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

September 16, 1994

Air Date: September 16, 1994


How Green This Autumn?

Host Steve Curwood interviews former Bush Administration environmental aide Dale Curtis about the upcoming mid-term elections and their possible impact on environmental policy. Curtis predicts that the results in several races may mean Congress contains fewer shades of green. (07:01)

The Rise of the New Mexico Green Party / Catalina Reyes

Catalina Reyes of member station KUNM in Albuquerque reports on the emergence of the New Mexico Greens as a party to be reckoned with — albeit one with a bit of an identity problem. Green candidates and many of the state's mainstream environmentalists have taken pains to distance themselves from one another. (06:14)

Home, Home on the Range / Deborah Begel

Deborah Begel reports from Santa Fe, New Mexico on the search for common ground between ranchers and environmentalists in the battle over new federal regulations. (07:28)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1994 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Ley Garnett, Catalina Reyes, Deborah Begel
GUEST: Dale Curtis

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

It's election season and we look at some key races affecting the environment. In New Mexico, a coalition of environmentalists, farmers, and social activists seem set to win major party status for the Green Party.

MORRIS: It really is people making hand-lettered signs and getting out and going door to door. And Anglo and Hispanic and Black and environmentalists from Santa Fe and farmers from Dona Anna County in the South.

CURWOOD: And amid the fierce battle over Federal grazing reform, a call from Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt for compromise.

BABBITT: I think this is the future of where it's got to go in the West. And I'll tell you, I've made that wager and I'm not backing away from it until I'm either proven absolutely wrong or until you run me off the landscape.

CURWOOD: Politics on Living on Earth. First news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this summary of environmental news. The EPA has given a long-awaited okay for California's radical auto emissions program to move east. The Agency says 12 northeast states and the District of Columbia can adopt California's strict standards, making it easier for those states to force auto makers to sell electric vehicles by 1998. But in an apparent concession to manufacturers, the Agency is working on a relaxed emissions standard to satisfy the air quality needs of every state except California, and avoid sales mandates for electric cars. Mary Nichols heads the EPA's air quality division.

NICHOLS: To get the benefits outside only the northeast region, there are many other parts of the country that have serious and severe non-attainment problems as well. Secondly, that any program which covers the whole country will be much cheaper for the auto manufacturers to implement, which means those costs won't be passed on to consumers.

NUNLEY: Nichols says individual states could still choose the tougher California rules, but some environmentalists say if the rules aren't imposed by region, it's unlikely many states would mandate super-clean cars, such as electrics, on their own.

The National Marine Fisheries Service will conduct an unprecedented review of the health of all salmon and trout species in the Pacific Northwest to see if any should be added to the Endangered Species List. From Moscow, Idaho, Ley Garnett of Northwest Public Radio has the story.

GARNETT: The Fisheries Service was facing 15 petitions for new listings under the Endangered Species Law, but suspected they were just the tip of the iceberg. So the Fisheries Service decided to review more than 300 stocks of salmon and trout which may be in trouble in northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. The Fisheries Agency suspects hydrodams, over-harvesting, and habitat degradation are the problem. Four species of salmon are already on the Endangered List. As a result, ocean fishing has been restricted, harvests banned on much of the Columbia River system, and hydroelectric dams partially operated to favor fish migration over power production. If any more fish must be listed after the review, the Fisheries Service's spokeswoman, Donna Darm, says regulations will get even tighter.

DARM: It does mean a lot of changes in the way we do business. It means changes in hatchery practices, changes in harvest practices, and especially it's going to mean changes in how we use and manage the land.

GARNETT: Timber, fishing, and agricultural industries say any more environmental restrictions could devastate the Northwest's economy. For Living on Earth, I'm Ley Garnet in Moscow, Idaho.

NUNLEY: A new sanctuary for whales in the Antarctic may not be so safe after all. Russia has taken advantage of a treaty loophole, which may permit whaling to resume in southern polar waters. The Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary protects feeding grounds for more than 90% of the world's great whales. The Russians reversed their support for the Southern Sanctuary, and because they previously opposed a global ban on commercial whaling they're not bound by the terms of the Antarctic ban. The Russians have not stated whether they actually plan to resume whaling in the Antarctic.

Six African nations will band together to fight poachers who feed the continent's $5 billion-a-year black market in wildlife parts. The new Lusaka Agreement provides for cross-border policing of wildlife trade laws for the first time. The pact includes Kenya, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, and they've invited neighboring countries to join the effort. Western wildlife activists praised the accord. Michael Sutton is Vice President of the World Wildlife Fund.

