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

1996 Presidential Candidates Profile Series: Indiana Senator Richard Lugar

Air Date: Week of

Agriculture reform is at the vanguard of Lugar's vision for America under his leadership. Peter Maloff of New Hampshire Public Radio reports.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Richard Lugar is widely recognized as a man of integrity, discipline, serious, deliberate, prudent. Which may explain why the Indiana senator is not doing so well in his race for the Republican presidential nomination. Plenty of character, not enough charisma. Still, he forges ahead, methodical, consistent, determined. Like the tortoise, Senator Lugar thinks he's the steady plodder who will ultimately pass the hare, Senate majority leader Bob Dole. And like President Clinton, Mr. Lugar is a Rhodes Scholar, educated at Oxford. In 1994 he started his fourth term in the US Senate, where he chairs the Agriculture Committee. New Hampshire Public Radio's Peter Maloff caught up with Senator Lugar in the campaign trail and prepared our report.

MALOFF: The rhetoric has already been flying high for months here in the Granite State. The issues: a balanced budget, the size of government, taxes, family values, and ...

VOICE OVER (with dramatic music): To prove their threat, terrorists will lead authorities to only one ...

MALOFF: Nuclear terrorism.

VOICE OVER: Mr. President, since the break-up of the Soviet Union, we've had nuclear material leaking out...

MALOFF: Senator Richard Lugar, who used to head up the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is probably the only candidate who could be taken seriously, playing to fears of a frenzied world marketplace of nuclear weaponry. Foreign policy is one area in which he's generally considered unassailable. Another is farm policy. And it's in these areas that Lugar can best articulate environmental positions. For example, he's making something of a splash in Florida, defending the Everglades, which he calls one of the most important and complex ecosystems in the country, and one that's been severely damaged by agriculture. He wants to tax sugar producers there two cents a pound to pay for an Everglades restoration fund.

LUGAR: The whole flow of water has been affected. It floods Palm Beach and it floods the other coast. It does not get down to the Bay of Florida, and it certainly doesn't get to the Keys, so we're seeing coral reef deterioration, we're seeing algae in the Bay of Florida. And that can be corrected.

MALOFF: Senator Lugar admits he was largely drawn into the Everglades issue by its agricultural hook. He fervently wants to see an end to almost all farm subsidies and the sugar tax, he says, would partially offset the help those growers get from the government. Senator Lugar says the only farmers who should continue receiving subsidies are those growing crops used for alternative, cleaner-burning fuels. He says an end to subsidies should not mean an end to the development of sustainable growing methods. He says such practices are here to stay.

QUESTIONER: Would your administration take a leadership role in transforming the agricultural methods into more sustainable and more ecologically sound practices?


MALOFF: Senagar spoke with a New Hampshire citizen panel in November.

LUGAR: Clearly that is safer for all of us as Americans and the food supply, as well as the residual dust that flies around is less expensive, in terms of the bottom line...

MALOFF: Senator Lugar was a strong champion of the Reagan era Conservation Reserve Program, which takes some of the most erodable farm lands out of production. He's also on record as supporing a strengthened Clean Water Act and enforcing regulations to protect drinking water, wetlands, and farming water sources. Environmental clean-up is one of the very few government areas where he says Federal spending should be increased, and unlike many of his presidential campaign opponents, Lugar says it's a responsibility that should not be handed over to the states. All of which sounds pretty good to environmentalists.

ANDERSON: He's talking the right talk. I mean, his rhetoric seems to be more focused on the environment, but his votes aren't matching up.

MALOFF: Sarah Anderson of the Washington, DC-based League of Conservation Voters, says Lugar's lifetime environmental voting record is 36%. Relatively okay for a Republican, she says, but last year Lugar only earned a 17% score. Republicans, she explains, are under increasing pressure from inside the party to vote against environmental regulations, which not long ago enjoyed bipartisan support. Lugar says he's still open-minded about regulatory issues.

LUGAR: A good number of Republican causes seem to conflict from time to time with the conservation ratings. I understand that. But at the same time, most conservationists understand that with me they have someone they can visit with that is reasonable, has worked through a lot of problems.

MALOFF: Regulatory issues on which Senator Lugar has made up his mind? Reduce the scope, he says, of the Endangered Species Act. Perform cost-benefit analyses of environmental laws. Positions that mollify Conservative groups like the American Farm Bureau, which isn't exactly thrilled about Lugar's stand against farm subsidies. The Farm Bureau's John Keeling.

KEELING: I would hope that we would always be able to work with the Senator to strike some balance between ensuring that we do the proper things to protect ourselves environmentally and health-wise, and ensuring that we not go off and, you know, jeopardize the legitimate business activities of any industry based on what turns out to not be prudent either economic or scientific understanding.

MALOFF: One environmental issue that Senator Lugar might be expected to have a lot to say about but doesn't is toxic pollution. Indiana has a sizable industrial section on Lake Michigan, and the use of agricultural chemicals is widespread in other parts of the state. The Senator's a long time friend of a Conservative GOP activist, Gordon Durnil, who has recently been calling for the phase-out of some widely-used chemicals. New studies have convinced Mr. Durnil that they can lead to serious hormonal and immune system problems, lower sperm counts, and cancer. Lugar says he's read Durnil's book, The Making of a Conservative Environmentalist, and agrees with it. But he's not prepared to recommend new policies on toxic chemicals.

LUGAR: I always believed that even when there is a strong position presented by a friend, I'm trying to find out where the other positions are. I must admit this is an area in which my knowledge is not fleshed out in the same way it is, I think, in the agricultural or natural resources area. But I clearly am a good listener. I have followed intellectually the arguments of a good many people over the course of my public service, to conclusion.

MALOFF: Senator Lugar, true to his reasoned form, says he has to hear all sides of every debate before taking action. It's this kind of thoughtful countenance that makes some would be supporters wonder why he isn't trying harder in his campaign to distinguish himself on the environment, an issue most Americans say they care a lot about. Republican activist Peter Powell, co-founder of New Hampshire Republicans for Responsible Conservation.

POWELL: He seems like a common sense, solid thinker, and as a farmer I hope he'll maybe spark on this issue, and that he'll take a little more interest in it, and if he'd like to track some broader constituency to his campaign, which hasn't been particularly successful in the polls, that this might be something worth spending a little energy on.

MALOFF: And while one probably wouldn't describe Lugar as an environmental activist, there is evidence that his eyes are not particularly clouded by special interests. Campaign funding analysts point to several instances where the Senator voted against the wishes of his main corporate contributors. For Living on Earth, I'm Peter Maloff in Concord, New Hampshire.



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