|GORE AND THE ENVIRONMENT|
August 21, 2000
In a continuing look at the major candidates' stands on key issues, Tom Bearden examines Al Gore's environmental record.
SPEAKER: I am pleased to introduce to you the Vice President of the United States, Al Gore.
TOM BEARDEN: Al Gore has been talking and writing about the environment for more than 20 years.
AL GORE: My commitment to the environment has always run deeper than politics. We have to do what's right for our earth because it is the moral thing to do.
TOM BEARDEN: Gore's well-established environmental record makes it easy for people to grade his performance.
RICK LAMONT, Audubon Society: A-plus.
CARL POPE, Sierra Club: Al Gore, I'd give a B+.
BRENT BLACKWELDER, Friends of the Earth: I would say probably a C.
SHANNON McDANIEL: I'm going to give him a D.
AMY McHUGH: Probably a D-.
ANGELA ANTONELLI, Heritage Foundation: An F.
TOM BEARDEN: Any discussion of Gore's record usually produces the sharply drawn divisions. On the one hand, he's a hero to most environmental organizations. Carl Pope is the executive director of the Sierra Club.
CARL POPE: The Vice President is clearly the strongest environmentalist ever to be nominated by a major party for the post of president. He, over the years, has demonstrated a really exceptional understanding of and commitment to environmental issues.
TOM BEARDEN: But to others, the Vice President's record is anathema. Angela Antonelli is with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
ANGELA ANTONELLI: I think his environmental record is rather unimpressive, and I think it's unimpressive because of his political style. It is a style that is, in many ways, very strident; it is very aggressive; it is very unwilling to build consensus and to build coalitions and do that in a bipartisan way to achieve positive changes that will lead to environmental improvements.
TOM BEARDEN: The vice president has been particularly active in land conservation, air and water quality, global warming and toxic waste issues. His most recent land conservation initiative took place in eastern Washington State, when he declared a 51-mile stretch of the Columbia River and 195,000 acres of surrounding land as a national monument. Two other national monuments were declared on the same day. All told, the Clinton-Gore administration has declared more national monuments than any administration since Teddy Roosevelt.
AL GORE: This may be a local debate, but the Hanford Reach is a national treasure. It deserves national leadership, and that's what I want to provide, with your help.
TOM BEARDEN: The area is called the Hanford Reach. On the west side of the river, the Department of Energy's Hanford site. This used to be farmland, but during World War II, the government took the property to build reactors that produced fissionable material for nuclear weapons. On the east side, thousands of acres of cropland irrigated by a massive water project based on the Grand Coulee Dam.
AL GORE: And let me tell you I am committed to making sure that we continue to clean up the Cold War legacy of contamination on this land. (Applause) That's part of our commitment here today, too. But because of the twists and turns of history, today this 51-mile expanse known as Hanford Reach is indeed, as others have noted, the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River. Starting here, starting now, we will preserve it; we will protect it -- forever.
TOM BEARDEN: Various local factions have been fighting over the Hanford Reach for decades. Environmentalists tried to get it declared a "wild and scenic river," which, by act of Congress, would have imposed restrictions on development. Many local leaders opposed it. Rick Lamont, with the local Audubon Society, says the vice president stepped in to end the impasse. Monuments can be designated by presidential order, without the consent of Congress.
RICK LAMONT: Vice President Gore did a wise and courageous thing by protecting the Hanford Reach. We were in the process of losing it to development, and he has protected it for future generations.
TOM BEARDEN: But some local residents were outraged by the notion of federal control of the river. They say the vice president's rhetoric was overblown, that the river is hardly pristine, bordered as it is by highly radioactive waste sites and abandoned nuclear reactors; that the reach is not free-flowing, with dams both upstream and down, and that protecting it would forever foreclose their economic future.
AMY McHUGH: Do you think we can still pick them?
TOM BEARDEN: Farmer Amy McHugh says the designation overruled a public process in which she had invested considerable amounts of time and energy.
AMY McHUGH: When the government comes in to do something, there's always now -- even state -- they come in and say, "we're going to he a meeting for local input." But the outcome has been pre-designed and it's going to be whatever they said. And when they start talking about local input from people or concerned voices, don't feel that you're going to be heard, because you won't.
TOM BEARDEN: Grant County Commissioner Deborah Moore saw the declaration as high-handed, a top-down, "we know best" approach she believes characterizes Gore's approach to environmental issues.
DEBORAH MOORE: This national monument designation left us out of the decision-making process, and I think the local people are unhappy. We feel that we need to be included in the decision-making process. This administration seems to think that they know better than the local people what we need.