SUTTON: No one country can adequately deal with poaching problems of the nature of what we have in Africa today. It takes a concerted international effort. And that's the real strength of what has been agreed here. This is an important first step and I think it gives us something to build upon.

NUNLEY: Zambia's president has called the agreement a simple necessity for the preservation of African wildlife.

What if a toxic substance could be ever so slightly altered, made less dangerous, even harmless, and still be just as useful? Well, scientists at the EPA say it's not only possible; in some cases it could be almost easy. And they're trying to kick-start new research into the possibility. Chemist Steven DeVito of the EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics says once scientists know how a chemical affects people and animals, they can try tinkering with it. Sometimes changing a single element in a compound could make all the difference.

DeVITO: For example, you may have a chemical that contains a metal, let's say like, lead. And maybe in this chemical, if we took out the lead, and stuck in iron instead, maybe this chemical would work just as well.

NUNLEY: DeVito cautions the redesigned chemicals would have to be screened for toxicity, since some could contain new hazards, and the method won't work for every substance.

DeVITO: Realistically speaking, you're always going to have situations where yes, we need this chemical and yes, it is toxic, and there's nothing we can do about it. Sometimes the - the two factors are inextricably linked.

NUNLEY: Right now, DeVito's office is searching for the bureaucratic alchemy needed to turn their ideas into funding.

That's the summary of environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)

How Green This Autumn?

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The mid-term elections are now heating up. And we thought it was time to see how some of the key races around the country may affect environmental policy. We'll be looking closely at several races throughout the fall. But first, for a quick survey of the national political landscape, we turn to Dale Curtis, who's on the line from Washington. Mr. Curtis was an environmental advisor to former President Bush, and he's now co-publisher of the daily on-line environmental service, Greenwire. Dale, welcome to Living on Earth.

CURTIS: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Now, Dale, Greenwire has been following political races across the country. What do you think Congress will look like from an environmental perspective after the mid-term elections?

CURTIS: I think overall it may be slightly less sympathetic to environmental initiatives than it is now. And as you know, in 1992 there were a lot of new members elected in the atmosphere of Ross Perot and "It's the economy, stupid," so the last 2 years have not been particularly friendly to environmental initiatives. And it might be slightly tougher in the next 2 years. In the Senate, we're tracking about a dozen races where the environment will be a factor, and right now I would predict switches from green votes to brown votes or less green votes in Arizona, New Jersey, and in Virginia. There are some other notable states that are too close to call; in California, Dianne Feinstein running for re-election. In Maine, George Mitchell stepping down. Ohio, where Howard Metzenbaum is retiring.

CURWOOD: Now what about on the House side?

CURTIS: I think it's too soon to predict. There's a lot more races in play. There's maybe a dozen races where the environment might be a factor, but those are mostly local issues and it's hard to cast a generalization over all of them.

CURWOOD: To what extent do you think these races will hinge on the environment?

CURTIS: Well, as in most election campaigns in most years, the environment is not the major factor in these races. But a majority of people do say they're more likely to vote for someone who's perceived as pro-environment. And there's probably a hard-core of 3 to 5% of the voters out there for whom the environment is one of the most important issues they look at. So that can play a significant role in a tight race. And I think perhaps the race where the environment may play the greatest role this year is in the Pacific Northwest. The Washington Senate race, the Montana Senate race, and the Oregon Governor's race. In Oregon, the Republican candidate, Denny Smith, has accused the Democrat John Kitzhaver of being too cozy with environmental groups. Kitzhaver has been on the board of several environmental groups that have sued to block logging and grazing and salmon fishing and also some of the hydroelectric dam projects out there. So, there's this building sense in parts of Oregon and throughout the west that the Democrats care more about the environment than they do about people. And while it's still too early to say whether those mostly rural voters will outweigh the votes of urban people, who tend to think the environment needs greater protection, it's clearly going to be a factor in Oregon and in the upper Northwest of this country.

CURWOOD: Well now, of course, we move from the Senate to State houses. Let's talk about State house races. Oregon is an interesting one. What about California?

CURTIS: Well, in California, enviros will almost uniformly vote for Kathleen Brown for Governor. Pete Wilson has been criticized for standing up to the EPA on some regulatory issues and for generally being more sympathetic to business interests. But he's not completely anti-environment. For example, he's been a staunch backer of the electric car. It's not clear to me that Kathleen Brown, who's a moderate, will be all that different.

CURWOOD: In Florida, former Senator and now Governor Lawton Childs, had pretty strong support from the environmental community when he was elected. This year things have changed; I guess there's been a flap around his own Secretary of the Environment. Could you explain for us?

