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

Dole for President

Air Date: Week of

In his dozens of stump speeches around the country in recent months, Bob Dole has been fairly silent on issues concerning the environment. But many supporters and critics alike say his agenda is all there in a decades-old record which speaks for itself. Reporter Terry FitzPatrick takes a look at the Republican presidential nominee's public votes, and closed door deals, thus far.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. How would Bob Dole manage our environment if he wins the White House in November? That's a question that so far Mr. Dole himself has been reluctant to answer. The environment rarely comes up in his campaign speeches, and he's not been available for interviews on this topic. His supporters say a Dole Administration would diligently protect our life support systems. But his opponents say he was part of a major attempt by Congressional Republicans to roll back many environmental protections. Once in the White House, critics fear, he would continue on that path. Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick has our environmental profile of Bob Dole.

FITZPATRICK: In the Cascade foothills there is a town named for a century-old showdown between settlers and Indians. Battleground, Washington.

(Chickens cackle)

FITZPATRICK: Here you'll find the farm of Chuck Cushman.

(A door opens)

FITZPATRICK: Armed with an arsenal of computers and phone lines, Mr. Cushman is fighting a new war for the west, a battle involving America's environmental laws and presidential candidate Bob Dole.

(A keyboard is punched, a modem connects)

FITZPATRICK: Mr. Cushman is faxing a nationwide alert to his network of 18,000 supporters.

CUSHMAN: This is a scorecard on how members of Congress vote on grazing, mining, timber, private property, endangered species, wetlands issues, all across the United States.

FITZPATRICK: Mr. Cushman's organization, the League of Private Property Voters, believes people should be compensated when laws like the Endangered Species Act prevent them from developing their land. And in the group's Congressional report, Bob Dole gets a perfect score. On every key vote during the 104th Congress, the League had an ally in Senator Dole. To return the favor, Mr. Cushman has used his fax machines to spread the word about Dole campaign events.

CUSHMAN: There's no question that if you're a rancher, a miner, a logger or are interested in private property, you're more apt to vote for Dole. Dole is much more on those people's side. The Clinton Administration has demonstrated that he's not. His constituency are the green advocacy groups and they're anti private property and anti mining, timber, grazing, and so that's where it stands.

FITZPATRICK: America's ranchers, miners, and loggers are a small constituency compared to organized labor or senior citizens. But it's a constituency Bob Dole has gone out of his way to court.

(Applause and cheers)

FITZPATRICK: In July he toured remote timber towns in California to show solidarity with those who feel President Clinton's environmental policies have gone too far.

DOLE: You have been abandoned by this administration, and I think you and your families and your communities have suffered too much. When I'm President of the United States, we're not going to play games with the timber industry. I'm going to be on your side, the workers, the families, the communities. That's the pledge from Bob Dole, your candidate for President of the United States, and when I'm elected that will happen.

(Applause and cheers continue)

FITZPATRICK: Mr. Dole hasn't disclosed many specifics about his own environmental policies. So far he's stressed only that his approach would involve straightforward common sense.

DOLE: We're going to ask 3 questions about every policy that relates to the environment and the people who make their living on the land. Number one: is it reasonable to all concerned? Number two: does it look at the long term? Number three: have we listened to the people who are closest to the problem? That's you. Listen to the people that are closest to the problem. And...

(Applause and cheers)

FITZPATRICK: Many who have felt the heavy hand of environmental laws feel this approach is balanced and fair. But to leaders of the nation's major environmental groups, the prospect of a Dole presidency is alarming. They fear that the centerpiece of his campaign, a 15% tax reduction, would result in devastating cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency. And they say his proposal to transfer Federal authority to the states would turn back the clock decades to a time when local officials did little to safeguard America's air, water, wildlife, and public lands. Greg Wetstone is legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

WETSTONE: We have reason to fear that a Dole Administration would be very bad for the nation's environment. We'd be seeing proposals that would really handcuff the enforcement agencies that turn our environmental protection laws into something meaningful as opposed to just paper.

FITZPATRICK: Two bills that Senator Dole championed during the 104th Congress might have turned the nation's environmental agencies into paper tigers. Both measures died in the Senate, but they do serve as a guide to Mr. Dole's philosophy. The first would have required payments to businesses or land-holders when regulations lessened the value of their property. Environmentalists viewed it as a back door approach to weaken enforcement of Federal rules, since agencies can't afford to pay people to obey the law. The second bill, which Senator Dole called regulatory reform, would have required agencies to conduct extensive cost-benefit studies before issuing new rules. This measure would have made it tougher to prevent pollution and protect endangered species, because the value of clean air and spotted owls can't be measured simply in dollars.

