August 13, 1993
Air Date: August 13, 1993
Navy Trash Dumping/ Betsy Bayha
Betsy Bayha of member station KQED in San Francisco reports on the debate over the dumping of trash and toxic waste from Navy ships. The Navy has until the end of this year to comply with the same strict dumping regulations as commercial vessels, but the service says it can't meet the deadline, and has asked for at least another five years to come into line. The issue has come back into focus recently because of the court-martial of a sailor for refusing orders to dump waste into the open ocean. (05:30)
Driftnet Ban Violations/ Matt Binder
Matt Binder reports on violations of the UN's new ban on driftnet fishing. The US Coast Guard has busted at least five illegal driftnetters in the northern Pacific. Watchdog groups say some countries may be tacitly supporting illegal fleets, but Washington says there have been few documented violations, and that compliance with the new law appears to be surprisingly good. (06:22)
Babbit Makes Good on Grazing Fees Pledge
Steve talks with Washington Post reporter Tom Kenworthy about the political implications of the Clinton administration's decision to raise the fee for grazing livestock on public lands. Kenworthy says the move by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, in the face of strong opposition from important political allies, shows that Babbitt has emerged as one of the President's most influential deputies. (05:56)
Steve reads the mail. (02:34)
Copyright (c) 1993 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or retransmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.
HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Jon Greenberg, George Hardeen, Marge Pitroff, Betsy Bayha, Matt Binder
GUEST: Tom Kenworthy
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
The Navy wants to keep dumping plastic bags of trash overboard for a few more years, but at least one sailor has jumped ship in protest, and a number are speaking out.
GIRARD: They'll throw so much trash overboard that it'll just float for miles and miles behind the ship, it just looks like, you know, you could follow the ship by their trash. Even if you are twenty miles away, you can't see the ship, you could just easily follow the trash right to the ship.
CURWOOD: Also on the high seas, reports of serious violations of the United Nations Ban on driftnetting. And Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt stages a comeback for higher grazing fees.
KENWORTHY: The President has enormous regard for Bruce Babbitt. I think he views Babbitt as the one person who can push through these kinds of land use reforms in the West without generating a political backlash that's going to hurt him.
CURWOOD: On Living on Earth, coming up right after the news.
NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news.
President Clinton should rethink the way the rivers in the Mississippi basin are managed before okaying reconstruction in the area. So says a group of environmentalists and flood experts, who are calling for a new approach using part of the region's natural flood plain for flood control. Under the proposal, farmland and open space would be used to absorb flood waters that might otherwise swamp cities and towns. The levees currently protecting these areas have been widely blamed for worsening the recent flood damage.
A group of Western Senators wants to block the Clinton Administration's plan to nearly triple grazing fees on Federal land. The group has unveiled legislation to phase-in much smaller changes in the controversial fees. From Washington, Jon Greenberg reports.
GREENBERG: Democratic Senator Ben Nighthorse-Campbell from Colorado wants to beat back the Administration's plan by passing a bill that woul dlimit grazing-fee increases to only 25% a year. Any more, he argues, would jolt the 12,000 ranchers who use Federal land. The controversy over grazing fees is intense, because private landowners charge over five times as much as the Federal Government. Many in Congress see the current rates as a massive government giveaway. Also, environmentalists say artificially-low rates have led to overgrazing that destroys both the land and the water than runs through it. Lawmakers from 16 western states are expect to lobby against the Administration's plan, but they can see they face an uphill battle. For Living on Earth, this is Jon Greenberg in Washington.
NUNLEY: Also in the West, a plan to end a century-old land dispute between two Indian nations has collapsed. Navajo families have rejected a deal that would have forced them to live under Hopi rule. The move leaves the Indians at loggerheads, but is a victory for other opponents of the complicated plan. The story from George Hardeen, in Tuba City, Arizona.
HARDEEN: To settle the 111-year-old dispute, the Federal Government was willing to transfer 273,000 acres of national forest land around Flagstaff to the Hopis. But across the state, people, including Arizona Governor Fife Symington, opposed the plan. Dale Henson is a spokesman for the Arizona Coalition for Public Lands.
