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

The Clinton Watershed

Air Date: Week of

Steve talks about the likely shifts in environmental policy and the outlook for the next four years with Sierra Club President Tony Ruckle and Ken Lay, President of the Enron Corporation and a member of President Bush's Commission on Environmental Quality.


CURWOOD: Joining me now are two people who've watched the development of environmental policy very closely over much of the last dozen years. Tony Ruckle is president of the Sierra Club, and he joins us from member station KCFR in Denver, and Ken Lay is the chairman and chief executive officer of Enron Corporation, which produces and distributes oil and natural gas. Mr. Lay is also a member of President Bush's Commission on Environmental Quality, and he's in the studios of KUHF in Houston. Gentlemen, thanks for joining me. Hello.

LAY: Hello, happy to be with you, Steve.

CURWOOD: Now let me start with you, Tony Ruckle. You could say it's been twelve rather long years out in the cold for environmental groups in Washington. How do you feel about the return of the Democrats to the White House?

RUCKLE: Well, we're elated. I don't know that it's so much defined as Democrats versus Republicans; I think we're elated that a new Administration will be coming in with a commitment to environmental questions and solving environmental problems, and that's really the most important aspect of this. I'd like to characterize it, Steve, as really what we environmentalists generally seek is a hearing, we like an environmental consciousness, and thirdly, and maybe this is what was lacking most, was a commitment to protect or improve the nation's environment. We think we'll have this now. We look forward to a good four years.

CURWOOD: Can the -- business, on the other hand, has had a strong voice in environmental policy over the past dozen years, are you afraid that you might now lose that influence?

LAY: Well, Steve, I think in fact most responsible business leaders today understand that the environment is a very, very critical part of how we do business, how we must do business. And I guess I would disagree a little bit with probably the tone of your question, and maybe even Tony's response. I think a lot of progress has been made in the environmental area in the last twelve years, and particularly the last four years. Of course during the Bush Administration we had passage of the Clean Air Act amendments, which is one of the most comprehensive environmental quality bills ever enacted in Washington. Certainly over the last decade we've seen the percent of gross domestic product going toward environmental cleanup increase, and I think that's going to continue. I suppose our main concern as business leaders is that we in fact do weigh the costs and the benefits of various environmental regulations, and make sure that we are doing things that make good environmental and economic sense. Governor Clinton has said that his number one priority, of course, is to get the economy moving, to do things to stimulate creation of jobs and make the nation more competitive, so I think in fact environmental groups will have more access, but again I hope in fact there is a very careful weighing of the costs and benefits of the various regulations or other matters that the environmental community might want to see.

CURWOOD: I want to ask you both -- during the campaign, Clinton and Gore stressed that economic health would improve along with the environmental health. Do you think that this is a realistic view? Let me start with you, Tony Ruckle.

RUCKLE: Well, I'm glad you asked that question. They emphasized throughout the campaign that the technological innovations and progress that will be necessary to handle our pollution problems, not only on the national scale but on the truly global scale, is an enormous economic opportunity. I really seriously question this jobs-vs.-environment choice that the Bush Administration argued so vehemently. I don't think it's there.

LAY: I would totally agree with Tony. I think in fact having a clean environment and having a more efficient environment are not necessarily contradictory. But again I come back, we need wise environmental policies. There are certainly some ways that you can impose enormous costs on society and on the economy that in fact will not be justified, and I think that we've got to be very careful about that.

CURWOOD: Well, now, let's look ahead for a moment, gentlemen. Now, based on what you both know about the incoming Administration, and of course we don't really know who the specific names and faces that are going to be in a Clinton Administration that'll fill things in -- although we certainly know that Vice President-elect Gore will have a big role in this -- but based on what you do know, what are your highest hopes for environmental policy under President Clinton? Let me start with you, please, Ken Lay.

LAY: I think clearly one area that we're going to see more emphasis on with the Clinton and Gore team will be in this whole area of global warming and carbon dioxide emissions. There's going to be a stronger push for limits and even reductions on carbon dioxide emissions in this new Administration. From the standpoint of my industry, I think the natural gas industry has a very positive role to play in that, and I expect we're going to see a fairly aggressive stance taken on that by the new Administration.

CURWOOD: Let me turn to you, Tony Ruckle -- what are your highest hopes for the environment in a Clinton Administration?

RUCKLE: Well, one of them, obviously, is that progressive businessmen like Ken Lay also have a voice in what happens in the new Administration. We have an agenda, of course, and it's in fact built up over twelve years, although obviously some of the things I will mention are of more recent focus, but next year we have reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act coming up. I expect this to be a very difficult, hard-fought battle. Preservation and protection of wilderness areas around the country have been stymied, almost non-existent over twelve years. We have California desert lands, correction of forestry practices, particularly in old-growth forests, protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I could go on, but I, let me let my colleague have something to say, or you ask another question.

LAY: Well, and Steve, before we leave this, I'll tell you one of my expectations, and that is that we will see a lot more activity on global warming gases. But I guess if I was to give you my hope, it is that we could continue at least some of what started the last few years of more cooperation, more working together between business and environmental groups. But secondly, that where possible we continue to rely primarily on market forces and on incentives and disincentives to achieve our environmental goals, versus returning to kind of the command-control procedure that we almost entirely relied on fifteen or twenty years ago.

CURWOOD: Thank you both. Tony Ruckle is president of the Sierra Club, he joined us from Denver; and Kenneth Lay is chief executive officer of Enron Corporation, in Houston. Thank you both for joining us.



Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth