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

October 23, 1992

Air Date: October 23, 1992


Playing the Environment Card / Alex van Oss

Alex van Oss reports from Washington on the environmental strategies being used by the major presidential candidates. Although neither campaign has put environmental issues at the forefront, the Republicans have been more aggressive, often accusing the Democrats of extremism. (07:57)

Quayle on the Environment

Steve outlines the environmental philosophy of Vice President Dan Quayle, with excerpts from a recent campaign address. Quayle has gained a major role in the Bush administration's environmental policy. (The Vice President declined repeated requests to appear on the program.) (02:22)

Gore on the Environment / Steve Curwood

Steve talks with Democratic vice presidential nominee Al Gore about his environmental philosophy and his possible role in environmental policy in a Clinton administration. (10:25)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Clifford Smith, Jannet Barrie, Alex Van Oss
GUESTS: Senator Al Gore

( Theme music up)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. The next Vice President is likely to hold a lot of power over environmental policy. This week on Living on Earth, we hear from the two leading candidates for the job.

QUAYLE: The Federal Government has a duty to safeguard our environment. But it also has a duty to examine each new environmental scare before launching a massive and costly war against it.

GORE: At the present time, the maximum that is politically feasible still falls short of the minimum that is really effective in reversing this global environmental crisis. But that doesn't mean that one ought to throw up one's hands in despair, but rather expand the boundaries of what's politically feasible.

CURWOOD: Quayle versus Gore, on Living on Earth. . . First, this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news.

Air pollution is on the wane in many parts of the country. The EPA's latest data show that smog in forty-one cities has fallen to acceptable levels since 1989 . . . and 13 other cities now meet carbon monoxide standards. The EPA says the improvement is the result of reformulated gasoline, cleaner cars and less sunshine, which helps to form smog. But some environmental groups say the cooler weather was a bigger factor than EPA will admit. . . and that the gains will be temporary without quicker action on clean air regulations. David Doniger is a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council:

DONIGER: You can't rely on the luck of cool weather to clean the air. We're going to have hot summers again, so the only way to hold even is to tighten up the pollution controls.

NUNLEY: The EPA says regulations to cut auto emissions another fifty percent are in the works.

The world's number one killer of wheat crops may finally be defeated. Researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico say they've developed a strain of wheat that's resistant to rust, a blight which causes huge crop losses each year. The strain was developed by cross-breeding new, high-yield varieties of wheat with an old, rust-resistant strain from Brazil. The development could have a major impact on the world's grain supply, and allow wheat to grow in previously inhospitable areas.

Guards patrolling Poland's eastern border will soon carry radiation detectors, in an effort to stop uranium smuggling from the former Soviet Union. Several would-be smugglers have been arrested in Poland and Germany in recent weeks. Most of the uranium is not weapons-grade, but atomic energy monitors fear that unshielded radioactive material could still pose a threat to public health. At least one smuggler is dying from radiation poisoning. . . after strapping uranium to his body to slip it past Swiss customs agents.

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency is proposing that an international storage facility be set up for radioactive elements from dismantled nuclear weapons.

European Community nations have settled a growing controversy by agreeing to shut their borders to hazardous waste. The decision is one of several environmental agreements to emerge from a meeting of EC ministers. From Brussels, Clifford Smith has the story.

SMITH: The good news for environmentalists is that European Community countries can now put their own environmental protection ahead of the Community's principles of free trade. Specifically, they'll be able to refuse entry to toxic waste from other member countries and to check shipments that claim to be harmless or recyclable material. However, Greenpeace has criticized what it said was the inclusion of many poisonous materials on that recyclable list. Even more, Greenpeace denounced the ministers for allowing exports to continue to certain countries in East Europe and the Third World. Also, EC fishery ministers again recognized that overfishing is a serious problem in Community waters. But again, they put off making those hard decisions. For Living on Earth, I'm Clifford Smith in Brussels.

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth.

Thirty-two million Americans may be drinking water with high levels of lead. EPA tested high-risk homes in 130 cities, and found some lead levels at more than five times Federal standards. The EPA says residents of high-risk cities should run tap water for several minutes every morning before using it, use cold water whenever possible, and avoid boiling water more than necessary.