HENSON: This land is held in trust for the American public, and it is not to be used as a land bank to settle legal disputes between Native American tribes.
HARDEEN: The collapse of the settlement ends more than two years of court-ordered mediation. The Navajos have offered a counter-proposal that would involve no public land, but the Hopis have said they're through negotiating. For Living on Earth, I'm George Hardeen in Tuba City, Arizona.
NUNLEY: The deal on environmental and labor side accords to the North American Free Trade Agreement won't necessarily assure smooth sailing for the pact. The deal would subject the US and Mexico to trade sanctions for environmental violations, while exempting Canada. But it won't stop a lawsuit against the pact. A Federal judge has ruled that the Clinton Administration must prepare an environmental impact statement before the treaty can go into effect. The Administration has reportedly begun that process, but is also appealing the ruling.
This is Living on Earth.
Hundreds of ornamental plant growers pressing billions of dollars in damage claims against the Dupont Company may have to rethink their legal strategies. The growers allege that Dupont knowingly sold them a contaminated herbicide which destroyed their plants. But in the first set of cases to go to trial, lawyers for four growers settled out of court for just four million dollars. That's less than one percent of what they had been seeking in damages. The cases had been thought to be among the strongest of those pending against Dupont and its herbicide, known as Benlate. Observers say the settlement, which came as the jury in the trial was deliberating, is a victory for Dupont.
A new survey shows the growth of suburbs and other new communities is often coming at the expense of some of the nation's most important farmland. From member station WUWM in Milwaukee, Marge Pitroff reports.
PITROFF: Every year in the United States, two million acres of farmland is converted into subdivisions. A good deal of that farmland borders big cities and is among the most productive in the country, according to a report from the American Farmland Trust. Spokesman Ed Thompson.
THOMPSON: In many areas of the country such as California and Florida and indeed some of the places along the Great Lakes, you have a combination of unique soils and climate that are ideal for growing specialty crops that can be grown nowhere else in the country.
PITROFF: If suburban sprawl continues, Thompson says, producers would be forced onto more marginal lands, making farming here more extensive and more dependent on pesticides and fertilizers. For Living on Earth, I'm Marge Pitroff in Milwaukee.
NUNLEY: Spent nuclear fuel from Navy ships will be stored in Idaho, under a deal struck between the Navy and Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus. Andrus has dropped his suit against the government in return for promises from Washington to review and modernize an Idaho nuclear waste site. For its part, the Navy has dropped a proposal to exempt naval nuclear wastes from environmental laws.
That's this week's environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.
It's illegal to dump plastics and certain other kinds of garbage at sea, but you can ignore the law, if you're the United States Navy. The Navy has a special exemption from the dumping laws, and that exemption has irked a number of people, including sailor Aaron Ahearn, who jumped ship a few months ago rather than follow orders to dump plastic trash overboard. As Ahearn's case makes its way through the military justice system, attention has turned to the Navy's commitment to phase out most overboard disposal by the end of this year. But as Betsy Bayha of member station KQED reports from San Francisco, the Navy is now saying it can't meet that deadline.
BAYHA: When sailor Aaron Ahearn went AWOL from the USS Abraham Lincoln last spring, it once against focused national attention on the Navy's policy of dumping tons of garbage, including plastics, into the ocean. . The 20-year-old surfing enthusiast left the ship after refusing what he says were orders to dump plastic garbage, broken equipment, and toxic waste into the sea. Since then, other sailors who served on the same ship have stepped forward to say they too were concerned about the dumping that they witnessed. Jason Girard served on the Abraham Lincoln until May of last year.
GIRARD: They'll throw so much trash overboard that it'll just float for miles and miles behind the ship, it just looks like, you know, you could follow the ship by their trash. Even if you are twenty miles away, you can't see the ship, you could just easily follow the trash right to the ship, 'cause it just floats in these big plastic bags.
