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

Political Season

Air Date: Week of

Peter Dykstra of Atlanta's CNN (Cable News Network) Environmental Unit shares his insights with Steve Curwood about what the presidential nominees are up to this fall election season. And what they're leaving out.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The nearly year-long prelude is finally over, and from now till November it's the real thing: the contest for the White House with Bob Dole and Bill Clinton the main contenders. Pollsters have predicted that environmental concerns will play a major part in this year's elections and we'll be looking at how the debate evolves throughout the fall. This week we turn to Peter Dykstra, who heads up the environmental unit at CNN. He says that so far, both the Dole and Clinton campaigns are steering clear of the tough environmental issues.

DYKSTRA: There still is, according to the proverbial high place sources, something of a gag order on Al Gore to make this a primary issue. The consultants for the campaign going back 2 years or even 4 years ago didn't want to hear, we are told, much about issues such as climate change and global warming. They felt it's the MEGO factor. MEGO is an acronym for My Eyes Glaze Over. And they felt it wasn't a sexy enough campaign issue and therefore shouldn't be discussed by the Vice President or anyone in power.

CURWOOD: So Clinton, in your view, is taking, is playing it pretty safe. I mean a couple of weeks ago he said he was going to spend, what? Two billion dollars to clean up some Superfund sites and abandoned industrial sites, you know, the so-called brownfields. And this is pretty non-controversial, you're saying.

DYKSTRA: There isn't really a huge lobby or a groundswell of public opinion that wants to keep urban industrial sites dirty. And it's not by the standards of the Federal budget a backbreaking sum of money, either. That those comfortable issues are the ones where you're likely to see more discussion.

CURWOOD: But you don't think we're going to see the President talk about the tougher ones. There's of course global warming. But at home there's the question of, say, grazing rights or salvage logging, or protection of the Red Rock wilderness in southern Utah. We won't see anything on that, is that your prediction?

DYKSTRA: I don't think Bill Clinton is going to tell us all that we need to change our driving habits. I don't think he's going to tell us that we need to change our consumption habits. Nor is he going to go out to a western timber town and tell people to stop cutting trees. Certainly not between now and the November election. And by the same token, Bob Dole spoke in midsummer in a timber mill town in northern California and gave sort of a rip-snorting, almost anti-environmental group speech, if you will. And that, I thought, was very surprising, because the Republicans have been very, very clearly backing off that hard line.

CURWOOD: In fact, some pollsters told them recently that attacks on environmental protection weren't washing in the 104th Congress. And that they needed to turn the image around. It doesn't seem that Dole has heeded this advice.

DYKSTRA: Being behind in the Presidential poll as he has been through the summer, I think he has to find where he can distinguish himself from Bill Clinton, and this is clearly one of those issues. Whether or not it will gain any ground for him, I don't know.

CURWOOD: What about the Congressional races? Which ones are you watching?

DYKSTRA: I'm really fascinated by the geographic split. If you look at areas in the South or in the Western US, there are a lot of races here in Georgia. Max Cleeland, a Democrat, and Sky Millner, a Republican, they're both disowning to some extent environmental values, and, if you will, trying to out-brown each other, whereas Senator John Kerry and Governor Weld in Massachusetts, Congressman Dick Zimmer and Congressman Torricelli in New Jersey running against each other to replace Bill Bradley, are both looking to stake a claim as someone the environmental organizations would like. The northeastern part of the country, it's still a very strong issue to run on to say you're pro-environment. In the rest of the country it's hit or miss.

CURWOOD: Peter Dykstra heads CNN's Environmental Unit. He spoke to us from Atlanta. Talk to you again soon, Pete.

DYKSTRA: Thank you.



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