German politicians are paying homage to the woman whose Green movement helped bring environmental issues into the mainstream of European politics. Petra Kelly, the former leader of the German Green party, was found dead in her apartment in Bonn. Police say she was shot by her longtime companion, who then apparently turned the gun on himself. From Bonn, Janet Barrie looks back on the political career of Petra Kelly.

BARRIE: For many Germans, Petra Kelly was the Green Party. She was a larger-than-life campaigner for the environment and the peace movement. She captured the public imagination and infuriated the establishment. Her political career reached its height when the Green Party won seats in the German parliament in 1983. She led demonstrations against the planned construction of a nuclear reprocessing plant at Vackersdorf and deployment of NATO weapons on German territory. But Petra Kelly's relationship with the Green Party was stormy. Fundamentalists took exception to the media attention devoted to Kelly and her publicity stunts. She in turn spoke out against small-minded bickering within the party. The Greens were voted out of Parliament in 1990, and public support has plummeted ever since. Petra Kelly went her own way, spending most of her time abroad. Her death went undiscovered for up to three weeks, a measure of the final loneliness and isolation of the woman who did so much to shape Green politics in Germany and the rest of the world. For Living on Earth, I'm Janet Barrie in Bonn.

NUNLEY: That's this week's environmental news, I'm Jan Nunley.

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Playing the Environment Card

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

Rarely does a book become a major factor in a presidential campaign. But in this year of electoral surprises, Democratic Vice Presidential challenger Al Gore's new book, Earth in the Balance, has filled much of the spotlight. Gore's treatise on the environment was published just four months before his selection as Bill Clinton's running mate, and depending on your perspective, the book is either a plea for radical reform of the way humans use and abuse the earth's resources, or an extremist tract proposing pricey solutions to unproven problems. And the book has become a rallying point for the Republicans, who have smarted under criticisms that Vice President Quayle has tried to thwart environmental regulations. Under Quayle, the Vice Presidency has come to play a central role in environmental policy, and later in the program we'll hear how both contenders might continue that legacy.

But first, from Washington, Alex van Oss reports how the major presidential tickets have been playing the environment card in the current campaign.

VAN OSS: Even with the environment a low-priority issue, both sides in this race have taken an unusual strategy with it, almost switching places. John Shanahan is environmental policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy think-tank in Washington, DC.

SHANAHAN: Gore, who is quite outspoken on the environment, is not being very outspoken during the campaign. The strategy is mum's-the-word. The reason for that is that he's vulnerable to attacks from the GOP on the environment for being extremist.

BUSH (at rally) : I normally don't speak much about his running mate, Senator Gore of Tennessee, but he's written this famous book now that Governor Clinton talks about. On page 325 of the book, he makes an interesting comparison. He says that the automobile industry and I quote right here, quotations, 'poses a mortal threat to the security of every nation that is more deadly than that of any military enemy we're ever again likely to confront.' What kind of people are we dealing with here? (Crowd noise)

VAN OSS: Senator Albert Gore wrote a best-selling book on the environment, but many of his proposals in it are controversial, and what's fine for Gore the senator is trickier for Gore the White House candidate. Shanahan says the Republicans need to adjust their environmental posture to show their concern, and at the same time, their sense of proportion.

SHANAHAN: Bush is vulnerable to both conservatives and environmentalists on the environment, so he's taken a rather aggressive strategy. His strategy is to basically point out differences between himself and Gore.

VAN OSS: One of those differences is over what the true cost is of making environmental protection a top priority, which both sides claim to want to do. President Bush, in speeches last month in the Pacific Northwest, warned that his opponent's policies favor trees and birds over people and paychecks.

BUSH (at rally): We must talk sense about the Endangered Species Act, about the spotted owl, and about the management of our forests. Because it is my firm belief that people and their jobs deserve protection too.

McINTURFF: I think that you can look at the Bush campaign using the environment as a jobs issue.

VAN OSS: Bill McInturff is a Republican political pollster with the Virginia firm, Public Opinion Strategies.

McINTURFF: The Bush campaign is getting to the point where they're developing a theme about Bill Clinton, and that is: if you're worried about your job, Bill Clinton is not the answer.

VAN OSS: But during this campaign, Republicans have criticize Governor Clinton's own environmental record in his home state of Arkansas. All in all, it's an inconsistent campaign strategy by the Republicans, says Mark Mellman, a polling consultant for Democratic candidates and progressive interest groups.

MELLMAN: Bush's strategy is somewhat schizophrenic. He goes to Michigan and campaigns against Senator Gore saying that the Democratic ticket is too strong on the environment, and that it will hurt Michigan autoworkers. Then he goes to states around Arkansas and says Clinton is not a strong enough environmentalist.

Both President Bush and Governor Clinton have, as officials, passed legislation favoring jobs over environmental protections, but their campaign rhetoric sets them far apart.

CLINTON: The way this thing has been presented, you know, is jobs vs. the owls. If that's the dilemma, you'd never win that argument; in other words, we could cut down every tree, if you want to, you could clear the whole forest in five years and put everybody to work. You'd have a negative unemployment rate in Oregon, and then you'd be worse off than you were in the beginning.

VAN OSS: Any qualms environmentalists may have had about Clinton were quieted by his choice for running mate. Senator Albert Gore has taken a strong pro-environment stand in Congress, and at the Democratic National Convention called saving the earth's environment the 'central organizing principle in the post-Cold-War world.' Republican and Democratic analysts agree the environment has become a generational theme, sparking the most interest among younger voters. To some it's almost become a symbol of rejuvenation.

GORE: If you want a dramatic difference in the environmental policies of your country, if you want the kind of leadership that our country needs and that our world needs, then get off the sidelines, get involved, make a difference, be a part of this winning team.

MADDY: You do see some symbolic use of the environmental issue as identifying with the next generation, as identifying with this theme of generational change.

VAN OSS: Jim Maddy is executive director of the nonpartisan League of Conservation Voters in Washington.

MADDY: On the Bush side they're using the environment sort of as the symbolic bogeyman, it's, they don't have world communism to run against anymore, and there's a substantial segment of the advisors around the President saying let's run not just against the environment, but let's run against environmentalists.

VAN OSS: In any campaign, there's more than meets the ear, and that's true for this year and the environment issue. Analysts say that what the spotted owl actually means to a voter depends on where that voter lives, what the voter does for a living. It also depends on education, income level, and age. But do campaign strategists really know -- precisely -- the target groups they're after? John Shanahan of the Heritage Foundation says yes.

SHANAHAN: The Bush Administration is trying to gather those folks that are moderate, those who are not, do not have their mind made up that the environment should be the central organizing principle for civilization; those people are clearly in the Clinton/Gore camp.

VAN OSS: If the Republicans are after so-called moderate voters, so are the Democrats. Republican pollster Bill McInturff says the Democrats are doing what they've done in past election cycles -- use issues like abortion and the environment to harvest a few votes even in, say, affluent Republican suburbs.

McINTURFF: And that tightening of the margins in those precincts then means that the Democrats can mobilize in their strong areas and win some close elections.

VAN OSS: As for the third candidate, Ross Perot -- the Texas businessman has said little about the environment. His running mate, Admiral James Stockdale, said in the Vice Presidential debate that he'd read Senator Gore's book on the environment, but said he didn't see how Gore could pay for his clean-up proposals in today's economic climate. As for whether Perot has anything much to contribute on the environmental issue, Republican pollster Bill McInturff called the off-and-on-again candidate a . . .

McINTURFF: . . . zip, not a nothing, I mean, as you connect Perot and the environment, it's just a non-connect.

VAN OSS: It's hard to tell is the environment, or any single issue, or any position on that issue, can give a candidate the winning edge. But this is the first election with an incumbent who's a self-proclaimed environmental president, and a challenger for Vice President, Senator Gore, who's put himself on the printed line, with a hefty book on the issue. Whoever sits in the White House next year, analysts say the environment will remain a political priority, with policy influenced, as it is now, by the Vice President. For Living on Earth, this is Alex van Oss, in Washington.