BAYHA: The Navy tosses more than 28,000 tons of garbage overboard each year, including more than 500 tons of plastic - plastic that won't break down in the environment and that can harm or kill marine mammals, tortoises, and seabirds. This dumping of garbage - including plastic - is completely legal. Six years ago, Congress gave the Navy until the end of this year to comply with an international maritime treaty banning the disposal of plastics at sea. But with the deadline approaching, the Navy has asked for more time to comply. Captain Dick Steinbrugge, the Navy's Assistant Director for Environment, says unlike commercial vessels, Navy ships have thousands of crew members at sea for months at a time.
STEINBRUGGE: Ships are in many ways like small cities. You might imagine an aircraft carrier when it's deployed at sea with its full air wing as a small city of, say, 6,000 people. And they generate the same kinds of trash and solid waste a small community might, except they have no landfills to dispose of it.
BAYHA: The Navy says it will be able to stop dumping plastics overboard, once it installs new specially designed trash compacting equipment on the 340 surface ships in the fleet, which Steinbrugge says will take another five years. In the meantime, he says the Navy has made a concerted effort to reduce its dumping by implementing new regulations to hold plastic garbage on board if ships are within 20 days of port and by developing an environmental education campaign that includes posters, flyers - even a slick videotape.
(Sound of video, announcer: "The Navy is strongly committed to the environment and protection of natural resources . . ." fade under)
BAYHA: Some environmental groups working on the issue say they're pleased with the Navy's effort, but they also question the seriousness of the service's commitment to really changing its ways. Vicky Nichols is executive director of the California-based group Save Our Shores, which has been working with the Navy to clean up its act.
NICHOLS: I think the Navy needs a real attitude shift. They need to take the responsibility very seriously. It has to go beyond an orientation when they first arrive of a few brochures and a couple of posters, and at the end of their ship run a piece of paper. It's got to be instilled in them that they are stewards and they've got to care and there has to be some oversight. .
BAYHA: And instilling an environmental ethic may be difficult. Former sailor Jason Girard says the Navy's rigorous "shipshape" standards create an incentive for sailors to ignore environmental regulations and toss all non-essentials overboard, including cans of paint, toxic solvents and broken equipment.
GIRARD: Everything that's not functioning or looks bad or is broken in your department is considered a hit in your inspection. You get points taken away in your inspection for it.. So any thing that's sitting around that's not really supposed to be there, doesn't function right, gets tossed overboard because they don't want it around.
BAYHA: Official Navy policy prohibits the dumping of toxics overboard although Captain Steinbrugge admits that improper disposal of waste does happen, sometimes. Still, he says, that's not a problem unique to the Navy.
STEINBRUGGE: Well, I certainly can't say that that never happens. You know, that could happen in town. We used the in-town example before. Somebody might take a can of paint and dump it down the storm drain. I'd like to think that never happens in my neighborhood, but I suspect it does once in a while and if nobody sees it , nobody reports it, you know, there you are.
BAYHA: Steinbrugge says that ultimately the success of any environmental program will depend on each individual sailor. The Navy's anti-dumping regulations could get a boost from Congress. Sources say lawmakers are considering writing the Navy regulations into Federal law, which would carry much stiffer penalties for violations. But lawmakers active on the issue also say the Navy is making a good-faith effort to deal with the dumping problem. And Congress is likely to extend the service's special exemption and allow ships to continue dumping plastic for several more years. For Living on Earth, I'm Betsy Bayha in San Francisco.
CURWOOD: Driftnet fishing was outlawed by the United Nations last January. The giant webs literally scoop up everything in the ocean for miles, and the UN banned them after it became clear that driftnets were destroying fish stocks. This was especially true in the Pacific, where driftnetting brought some seemingly unlimited fish populations to the brink of collapse. Every nation that belongs to the UN, and some that don't, have pledged to honor the ban, but it's a promise that apparently is not being kept. When the Pacific open-ocean fishing season began this summer, it became clear that a number of driftnetters are still operating. Matt Binder has our report.