CURTIS: Sure. It's actually, if it weren't a serious issue it would be kind of funny. His environmental protection secretary, a woman named Virginia Weatherall, has been perceived as favoring business interests in a number of development cases. And then more recently, she and her husband created a lake on their property by dredging some wetlands. Now, they had all the permits that they needed, but it just doesn't create the right kind of image for your environmental protection secretary to be dredging wetlands on her property. And Childs has also been hurt, I think, by the Everglades clean-up agreement which he and Interior Secretary Babbitt negotiated with the sugar industry, and a lot of enviros feel that that agreement let the sugar industry off the hook for its fair share of the clean-up burdens. So it's quite likely that environmental groups in Florida won't endorse a candidate this year.

CURWOOD: Now, even without the mid-term elections and possible changes in the political landscape, President Clinton's been having a pretty hard time getting stuff through Congress. And the environmental agenda, which has some important things - I'm thinking of the Clean Water Act, Superfund, and Endangered Species - seem pretty bogged down. What's your assessment?

CURTIS: Well you're right. There's a growing backlog of legislation that has to be renewed. In addition to Superfund, Clean Water, which you mentioned, there's also mining law reform and there's the Safe Drinking Water Act. Now, right now it looks like the Administration could still pull out some major legislative victories this fall. On Superfund especially, it's got some momentum and it's got strong backing to get a Superfund reform bill through. The others are more dicey. And what I expect you may find when 1 or 2 or 3 of these bills have been pushed through this year, they may have the same kind of feel as the outcomes on crime and health care. In other words, these have been battled over by the special interests. They've been delayed by partisanship. And when it's all said and done, you're going to feel like less was accomplished than could have been.

CURWOOD: There must be some environmental successes that the Clinton Administration can point to.

CURTIS: Yeah, he got off to a good start with the Pacific Northwest Forest Summit, and the plan that was developed as a result of that summit has passed muster with the Federal judge, who's now lifted the logging injunction in the Northwest. I think they made good starts with recycling policy and technology policy; and I like their approach to climate change, although that's heresy among some environmentalists. The policy, as you know, is mostly voluntary. They also have gotten a lot of things rolling: Superfund reform, pushing the Biodiversity Treaty through the Senate, and so forth. But the test will really be closing the deals on the legislation, pushing the regulations through, and that's where it is really tough. And in the next 2 years they'll have an election to worry about on top of it all.

CURWOOD: Dale Curtis is the co-publisher of the on-line environmental news service, Greenwire.

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The Rise of the New Mexico Green Party

CURWOOD: Few if any races turn completely on environmental issues, even those where the emerging Green Party is a major player. Still, the environment is a large factor in New Mexico, where a former Democratic Lieutenant Governor is leading a slate of 7 candidates running under the banner of the Greens. And while the Greens have a good chance to gain major party status in New Mexico, they are having some troubles defining themselves. Catalina Reyes of member station KUMN in Albuquerque reports.

REYES: Sally Rogers is frustrated. She's a member of New Mexico's Conservation Voters Alliance, and people have been congratulating her about the successful Green Party bid to get on the New Mexico ballot. She says she's had to do a lot of explaining.

ROGERS: There has been, unfortunately, erroneous assumptions made that the Green Party had its basis in the environmental movement. And that in fact is not correct. The Green Party has its history rooted in European political activities rather than environmental activist work in this country.

(Bustling in headquarters: "Can I get a platform and a couple of Green banners, too?" "You bet!")

REYES: The Greens in New Mexico are more about activism, pure and simple. Hand-painted signs around their Albuquerque campaign headquarters read, "Let the People Speak," or, "Jobs and Housing Are Your Rights." But one poster artist has modified the state's symbol, which features a sun-like circle with radiating lines, by filling in the circle with a blue and green planet Earth. And the party's gubernatorial candidate, Roberto Mondragon, doesn't hesitate to rouse a crowd with a uniquely northern New Mexican environmental pitch.

MONDRAGON: The state of New Mexico was chosen for the purpose of producing the atomic bomb right here in Los Alamos. That was called Manhattan Project. Now, here we are, 1994. It's a new era of awareness, of awareness that we cannot have holes in the ozone layer. An awareness that we need to save the greenery that exists. [Applause] So we say, join in with us. And call for a Manhattan Two. [Applause and hoots] For the purpose of turning all of that technology of war into a technology of peace! [Applause and cheers]

REYES: Mondragon is a bilingual broadcaster, businessman, and folk singer. He's also served in the State Legislature and twice served as Lieutenant Governor under the incumbent he's now trying to defeat, Governor Bruce King. His long record in the state and popularity among rural Hispanics have done a lot to boost the Greens' credibility. But they still find themselves trying to dispel the perception that they're largely a group of middle-class Anglo tree-huggers.