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Quayle on the Environment

CURWOOD: In its first two years, the Bush Administration staked out an environmental record that won it points, even from skeptics. The President helped lobby for the new Clean Air Act, stopped most new offshore oil drilling, and jacked up funding for the EPA. But in the last two years, the Administration has changed course somewhat, at least partly under the influence of Vice President Dan Quayle. Quayle chairs the White House Council on Competitiveness, which gives final review to environmental and other regulations. Recently some have charged that the council has thwarted EPA Director William Reilly's efforts to implement parts of the Clean Air Act. And Quayle and the Council have also attempted to open up for development vast areas of land now classified as wetlands. Without a Cabinet-level Department of the Environment, Quayle, who does have a seat at the Cabinet table, has become in a sense the de facto Secretary of the Environment. The Vice President declined repeated requests to appear on Living on Earth, but he has often laid out his environmental platform throughout the campaign, including this appearance in Michigan.

QUAYLE: Ladies and gentlemen, let me go back to the idea of balance, proportion, reasonability. Yes, we demand a clean, safe environment. We have built a strong record pursuing it. We have developed new, innovative ways to protect the environment such as tradable pollution permits under the Clean Air Act. And we have acted swiftly when sound science required action, leading the world to speed the elimination of CFC's, but the President and I recognize that jobs too are a priority and must remain a priority. (applause)

CURWOOD: Doing too much to protect the environment, the Vice President says, can be as harmful as doing too little.

QUAYLE: The Federal Government has a duty to safeguard our environment . But it also has a duty to examine each new environmental scare before launching a massive and costly war against it. To balance the needs of the people with the needs of owls and rats and snakes. To respect the proper authority of states and localities and the rights of people to their own property and to their own livelihoods.

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Gore on the Environment

CURWOOD: Unlike Quayle, Democratic Vice Presidential challenger Al Gore has not given lengthy speeches on the environment since his nomination in July. Rather, he's let the 350 or so pages of his book, Earth in the Balance, explain why he feels that a massive and prompt response is needed for a range of environmental threats, from global warming to overpopulation. Like Quayle, Gore is expected to play a major role in environmental policy should he become Vice President. We spoke about that role, and about his environmental philosophy, when I recently caught up with him as he rode between campaign appearances.

GORE: The relationship between human civilization and the earth has changed dramatically just in our lifetimes -- the population explosion, the thousands of powerful new technologies that magnify our ability to have an impact on the earth, and the rather strange attitude many hold that convinces them they don't have to be responsible for what they do to the earth. All of these have combined to create a kind of collision between modern, industrial, world-wide civilization and the ecological system of the earth, and I'm convinced that the United States of America is the only nation that can provide leadership in avoiding that collision, and in organizing a worldwide response that begins to heal the damage that has already been done to the earth's environment. So I think that it is a challenge that must be undertaken in domestic policy, in foreign policy, as a matter of national security, and that the decisions of almost every agency and department have to be influenced by a new awareness of what the implications for the environment are in the things they do. I'm further convinced that this is not a choice between environmental protection and jobs, but rather an opportunity to create many new jobs in the process of meeting this challenge head on.

CURWOOD: In your book, Earth in the Balance, you talk about the need for the environment to be the central organizing principle of our society. And you also talk about, when you ran for president in 1988, that your call for action on the environment seemed to fall on deaf ears. You say you'd give speeches and the press wouldn't even carry accounts of them. I've heard very little about the environment in this campaign from you, even less from Mr. Clinton. My question is, what's happened to the environment in this campaign? Are you talking about it, and we in the press aren't reporting on it? Or is it down the list?

GORE: Well, first of all, I think it's sometimes hard to get a sense of a campaign when you only see a small slice of it. If you look at the full three-and-a-half to four months of my participation in this campaign, you'll see that I have chosen events and activities that emphasize the environment more than any other theme by far. And I talk about it in virtually every speech. But certainly the give-and-take of the campaign has involved the environment a thousand times more than any other campaign for national office. You have the President and Vice-President both holding up my book and pounding the podium with it and charging Governor Clinton and me with being environmental extremists and making. . .

CURWOOD: Well, are you?

GORE: Well, no. The extremists are those who are willing to tolerate the wanton destruction of the earth's environment, as George Bush and Dan Quayle are doing. I mean, the extremists are those who witness the addition of a billion people net every ten years and then cut the United States out of family planning programs. The extremists are those who witness the thousand-fold increase in the extinction rate and say that it's no cause for concern. Those who, like Bush and Quayle, constantly pose this false choice between jobs and the environment -- they are the extremists. But the point I was making is that, for this dialogue to place at all is something new in a national campaign, and I have done my best to make sure that it is an extremely prominent part of this campaign.