(Sound of loudspeaker hailing ship: "On the 60-206, on the 206, stop your vessel, stop your vessel . . ." Fade under)
BINDER: On May 25th, crewmembers on the US Coast Goard Cutter Sherman videotaped this encounter with an illegal Chinese driftnetter in the rich salmon-fishing grounds about halfway between Alaska and Japan. It was the fifth boat in just ten days of patrolling that the Coast Guard caught in the act of laying twenty to fifty mile long free-floating gill nets. Following procedures laid out by the UN, officers on the Sherman radioed the State Department in Washington, which then contacted the government of the People's Republic of China and got permission to board the illegal ship.
(Sound of boarding: "Pull the ladder up! Got a ship loading on the starboard side!" Fade under)
BINDER: None of the Chinese crewmen spoke English, so the Coast Guard set up a satellite telephone link to an interpreter in the Chinese Embassy in Washington, and with the Embassy's permission, ordered the driftnetter back to China.
(Sound of Chinese conversation, fade under)
BINDER: Back at his home port in Alameda, California, Lieutenant Matthew Wannamaker, the head of the boarding party, says the Chinese fishermen didn't even try to hide what they were doing.
WANNAMAKER: I'm not quite sure these individual fishermen knew it's illegal. I'm not quite sure how much the Chinese government has disseminated that fact. They were very confused, they weren't quite sure why the American Coast Guard was boarding them.
BINDER: Two of the other four boats the Coast Guard caught were also flying the flag of the People's Republic of China. Another was registered in Honduras, and one boat escaped before the Coast Guard could get a good look. The Sherman is the only ship patrolling for illegal driftnetters in the entire North Pacific. And although its patrols are aided by spotter planes, Coast Guard officials say there may be many more boats out there breaking the ban. Lieutenant Commander Jack Rutz heads the Coast Guard patrol operation.
RUTZ: Well, to date, it doesn't look like we've had very good compliance at all. we've sighted so far five vessels out there conducting illegal fishing operations, and the weather as of recently has been fairly poor and we haven't been able to locate any more. But the possibility does exist that there are more vessels out there.
BINDER: Chinese embassy officials in Washington declined to be interviewed about their part in the illegal driftnetting, but did fax Living on Earth a statement saying that one of the boats caught by the Coast Guard is a Taiwanese-registered vessel that was illegally flying the Chinese flag. David Colson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, says the People's Republic of China is trying to comply with the ban.
COLSON: We're getting very good cooperation from the People's Republic of China. There's no evidence at all that the government is condoning or authorizing illegal high-seas driftnetting activity. But as all governments have, there are people that live in them that don't always obey the rules.
BINDER: Colson says he suspects that Taiwanese business interests are bankrolling most, if not all the illegal driftnetting, hiding their actions by flying the flags of other nations. But Colson says there's no evidence yet that the Government of Taiwan is involved. Before the ban, there were hundreds of driftnetters operating around the world, most of them flying the flag of one of four nations - China, Taiwan, Japan or South Korea. The UN ban made each country responsible for dismantling its own driftnet fleet. But the UN didn't grant itself any special monitoring powers, so it's been left mainly to journalists and environmentalists to keep the governments honest. Dave Phillips is the executive director of the Earth Island Institute, a San Francisco-based environmental group with one of the largest non-governmental driftnet monitoring programs in the world. He says very few driftnet ships have been converted or accounted for.
PHILLIPS: Where are they? They're not perhaps registered under the flag of that country, but where are they operating? Are they rogue vessels, have they found a country that can act as a flag of convenience? Are they in hiding, waiting until the issue cools down? We don't know this, and that's an area where we have to focus some energy.
BINDER: US law allows for severe economic sanctions on any country breaking the UN ban. But the sponsor of the law, Representative Gerry Studds of Massachusetts, says despite some cheating, the ban is working better than he expected. And Studds agrees with the State Department that there's no need for sanctions at this time.
STUDDS: It may come as a surprise to some people, because I haven't spent my entire career saying nice things about the Department of State, but in this case I have to concur. I think that every piece of evidence we have is that the violators have been very minimal in number, and they have been operating without the sanction or approval of their own governments, so I would say this is a sea change, if you will, in the North Pacific, and represents a dramatic victory.
