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

Tribute to Senator Chafee

Air Date: Week of

The environmental movement lost one of its great champions last week when Republican Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island died of heart failure at the age of 77. Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut remembers his friend and colleague.


CHAFEE: Quite simply, the problem is this. The United States is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and we're not assuming a position of leadership on the climate change issue.

CURWOOD: Republican Senator John Chafee speaking at a town meeting on climate change in Boston last year. Senator Chafee of Rhode Island died of heart failure on October 24th at the age of 77, leaving behind an extraordinary legacy of forward-looking environmental leadership.

CHAFEE: On the contrary, the tenor of our domestic political debate makes it clear to other nations that the United States is unable to conduct a rational dialogue on the subject. Let's have our nation and our domestic industries be there first with the new technologies and practices that will make reductions everywhere else in the world achievable.

CURWOOD: At the time Senator Chafee was working on ways to provide incentives to companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. His democratic colleague, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, cosponsored the legislation. It was one of many bills the duo developed on the Environment and Public Works Committee, of which John Chafee was the chair. Senator Lieberman has this tribute to his friend and colleague.

LIEBERMAN: Well, you know, when John Chafee announced earlier this year that he was not going to run for re-election, a lot of us who care about the environment looked around, and I think we realized what a great loss John's retirement would be. And now, his sudden death reminds us all too quickly that this was an irreplaceable friend of the environment. It's been really my honor to serve with John Chafee, not only as a fellow senator but on the Environment Committee over the 11 years I've been in the Senate. And he was just a very sturdy, forthright, faithful environmentalist, at a time when unfortunately, within his own Republican party, the ranks of environmental protectors grew smaller. Contrary I think to the tradition of the Republican party that goes back to Teddy Roosevelt, and contrary to what I find to be the opinions of Republicans in Connecticut who were really quite supportive of environmental protection. So John had a tough road to go. And he did it very effectively. He always considered himself a centrist, and I think what that meant was not that he was neutral, but that he was able to bring together different groups and factions within Congress and outside to get things done.

One of my first and really best experiences as a senator was in 1990, when we were considering the Clean Air Act amendments. And Senator George Mitchell, then the majority leader, pulled a group of us together with representatives of the Bush administration into his conference room. John Chafee was there, day after day, night after night, long hard negotiations, but in the end helped to put the pieces together to have us adopt a bill that was signed by President Bush, that has clearly made the air healthier to breathe and cleaner than it otherwise would have been. He was a leader in the Kyoto process. John and I went to Kyoto together. And I think there, in a very difficult setting, he sent a message out to the countries of the world, which were being quite critical about the U. S. position on global warming, that there was bipartisan support in Congress for doing something about it. He and I sponsored what we thought was a really moderate proposal in this session of Congress, to begin to give companies that reduce their greenhouse gas emissions the promise of credit if and when we adopt a mandatory system for that kind of air pollution reduction. And maybe we were convinced that we were on the right path, because we were opposed by both sides of the debate. But it was typical of John that he treated everyone with great civility. He was a great outdoorsman himself. I think some of the work that he did that he was proudest of was to protect natural resources. He was critical in expanding our National Wildlife Refuge system and the work of conserving wetlands, was a great advocate right up to the time of his death in pushing for more funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund that's been so important to the preservation of open spaces in our state.

So this was a good man, an honorable man. Straight talking. Always very respectful to those who came before our committee. Somebody who wanted to get things done. And when it came to the environment, really did get things done. I'll miss him. We'll all miss him. And honestly, the Lord's good Earth will miss him, because he was a good friend.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman remembering Rhode Island Senator John Chafee, who died on October 24th.



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