CURWOOD: You've written that -- and this is a paraphrase -- when you look at your actions and wonder if you've gone too far, you end up saying, "No, I haven't gone far enough in taking steps to protect the environment." That sounds like a bit of an extremist, some people might say. What do you mean by that? What kind of commitment are you making to the environment as a public official?

GORE: Anybody in my profession is of necessity constantly aware of where the public is on a given issue, and there's a natural process when you feel strongly about something to check back and look at the facts as you can most objectively analyze them and say, "Well, now, wait a minute. Since this is so fraught with political risk, am I really sure that global warming, for example, is as serious a problem as I'm saying in this speech I'm about to give?" And every time I look back I find it impossible to escape the conclusion that not only is it as serious as I've said, it is even more serious and therefore I have a responsibility to stretch the mandate, to propose actions that are likely to give us a chance to really solve this crisis -- notwithstanding the fact that the political lay of the land makes that quite risky. At the present time, the maximum that is politically feasible still falls short of the minimum that is really effective in reversing this global environmental crisis. But that doesn't mean that one ought to throw up one's hands in despair, but rather expand the boundaries of what's politically feasible. And that's what I meant in that passage.

CURWOOD: Vice-President of the United States is not an easy job -- it's a difficult role. And in this campaign, Governor Clinton has been criticized for his environmental record in Arkansas. People have pointed to some water pollution problems, they say he's not really been out front on this issue. How do you handle that? Somebody, yourself, who's closely involved in the environment, and you're working, and the man in charge is somebody who has a shorter record in this area.

GORE: I sent my book to all of the candidates in both political parties, and personally delivered it to Ross Perot, as well. And Bill Clinton was the only one who read it. He wrote me a long, hand-written letter after he read the book, and then when we talked about the possibility of me joining the ticket, we talked at some length about the book. And he said that he agreed with the general thrust of the book, and he made it clear that he would not have asked me to join this ticket but for the fact that he wanted me to take special responsibility for helping him in this area.

CURWOOD: So he's bringing you for your vision of the environment.

GORE: Well, I think in part, yes. He himself has said that on numerous occasions. I mean, he has cited other reasons as well, but that's one of the principle reasons he's cited. Yes.

CURWOOD: You're Mr. Vice-President Elect. What do you see as your mission for the environment, under those circumstances?

GORE: Well, I want to begin my response with a disclaimer of my own. I'm not losing focus on the election. We haven't won this election yet. There is still a good ways to go, and we're bending every effort to convince Americans that change is needed. If we are able to win this election, I will use every skill at my disposal to try and enact a sensible approach to protecting the air, water, soil, and the fabric of life itself, in ways that create jobs, and promote enhanced productivity, and create an opportunity for the United States to lead the world in what I'm convinced will be a new business revolution. I frankly do not feel comfortable providing many details, not only because it's premature, but also because I have not yet had an opportunity to sit down and review the full range of possibilities for accomplishing that goal. But that would be my objective.

CURWOOD: Senator Al Gore is the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee. I spoke with him as he rode to a campaign appearance in New York City.

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(Music tag up, segue to theme music under )

And for this week, that's Living on Earth.

If you have any questions or comments about our show, give us a call on our li5{7-868-7454. That's 617-868-7454. Or you can write to us at Living on Earth. . . Box 639. . . Cambridge, Massachusetts. . . 02238. That's Living on Earth. . . Box 639. . . Cambridge, Mass. . . O2238. Tapes and transcripts are available for $10.

Our editor and producer is Peter Thomson. Deborah Stavro directs the program. The coordinating producer is George Homsy. . . and we had help from Kim Motylewski, Lucia Small, and Colleen Singer. Our engineer is Laurie Azaria, with help from Bob Connolly, Andy Cook, Mark Colachito (?), and John Lawrenceson (?). Living on Earth is a production of the World Media Foundation, in co-operation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR, Boston. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

(Theme music up and out)


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