SCHMITT: We're a legitimate party, not an environmental group.

REYES: Green Lieutenant Governer candidate Steven Schmitt is a former advisor to the Jerry Brown presidential campaign, and principal author of the Green Party platform, a document which spells out their views on everything from health care to corporate accountability.

SCHMITT: Our platform is 53 pages; it's broad. It comes out of people who have thought a long, hard time about policy issues.

REYES: With their emphasis on small business development and decentralized government, the Greens are drawing attention from across the political spectrum. One of their senior advisors ran Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign in New Mexico. And discontent with politics as usual is high. In the primary, more than 60% of Democrats voted for a candidate other than Governor King, a 70-year-old millionaire rancher. And Republican gubernatorial candidate Gary Johnson faces fallout from a state investigation of his multi-million dollar construction firm for allegations of fraudulent business practices. And he's never held political office. All this has led even people in the so-called wise use or resource development movement to take a look at the Greens. Al Schneiberger, Executive Director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, says he likes what the Greens say on one of his big issues, local autonomy.

SCHNEIBERGER: But in amongst that populist message, there's this other message. A social agenda that is entwined in the platform. Gay, the homosexual community rights, the feminist agenda, and I don't believe that it is an agenda that is either mainstream or rural New Mexico. I do believe in local communities having more power over their lives, but I don't think they do. They've got it down on paper.

REYES: Some environmental groups remain equally leery about whether the Greens would deliver on their platform. But others praise the new dialogue the Greens are encouraging between ecological and social justice activists. They also say the Green alternative gives them leverage they can use to pressure other politicians like Governor King, whose environmental record they describe as poor. Roger Morris is a political analyst who's been an advisor to both Democratic and Republican presidents. He says more than anything else, the Greens are a response to disillusionment with the 2-party system.

MORRIS: That's what this Green movement is all about. It really is people making hand-lettered signs and getting out and going door to door. And Anglo and Hispanic and Black and environmentalists from Santa Fe and farmers from Dona Anna County in the South. And I think that's encouraging for the rest of the country. Whatever the Greens do here.

REYES: Morris says the Greens' momentum in New Mexico is a repudiation of big-money politics in a state that's traditionally been a bellwether for national political trends. And one independent poll showed the Greens should easily draw double the 5% support they need to qualify as a major party under state law. That means they're likely to continue influencing politics here, even if neither Roberto Mondragon nor any of the other current Green candidates get into office. For Living On Earth, this is Catalina Reyes in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: What do you think? Does the Green party speak for you, or would it if it were in your area? Call with your comments right now at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. You can also write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Or reach us on the Internet. Our address is LOE @ NPR.ORG. That's LOE @ NPR.ORG. Transcripts and tapes are $10.

Home, Home on the Range

CURWOOD: If there is one area where the environment is causing the Clinton Administration concerns during this election season, it's been their efforts to reform the use of Federal range lands. Twice, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has been reigned in from his efforts to hike fees and restrict ranchers using public lands. Once by the President under pressure from a posse of western Democratic legislators, and once by Congress itself. Now, Secretary Babbitt is back for a third try, but as Deborah Begel reports from Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Interior boss is seeking common ground and taking care not to offend during the election season.

(A bustling crowd: "Continue the discussion.")

BEGEL: When Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt came to grazing reform hearings in New Mexico recently, he caught an earful. Ranchers and environmentalists were split right down the middle.

SPEAKER: What I see on our public lands is one use, which is grazing, occurring to the detriment of all other uses.

SPEAKER: New Mexico has more Federal permitees than any other state in the west. Over 3,500. This instantly dumps fifteen hundred and fifty people on unemployment.

SPEAKER: Our native wildlife populations have been severely impacted by the competitive grazing of livestock as well as other factors. Bison are down from historical highs of 7 to 12 million to about 90,000 today. Bighorn sheep from 2 to 3 million...

SPEAKER: When environmentalists do more than preach, litigate, and politic globally, and begin to think locally, partnerships will become possible. Mr. Secretary, you can facilitate in the creating of a shared vision to conserve and increase the sustainability of public lands and adjacent rural communities, or you can go down in history as the Secretary of the Interior who triggered the range wars which ended the 20th century. [Applause]

BEGEL: Secretary Babbitt is no stranger to controversy. When he tried to get grazing reform through Congress, western Senators invoked a successful filibuster. Now he's trying again to make similar changes administratively. His plan would be the first major overhaul of public lands management in 60 years. The proposal includes grazing fee hikes, putting environmentalists and other citizens on advisory boards, the transfer of water rights from permittees to the government, and quick revoking of permits to ranchers who break the rules. Ranchers at the hearing blasted the proposal. Environmentalists said it didn't go far enough. Secretary Babbitt listened attentively, then warned those embroiled in the debate that polarization is not the path he wants to take.

