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

1996 Presidential Candidates Profile Series: Pat Buchanan

Air Date: Week of

Eric Westervelt of New Hampshire Public Radio profiles presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan's record and rhetoric on environmental issues. Job protection is at the center of Buchanan's ideology.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan is expected to do well in the nation's first presidential primary election in New Hampshire next month. That's the same state where he ran a strong second place finish to President George Bush in 1992, and damaged Mr. Bush's re-election effort. The presidency is the only office Mr. Buchanan has ever run for, but he's been in the limelight for more than 2 decades. He worked in the White House for both Presidents Nixon and Reagan, and today he's a syndicated newspaper columnist and TV talk show host. Mr. Buchanan speaks with the fervor of a deeply conservative populist. He says he favors the environment, but not at the expense of people and jobs. As part of Living on Earth's series of profiles of the major presidential candidates, we asked New Hampshire Public Radio's Eric Westervelt to take a closer look at Pat Buchanan's environmental philosophy.

(Ragtime music plays; a man yells into a bullhorn: "Go Pat go! Go Pat go! Go Pat go! Go Pat go! ")

WESTERVELT: At a recent campaign rally in Manchester, a throng of Buchanan supporters showed why the conservative talkmeister calls New Hampshire his second home.

BUCHANAN: Are you all talkin' about Pat Schroeder? (Cheers and applause and laughter; a man yells, "Yeah!")

WESTERVELT: Environmental issues rarely come up in Buchanan's stump campaign speeches except to bash Washington bureaucrats or meddlesome Federal regulations. But like most issues, Buchanan is ready with a quick response. He claims he's a strong proponent of conservation, noting that as a Nixon aide he supported establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. And, Buchanan says, he recently worked hard to stop the Disney Corporation's planned amusement park in Virginia.

BUCHANAN: I believe we've got to protect not only our natural heritage but our historical heritage. I fought with everything I had to prevent Disney from introducing into Chancersville, in the area of those battlefields, a huge Disney theme park featuring Mickey Mouse. I believe that we've done the right thing in cleaning up our rivers and cleaning up our air and cleaning up our beaches and preserving our natural heritage.

WESTERVELT: But Buchanan's no tree hugger. His brand of arch conservative protectionist populism champions small government, deregulation, lower taxes, and property rights. For instance, he says landowners should be fully paid by the government if the value of their property is affected by environmental regulations, even though he admits that would be a strain on the Federal budget.

BUCHANAN: Would be a great strain, but the alternative is to steal men's property, and we can't do that in America. One of the things the American Revolution was fought for, was not to let that happen. It was the idea that the king and the Parliament were basically stealing men's property without compensation.

WESTERVELT: Because Buchanan hasn't held any office, he has no voting record on the environment. But he says he wants Federal Bureau of Land Management acreage turned over to state control. And Buchanan calls for changing the Endangered Species Act, to give more weight to jobs in the economy. He charges that environmental extremists are, quote, "putting bugs, rats, and weeds ahead of workers and families."

BUCHANAN: And this is the kind of extremism we saw in Arizona when they put, set 2 million acres aside for the Mexican spotted owl. I mean how many acres do the owls need? You cannot give a couple of birds 2 million acres, the Mexican spotted owl, and you cannot give the northern spotted owl 9 million acres, when you have families and communities are dying up there because some arbitrary and capricious Federal judge has shut down their mills and shut down their industry and shut down their livelihood.

(Printing machines run)

WESTERVELT: Buchanan's tough talk resonates with New Hampshire voters like Cheryl Johnson, who runs her small printing business in the tiny town of Campton, nestled at the base of the White Mountain National Forest. Johnson is President of the New Hampshire Landowners Alliance, a local property rights group, and Vice President of the Alliance for America, part of the national Wise Use Movement that opposes environmental regulations. She says in 1992 Alliance members were on the front lines in Buchanan's army of campaign volunteers. And they are again this year.

JOHNSON: Attending rallies, putting up signs, bumper stickers, the whole works. I think he was an advocate for Wise Use issues before there was a Wise Use Movement; that is Pat Buchanan's nature. I think that he has, he's always been in that direction, because he's in favor of a limited government which is really what it comes down to.

WESTERVELT: But critics say Buchanan's support of working people isn't in their long term best interest. For example, Buchanan doesn't support restrictions on fishing in the once rich seas off New England's coast. Even though some scientists believe reduced harvests could save future fishing jobs. And he'd like to see national forests opened up to more cutting, saying harvest restrictions are throwing too many loggers out of work. Dan Weiss, with the Washington office of the Sierra Club, charges that Buchanan's populism is really thinly-veiled opportunism.

WEISS: I think Pat Buchanan's populism doesn't extend past polluters' profits. He would like to take the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, our last undeveloped part of our Arctic coastal range, and give it to the oil companies. He would like to take the Tsongas National Forest, America's last rainforest, and give it to the big timber companies, many of whom will ship the timber overseas.

WESTERVELT: And that, Weiss says, means fewer jobs here at home. Jameson French, who runs a wood products business in New Hampshire, has helped organize a coalition of green Republicans in the state, trying to call attention to the GOP's attempt to roll back environmental laws. French says Buchanan is on the party's fringe when it comes to conservation, and his protectionist economics often creates a false dichotomy between jobs and the environment.

FRENCH: Healthy economy and healthy environment are very compatible, because they are not mutually exclusive. The Republican party has been associated since the time of Theodore Roosevelt with progressive policy on environmental issues and conservation policy in this country. And it's something that we should be proud of. It's part of the party. And to just dismiss all of that is sort of naive and dammit, I think we should, you know, I think it's a mistake to just throw that all away.

WESTERVELT: Buchanan agrees that there is a need to balance the economy and the environment. But he says the pendulum has swung too far toward ecosystems and away from people.

BUCHANAN: And I think there's a difference between conserving something and the preservationist point of view, which says it must remain untouched.

WESTERVELT: On this point as with most others, Buchanan elicits passionate support among his voters, who are fiercely loyal, exhibiting a kind of zeal rarely seen in electoral politics. They believe deeply that he's on their side.

MAN: I'm sure that he will be in favor of having a good environment for people to live in, but first comes people and then comes the environment.

WOMAN: People first.

WESTERVELT: For Living on Earth, this is Eric Westervelt in Concord, New Hampshire.



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