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

1996 Presidential Candidates Profiles Series: Steve Forbes

Air Date: Week of

So far, without a long political voting record to examine, not that much is known about Presidential election candidate Steve Forbes' views on environmental issues. In this profile of the 17% flat tax champion by reporter Linda Killian, we hear from Forbes on Arctic oil drilling, property takings, and acid rain.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. As New Hampshire prepares to hold the first in the nation presidential primary, the candidacy of millionaire publisher turned politician Steve Forbes continues to dominate much of the debate. In particular, people are talking about how that flat tax he's been thumping would affect us all. At times, Mr. Forbes has spent a million dollars a day to get his message across, and his media blitz has boosted him to the top of the polls. But he's had little to say about an issue that voters are more and more concerned about: care for our environment. We do know that in 1993, Steve Forbes successfully campaigned to stop a private airport from expanding near his estate in Somerset County, New Jersey. Concerns about noise, air pollution, and safety were more important than the right of a small businessman to expand, Mr. Forbes argued. But beyond his own neighborhood, how would Mr. Forbes balance the need for environmental protection with the needs of business? Linda Killian prepared our report.

(A gathering of people. Woman: "How much of the vote do you want out of Iowa?" Man: "As many as we can get.")

KILLIAN: Now that Steve Forbes is considered a serious candidate, he's being questioned on issues other than the flat tax. Issues like environmental protection.


KILLIAN: Take, for example, the debate over whether to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Most Americans polled think it's a bad idea. Here's what Steve Forbes said about drilling in the Alaskan preserve at a recent New Hampshire appearance.

FORBES: I believe that that can be explored in an environmentally safe fashion. So that I've probably lost 20 votes here, but so be it. I'm not going to duck the question. I've been supportive of opening up ANWAR.

(Cheers: "Forbes! Forbes! Forbes!")

KILLIAN: As Mr. Forbes hits the campaign trail, more details of his environmental views are emerging. In a recent interview with the Boston Globe, he said he favors eliminating many environmental regulations and curbing the excesses of the Environmental Protection Agency by reducing its funding. And in a comment reminiscent of former President Ronald Reagan's suggestion that trees cause pollution, he told the Globe he believes acid rain is caused by nature, not power plant emissions.

WEISS: Mr. Forbes' comments that nature causes acid rain makes him eligible to be a charter member of the Flat Earth Society.

KILLIAN: Daniel Weiss is the legislative director of the Sierra Club.

WEISS: Every credible scientific institution in this country that's looked at the acid rain problem have all concluded that sulfur emissions from power plants in the Midwest are responsible for acid rain in the Northeast. Either he's appealing to the lunatic fringe of the anti-environmental movement, or a profound ignorance about science and public policy.

KILLIAN: Daniel Weiss says it's difficult to fully assess Mr. Forbes' positions on the environment because he has no political record to examine. But he says he is wary of Steve Forbes' talk of deregulation, the kind of approach the candidate discussed in a recent New Hampshire appearance where he laid out his basic environmental principles.

FORBES: First we must respect science and not get into emotionalism as we sometimes have done in the past on things like alar and the apples, which destroyed the livelihood of many innocent people and was based on bogus science. Second, there's nothing wrong with cost benefit analysis. Even America does not have infinite resources, so let's be sure we get something for those resources dedicated to cleaning up the environment that we get some good clean air in return. Third, you might call it do it right and make it effective, i.e., Superfund. On Superfund, too much of the money goes in courts and lawyers. If we have a health hazard, clean the darn thing up. And finally, allow a little bit of innovation and imagination. If we have a goal, there's no need for Washington or even the state to give you 10,000 pages of instructions on how to achieve it.

KILLIAN: Mr. Forbes has also expressed his views on the environment in his Forbes Magazine column. He criticizes groups like the Sierra Club as, quote, "aimless, bloated, self-perpetuating bureaucracies more interested in raking in contributions than in promoting a better environment." And he has railed against government taking of private property to preserve wetlands, endangered species, and recreation sites. Steve Forbes tends to favor something known as free market environmentalism, using financial incentives or approaches to solve ecological problems. For example, selling pollution credits, or encouraging people to purchase land to protect it from development. He generally believes economic approaches can solve most of the nation's problems. Like his ideological soul-mate, Jack Kemp, a former member of Congress and Bush Administration Housing Secretary, Mr. Forbes is a supply sider. Here's what Mr. Kemp thinks Steve Forbes adds to the race.

KEMP: Courage, integrity, indefatigable spirit, unambiguous belief in America's role in the world and the belief that entrepreneurial capitalism can be unleashed from the macro to the micro and from the micro to the, you know, to the world. I mean that is a powerful message that I think transcends the debate today. I think it needs to be heard.

KILLIAN: But what also needs to be heard, say environmental groups, is a lot more from Steve Forbes about where he stands on environmental issues. They want to know whether he supports Republican efforts in the 104th Congress to weaken environmental laws. A number of recent polls show Americans oppose such a move. That was well demonstrated in the recent US Senate race in Oregon. Ron Wyden, a liberal Democrat, defeated Republican Gordon Smith, a businessman, due in large part to the votes of people concerned about the environment. The Sierra Club's Daniel Weiss says Steve Forbes will have to address this issue or risk losing votes.

WEISS: Americans want and demand a clean and safe environment. Opinion poll after opinion poll shows that. He can reject that if he likes, in an effort to appeal to his corporate buddies, but it's at his own electoral peril.

KILLIAN: No stranger to poll watching, President Clinton is well aware that defending environmental protection plays well, and he's already said this will be an important issue in the '96 campaign. Should Steve Forbes be the Republican nominee, he will have to devise his own environmental agenda to offer to the voters. For Living on Earth, I'm Linda Killian.



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