BABBITT: The question is, can we work together? I hear people say we can't do that in New Mexico. Well, I got to tell you I disagree with that.

BEGEL: He says his certainty comes from his experience in several communities in the west. He points to half a dozen places, including Gunnison, Colorado, where ranchers and environmentalists are working together.

(Cows mooing)

BEGEL: Gunnison is a beautiful, lush valley tucked under craggy, rocky mountain peaks, just a few miles south of the popular ski resort, Crested Butte. In Gunnison, ranchers and environmentalists realized they shared common goals a dozen years ago. They got together and fought a water grab by Denver suburbs. They also wanted to slow second home development that threatened open spaces and picture postcard vistas.

(Sounds of highway traffic)

BEGEL: Fifth-generation rancher Ken Spann stands on the side of a road above the quaint mountain village of Crested Butte. He points at a narrow, high-mountain valley with a single ski lift marking the presence of humans. He says a rancher friend owns the land at the base of the lift and uses the adjoining public lands to graze his cattle in summer.

SPANN: There' s a whole valley over there that there aren't any houses on. There aren't any hotels on. There isn't any pavement. Primarily because it's a working cattle ranch. And if that national forest grazing system changes to the point where he can't economically operate that ranch, what's at the base of that lift will change, too.

BEGEL: Spann's been working with local environmentalists who share his belief that the fate of public and private lands here are intertwined. That if ranchers are forced off public lands by tighter regulations, they may be forced out of business altogether.

LOHR: Conversion of ranch parcel after ranch parcel to subdivisions is anathema.

BEGEL: Susan Lohr is one of these environmentalists. She's director of the Rocky Mountain Biological Labs, a private research center.

LOHR: To me, that continuation of viability, even the increase of agriculture in this long, narrow, high elevation valley, is essential to a healthy environment here.

BEGEL: Lohr and Spann have spent many hours sitting around a kitchen table, talking with the other ranchers and environmentalists in the Gunnison Working Group about grazing and public lands issues.

LOHR: We kind of informally watch each other's reactions. And if something comes up that's absolutely impossible to agree on, we agree to set it aside. And if we try to bull our way through the really tough ones, we figure that we would waste so much time and wouldn't make the progress that we need to make on the others.

SPANN: The larger point is that we're able to make real sustained progress if we focus on areas where there is consensus or a real genuine opportunity to reach consensus. And, as you move forward, the thing that has become very obvious is that where we do agree, it provides the foundation for a much broader community consensus that ultimately has enormous political force locally.

BEGEL: The success of their dialogue is not just that they're talking to each other. Both sides say the dialogue has led to better management of public lands here. In fact, Secretary Babbitt has been so impressed by the results of this partnership that he has asked the Gunnison group to design a model grazing school for ranchers, environmentalists, and other people in the west who are interested in public lands.

(Bustling at the public hearing: "And we're going to get things done and work together, face to face.")

BEGEL: The deadline for public comment on the grazing plan was in early September. A large percentage came from New Mexico, perhaps more than any other state in the west. That suggests that the chances of bringing the kind of dialogue in Gunnison to New Mexico may be slim at best. But Secretary Babbitt continues to insist he'll forge some kind of consensus out of these cantankerous advocates on both sides.

BABBITT: To those in New Mexico who say we can't work together, I say simply, yes you can. And I'm going to be out here, relentlessly again and again and again, mixing it up, walking the landscape, trying to find reasonable people on both sides, coaxing you, pushing, shoving. Because I think this is the future of where it's got to go in the West. And I'll tell you, I've made that wager. And I'm not backing away from it until I'm either proven absolutely wrong or until you run me off the landscape.

BEGEL: If Babbitt is run off the landscape, it could be with a herd of western Democrats who support his reforms. So it's likely he won't announce his final grazing regulations until after the November elections. For Living on Earth, this is Deborah Begel.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson and directed by Deborah Stavro. The coordinating producer is George Homsy, the associate producer is Kim Motylewski. Our production team includes Jan Nunley, Julia Madeson, Jessika Bella Mura, and Colleen Singer Coxe. Our engineer in the WBUR studios is Louis Kronin. Michael Aharon composed our theme.

Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, and is recorded at WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

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