BINDER: Still, the Coast Guard will continue patrolling, and environmental groups will continue monitoring for driftnet activity in the North Pacific. There's almost no monitoring being done in other oceans. And even if all driftnetting were stopped today, the legacy of the practice, thousands of miles of "ghost nets" floating free in the ocean, would still be a problem for years to come. And fisheries experts say that the last decade of driftnetting caused such population crashes in so many species that the oceans may never recover. For Living on Earth, I'm Matt Binder in San Francisco.
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CURWOOD: Back in February, when President Clinton proposed his budget, he also called for sharp increases in fees for the private use of public lands, including grazing and mining. The move prompted a swift and negative reaction from Western Democratic senators, who forced the President to take the fee hikes out of the budget. The retreat brought howls of protest from environmentalists, and was seen as big loss for Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who had made the fees a cornerstone of his vision for environmental reform. The Administration promised at the time that the move was only a tactical retreat, and that the planned reforms would be back - either through administrative action, or in separate legislative proposals. And, less than a week after the President's budget squeaked through Congress, Babbitt began to make good on that vow, unveiling a plan to raise grazing fees administratively. Tom Kenworthy covers the environment and natural resources for the Washington Post, and he joins me now from Washington. Tom, a few months ago, you seemed to doubt the administration's sincerity on public lands reform.
KENWORTHY: Well, this is one of those rare cases where things happen the way the Administration said they were going to happen and the way Bruce Babbitt said they were. I think a lot of us in Washington were quite cynical about what might happen down the road when the White House said, don't worry about this, we're going to do this through separate legislation or administratively. Bruce Babbitt took the White House at its word and plowed ahead and had his people working on this for many weeks and lo and behold, they came out with a proposal that satisfied the environmentalists and satisfied the critics of the grazing fee system on Capitol Hill.
CURWOOD: Now are the environmentalists really getting what they wanted here?
KENWORTHY: I think they're getting just about everything they wanted. Some of them would say they would have preferred a higher fee, and they're a little bit concerned about how this is going to be implemented on the ground, but as Cindy Shogan of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said yesterday, this is the full loaf.
CURWOOD: What about the timing here - this comes three days after the budget passed and before it was yanked when the Western votes were needed from senators for the budget. Is there any accident here?
KENWORTHY: No accident at all. I don't think they wanted to give Dennis DeConcini or any of the other Western Democrats another reason to vote against the budget. This was clearly intended to come out after the key votes in the House and Senate.
CURWOOD: But will it be seen as a double-cross?
KENWORTHY: I don't think so. I think frankly on this issue a number of the Senate Democrats are just as glad to have the Administration do it administratively so they don't have to vote on it.
CURWOOD: Now, what does all this say about the stature of Bruce Babbitt? How does the President regard him?
KENWORTHY: I think the President has enormous regard for Bruce Babbitt. I think he views Babbitt as the one person who can push through these kind of land use reforms in the West without generating a political backlash that's going to hurt him. You know, he's older than the President, he's been a governor himself, he's run for President, he just, he's really turning into a star of this Cabinet, and all indications I have are than Clinton's giving him a long leash.
CURWOOD: Let me ask you about this long leash - what will it mean, do you think, for the Administration, that Bruce Babbitt has this kind of stature? There are not a lot of heroes so far in this Administration.
KENWORTHY: No, there are not. The word around town is that there's two big stars in the Cabinet, there's Attorney General Janet Reno and there's Bruce Babbitt. But the President is gonna be well served by Babbitt out West. The West was a key electoral battleground for the President and Babbitt is a Westerner. He comes from a long ranching family, you know, he has the hat and the cattle too, and I think he's gonna defuse a lot of the bad feelings that some of these policies might invoke out there.
CURWOOD: What's next here? At the time this was yanked out of the budget there was also a proposal around mining, there was a proposal around water use - what will the Interior Secretary look to do next?
KENWORTHY: Well, this is the point where it gets to the steep part of the hill. As you said, on the grazing fees they could do this administratively. The next step for it is on reforming the 1872 Mining Law, and that's a battle on Capitol Hill, it's going to be very contentious, it's very tough to win in the Senate on that, the House is going to move the bill in September and then it goes to conference. Much tougher for Babbitt to pull off - we'll see, this'll be a real test for him.