WETSTONE: What this bill would do is basically require us to start over in environmental protection. Instead of saying let's take the gains we've got now, the system that has worked to improve our quality of life in giving us cleaner air and cleaner water, and build on that system, what this bill would have done is really torn it down.

FITZPATRICK: The Regulatory Reform Bill generated criticism from more than environmentalists. Charles Lewis, executive director of a watchdog group called The Center for Public Integrity, contends part of the proposal seemed tailored to help a Dolecampaign contributor. At the time, Coke Industries was facing heavy fines from government regulators.

LEWIS: The government charged that Coke had spilled 2.3 million gallons of oil in 300 spills in 6 states since 1990, and one of their favorite members of Congress, to whom they had given more than $200,000 over his career, Bob Dole, introduced a bill that would make it extremely difficult for the government to do anything against them.

FITZPATRICK: Mr. Dole's staff said the bill made economic sense and would have helped hundreds of companies. They deny it was a special favor for a campaign contributor. But it wasn't the only time questions like this have surfaced. When it looked like this year's Federal Farm Bill would include a tax on sugar cane growers to clean up the damage they've caused to the Florida Everglades, Senator Dole intervened. He brokered a deal to shift the costs away from sugar producers, who are also campaign contributors, and onto the general public. Deborah Luderbeck investigated the incident for the watchdog group Common Cause.

LUDERBECK: People all across the country, many of whom had never even seen the Everglades, are going to help pay for it to be cleaned up. Meanwhile, the industry that was in large part responsible for polluting the Everglades, is not going to pay anything extra.

FITZPATRICK: Again, the Dole staff denies anything improper. And Mr. Dole has said it was unfair to saddle a single industry with the costs of cleaning up the Everglades. Still, Gregory Wetstone at the Natural Resources Defense Council sees a pattern of behind the scenes deals for Mr. Dole's friends in industry.

WETSTONE: The philosophy that is reflected is not that the polluters should pay or that, you know, each company bears a responsibility not to pollute the environment, but instead that the taxpayer bears a responsibility for subsidizing the cost of protecting the environment. That is a very troubling philosophy; it's really at odds with the very foundation of environmental protection law in this country as it's evolved over the past 25 years.

FITZPATRICK: Mr. Dole's corporate tilt has made him a favorite of ranchers and industry. But it also runs the risk of alienating the vast majority of voters who think protecting the environment is an important Federal responsibility. So aides have been attempting to soften Mr. Dole's image. Campaign brochures suggest he's been at the forefront of environmentalism throughout his 35 years in Congress. One handout boasts Mr. Dole has voted in favor of America's major environmental laws. A close look reveals a checkered voting record, one that has earned him a lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters of just 20%. Nevertheless, many Republicans maintain Mr. Dole is indeed a moderate when it comes to the environment.

BOEHLERT: Now, if he posed a threat in the area of the environment, that would be big news, and that would require a good deal of explanation, but he doesn't.

FITZPATRICK: Congressman Sherwood Boehlert of New York has long
been considered an ally by many environmentalists.

BOEHLERT: I think people feel comfortable with a guy like Bob Dole, because they know he's not an extremist in any way, shape, or manner.

FITZPATRICK: Republicans learned, during the 104th Congress, that extremism doesn't sit well with the public. And those who've counseled the Republican nominee say Mr. Dole understands this. Former EPA administrator William Ruckelshaus predicts as President, Mr. Dole would seek consensus instead of conflict.

RUCKELSHAUS: Bob Dole is no more going to try to confront public opinion on this issue than Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan did ultimately. Both of these people in fact supported regulations, supported much of the apparatus that is currently in existence at the national level, not because they were charter members of the Sierra Club, but because they knew public opinion would not permit a backing away by the government in protecting the environment, and that they'd get in deep trouble if they tried to do that.

FITZPATRICK: Still, Mr. Dole is facing an uphill battle because of the public perception that his party is willing to sacrifice the environment to foster economic growth. And so Mr. Dole must walk a very fine line. Even as he reaches out to ranchers and industry to shore up support, he must avoid being seen by the general public as beholden to these special interests. It's a difficult challenge but Mr. Dole seems willing to accept it. In California, when he told loggers he was on their side, he quickly tempered his remarks.

(Applause and cheers)

DOLE: And although some have suggested otherwise, I don't believe we need to choose between a strong economy and a safe environment. It's a false choice; we can have both in America. We can have both right here in Reading. We can have both in California. We don't need to put one against the other. So...

(Applause and cheers)

FITZPATRICK: So far, Mr. Dole has done little to attract the environmental vote to his side. And with less than a month left in the campaign there seems little chance he could do so before election day. Throughout his candidacy, he seems to have taken a strategy of damage control, simply avoiding anything that would mobilize environmental voters to actively work against him. For Living on Earth, this is Terry FitzPatrick reporting.



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