governor Clinton -- President-elect Clinton will support it, and I think both Houses will pass it. And I think it's a good idea; I think first of all it will give the head of the Environmental Protection Agency a voice equal to all others on the President's Cabinet, and maybe even more important in dealing with environmental issues in the international arena, a Cabinet-level officer will be able to sit on an equal footing with other environmental ministers around the world.

CURWOOD: Now what about the other Cabinet portfolios which have a lot of influence over environmental policy -- I'm thinking of the Secretary of the Interior, that position oversees the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife, and much of the Federal lands and water projects. And of course there's Energy as well. Who's being talked about for those positions?

SHABECOFF: My understanding is that Tim Wirth of Colorado, who's stepping down this year, a Senator from Colorado, has been offered either Energy or Interior, and from what I've heard he is leaning toward Interior. As far as the Energy Department, if Wirth doesn't take it, there is a number of members of Congress who lost their seats who've been very active in environmental issues who might be offered Cabinet posts or sub-Cabinet posts in the environment, including Les AuCoin of Oregon, Jim Johns of Indiana, Wayne Owens of Utah -- all those are very able environmental legislators and may very well find themselves in a Clinton Administration.

CURWOOD: I'm wondering if there's going to be any kind of litmus test for environmental appointments, that people who get these jobs might have to have a certain point of view.

SHABECOFF: I don't think there's going to be any rigid litmus test. I think , however, that anybody who receives a key environmental position in a Clinton Administration is going to have to be somebody who takes the view that protection of the environment and economic growth and job creation are in fact compatible.

CURWOOD: So we won't see anybody who is a crusading environmentalist, who says, 'the Earth first'?

SHABECOFF: No wild-eyed tree-huggers.

CURWOOD: Now Vice President-elect Gore has said every department in the government should take the environment into account when making decisions. Do you think that there's going to be a new environmental ethic that's going to filter throughout the Federal administration now?

SHABECOFF: I think that they will try to integrate environmental concerns into the policies of all the agencies. Whether they will be able to do so or not remains to be seen. Their first priority has to be meeting the economic and job-creation commitments of the campaign. If they can do that and integrate the environmental concerns, they will do so. But their first priority is going to have to be the economy.

CURWOOD: Phil, I'd like to ask you to stay on the line with us for a couple of minutes. In the meantime, we're going to turn now to Laura Knoy in Washington., who will run down some of the other significant races around the country dealing with the environment.

Laura, how did the environment do in this election?

KNOY: Well, Steve, the environment played a role in at least a dozen Congressional and Senate races, and in 33 ballot questions in 17 states. Overall, Jim Maddy of the League of Conservation Voters calls the election a net plus for the environment, but not a big one. Maddy says while the Senate gains two pro-environmental votes, the House results were a wash.

MADDY: I don't think there's any gain in the House. There are some very very good people who won, some good people competing in open seats and some challengers who we supported strongly and who won. But we lost some heroes in the House. They didn't lose because of their support for environmental protection, I don't believe, but they lost nonetheless and we've really lost some leaders in the House.

KNOY: Maddy says among those defeated leaders are Democrat Jim Johns of Indiana, who pushed to save old-growth forests; Pennsylvania Democrat Peter Kostmayer; Democrat Jim Cox of Illinois, and New York Republican Bill Greene. Maddy is glad Montana Democrat Pat Williams won his race, and he's very pleased Gerry Studds of Massachusetts won re-election. Maddy says Studds has a good environmental voting record, and is in line to chair a key environmental committee, Merchant Marine and Fisheries. And Maddy's encouraged by some of the new faces in the House. He says Leslie Byrne, Virginia's first female member of Congress, has been a vigorous environmental activist at the state level. And Maddy adds that freshmen from Arizona, Utah and Washington State are all committed environmentalists. Maddy calls the Oregon senate race the biggest disappointment of the elections. Incumbent Republican Bob Packwood beat Democratic representative Les AuCoin.

MADDY: If you watched their television advertising back and forth over the last month, they made a referendum out of the old-growth forest, ancient forest, spotted owl, log exports, all of those things were aired thoroughly, not just in their debate performances but in their paid media, and AuCoin took the position most favorable to the environmental community and lost.

KNOY: Maddy says there was more bad news in New York, where incumbent Republican Alphonse D'Amato barely beat Democrat Robert Abrams. And in North Carolina, where Democrat incumbent Terry Sanford was defeated. On the plus side, according to Maddy, are the victories of Democrats Patty Murray in Washington State, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein in California, and Ben Nighthorse Campbell in Colorado. More conservative environmental analysts also see good news in the election results. John Shanahan of the Heritage Foundation says, with the economy as the voters' first concern, candidates took moderate positions on environmental regulation.

SHANAHAN: Nobody was coming out, it seemed to me, too much across the nation, as being 'I am an extremist on environmental issues,' because they understood the tenor of the entire national campaign, which is what filters down to people no matter what state they're in, is that economy counts and that's what we have to worry about. And anytime you can be attacked for being quote unquote 'an extremist on the environment,' that means you're vulnerable.

KNOY: And Shanahan says economic worries also led to the defeat of several major environmental ballot initiatives. Massachusetts voters rejected a recycling proposal, and a tax on toxic chemicals. In Ohio, a toxics right-to-know measure failed. Shanahan says these proposals were defeated because they were extreme. He says while they were of questionable environmental benefit, there was no question they would have increased business costs, which firms would then pass on to consumers. Several other initiatives also failed, including an attempt to close a nuclear power plant in Oregon, and an effort in Arizona to set up a land trust. Roy Morgan, director of Americans for the Environment, says ballot measures lost where there was organized corporate opposition. Morgan says in Massachusetts and Ohio, business groups outspent initiative supporters by margins of ten, twenty, even 100 to one.

MORGAN: The companies that signed into the campaign to defeat them and made the contributions read like a corporate 500 -- very big corporate interests were threatened in those three states by those three initiatives.

KNOY: Overall, about half of this year's 33 environmental ballot proposals succeeded. Most were non-controversial issues, like preserving open space, creating parks, and one Colorado initiative that bans black-bear hunting in the spring, while females are raising cubs. One final note on environmental issues and the elections: In California, Maine and Arkansas, Green Party candidates won a total of at least nine local seats on city and councils, commissions and boards. I'm Laura Knoy in Washington. Back to you, Steve.

CURWOOD: Thanks, Laura. Let's turn back now to Phil Shabecoff, publisher of the environmental news service Greenwire. Phil, how important was the environment in this election?

SHABECOFF: Well, according to the polls, it was not a primary issue for very many voters. But I think a lot of voters, considering the whole panoply of issues facing them, are very much concerned about the environment, and while they didn't vote primarily on that basis, it weighed heavily in their decisions.

CURWOOD: Related to that -- women were much more interested in the Clinton candidacy than men as a whole, and women are, the polls tell us, more interested in environmental protection than men. Does this shift in the body politic portend anything for you?

SHABECOFF: I think what is interesting about women's participation in the environment is that it happens a great deal at the local level. If you look at grassroots organizations that fight such things as toxic waste dumps, they tend to be women, who live very close to the problems of their children facing these issues. Now some women leaders are being elevated to positions in the Senate, more in the House of Representatives, and I think yes, that does signal a more intimate concern with environmental issues at all levels and at all issues in Congress.

CURWOOD: Thank you very much.

SHABECOFF: Thank you, Steve.

CURWOOD: Phil Shabecoff is publisher of Greenwire, and author of the forthcoming book Fearscreen Fire: A History of the American Environmental Movement.



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