CURWOOD: Now what about the Endangered Species Act? We saw Babbitt invoke the Act during the Forest Summit, telling the President, look, this is, you can only go so far, the law does require you to pay attention to these aspects of the law. Now of course it's up for renewal. Looks to me like a major battle; how do you think he'll do?
KENWORTHY: Well, Bruce Babbitt is a believer in the Endangered Species Act. But he is trying very hard this year to demonstrate to Congress and to some of the Act's critics that it's a law that is not as draconian as its opponents might try to make it, that it's a law that can accomodate both the needs of species that are in jeopardy and if necessary economic activity. He's been doing a number of things in Texas and California, and obviously in the Pacific Northwest to show that the Act has a lot of flexibility in it, that it can be made to work and it doesn't have to be watered down.
CURWOOD: What do you think will be the significance of Babbitt's tenure for the environmental debate?
KENWORTHY: Well, I think a lot of the, some of the most contentious issues over the last few years have involved land-use policy in the West. Many of us in the East don't realize the extent of government control over the West. There's vast tracts of land out there where cattle are grazed and gold is mined and timber is harvested and I think you're going to see a fundamental reexamination and change in how those lands are treated. Babbitt likes to say, we're going to walk softly on the land, and I think that's what he's trying to do, and so far at least he's on the way to accomplishing it.
CURWOOD: Okay. Hey, thanks a lot.
KENWORTHY: Thank you very much.
CURWOOD: Tom Kenworthy writes about politics and the environment for the Washington Post.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Just ahead, listener comments. But first, we have a correction to pass along. Several weeks ago, in our program on pollution and clean-up in the Lake Michigan watershed, we incorrectly described the history of the US Leather Company's discharge of pollutants. In fact, since 1911 the company's water-borne discharges have gone into the Milwaukee sewer system, where they have been treated, and heavy metals largely removed. We apologize for the error.
(Letters music up and under)
CURWOOD: And now, join us for a trip to our mailbox.
"Your extended piece on the Saxon Homestead Farm, and the discussion of its mix of contemporary and rediscovered practices was intelligent and compelling." So writes a Philadelphia listener, about our report on a Wisconsin dairy farm that's switching from conventional confinement farming to rotational grazing. "When that piece started," he writes, "I realized that I had stopped reading the paper and was just leaning back against the kitchen counter listening. The program got my undivided attention." But a listener from Honolulu wonders what's so newsworthy about rotational grazing. "My grandparents have been doing it that way for 50 or 60 years," she says. Louise Neville, of Mill Valley, California, agrees that some of the methods being used on the Saxon Farm aren't new, but she still found the program informative. "Post World War Two farming taught in colleges," she writes, " was to benefit chemical manufacturers, to aid them to sell leftover war chemicals. This was good for business, bad for everything else." And Mary Jane Hildreth, of Sweet Home, Oregon, takes our report to task for not acknowledging that whether they're kept in a barn or allowed to roam in a pasture, dairy cows are treated "above all as milking machines." She points out that while grazing cows live twice as long as confined cows, they still "wear out" at much less than half of their natural life span. "The nutrients found in milk are available from many delicious plant foods that do not contain hazardous animal fat or drug residues . Broccoli, for example is rich in calcium." Ms. Hildreth writes, "There is no excuse for cows or the environment to suffer."
Our story about insects as food prompted several calls from listeners, including this one:
CURWOOD: Aw shucks, and here I thought I sounded so brave. Oh, well.
Let us know what's bugging you about our program. Of course we'll take compliments as well. Our address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Mass., 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Mass., 02238. Or you can reach our listener comment line, at 617-868-7454. That's 617-868-7454.
Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. The coordinating producer is George Homsy, and our director is Deborah Stavro. The production team includes Kim Motylewski, Lucia Small, Jan Nunley, Chris Page, Colleen Singer Coxe, Reyna Lounsbury and Jessika Belameera. Our Engineer is Laurie Azaria, with help this week from Doug Haslam and Mark Navin. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon.
Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
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