RICK LAMONT: This is not a top-down decision. We have advocated an administrative solution if... if legislation could not be passed. Local people here on the ground had been advocating protecting this area for 15... well, actually for 35 years. Throughout the Northwest people are in favor of protecting this. So it wasn't a top-down solution, it was a plea for protection from the grassroots up.
TOM BEARDEN: But Shannon McDaniel, who manages the South Columbia irrigation district adjacent to the reach, saw the move as pure election-year politics designed to get votes from easterners.
SHANNON McDANIEL: I think that the Vice President had an agenda and he came to do it and he did it and left. I don't think that it had anything to do with how complex our irrigation project is, or how it impacts people around our county. It's my opinion that he came in to put on a show. He did his show and left.
AL GORE: Conservation is about a lot more than national landmarks. It's about protecting the air that we breathe and the water that we drink and the land that we love.
TOM BEARDEN: There is a general consensus that Gore has always been the administration's most ardent advocate of conservation; that over the years he persuaded President Clinton to pay more attention to environmental matters. One of the administration's first environmental controversies took place in 1993 when it brokered the Northwest Forest Plan.
It allowed logging to resume after a federal judge had blocked most timber sales on national forest land because the habitat of the northern spotted owl was jeopardized. Loggers and mill operators say the administration pledged at the time that there would be a predictable supply of timber from public lands, but the industry says that pledge has been broken and that they've been allowed to harvest only about a quarter of what they were promised. Chris West is with the Northwest Forestry Association.
CHRIS WEST: They promised us as part of the compromise of their Northwest forest plan, a certain level of timber harvest. It was an 80 percent reduction from what we'd had in the past, but they haven't even lived up to that that level. We've actually seen over a 90 percent reduction in the timber supply here from our federal lands.
TOM BEARDEN: West says, as a result, sawmills have closed and jobs have been lost. Beyond the local impact, West says there have also been consequences for the entire country.
CHRIS WEST: In the last seven years, we've seen a major shift in where consumers are getting their wood products here in the United States. When Clinton and Gore took office, 20 percent of our lumber products came from foreign countries. Today it's well over 40 percent.
CARL POPE: They didn't promise, they made a projection. And then when they went out on the ground and they examined the ground, they found that the forests had been hammered much worse than they thought. It was not a promise. It was a statement that they would do their best if they could legally -- consistent with environmental laws -- to reach that goal. It turned out not to be possible because Reagan and Bush had done a much worse job of over-cutting the national forests than the administration's biologists understood.
TOBY MURRAY: There's ten old growth here, and five of them look like they might be decent, and the other five are just pulp logs anyway, so, you know...
TOM BEARDEN: While Toby Murray gives Gore an "A" for trying to work with industry, he gives him an "F" for failing to provide centralized oversight over environmental laws. Murray runs a 55,000-acre logging operation 50 miles outside of Tacoma. He says the enforcement of environmental laws is in shambles, especially the Endangered Species Act. Murray says he found a spotted owl on his privately-owned tree farm. He began negotiating with the government, and Gore himself, on how he could comply with the law and still harvest his timber. Four years of negotiations and more than a million dollars in expenses led to an agreement called a "habitat conservation plan." But now 20 percent of his farm is off-limits to logging-- rather more than he anticipated.
TOBY MURRAY: I think environmental issues have sort of taken on a life of their own and that there's been substantially increased funding into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fishery Service, and EPA with clean water issues have combined, if you will, to set up these three separate agencies that are all requiring or requesting different programs that aren't necessarily the same. And, so, it's kind of an endless bureaucratic maze of nobody in control of the process, which keeps raising the bar higher and higher. And I think we've seen that in the last couple of years a number of companies have tried to negotiate habitat conservation plans and have given up.
TOM BEARDEN: Katie McGinty says Gore has done a lot to reduce that kind red tape. She served seven years on the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
KATIE McGINTY: It is also Al Gore who has led the effort to develop a new generation of environmental protection that works hand-in-hand with economic growth, so that even as we are taking important new steps to clean the air, to clean the water, Al Gore has literally thrown out 16,000 pages of unnecessary rules and regulations that were costing us money, but not cleaning up our environment.
|Global warming and clean air policies|
TOM BEARDEN: On the global warming issue, the Vice President has long claimed leadership, going back to his tenure in the US Senate. He led the US delegation to the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil, and supporters say he rescued the 1997 Global Warming Conference in Kyoto, Japan. That conference produced the Kyoto protocols, wherein 150 nations agreed to targets for reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases.
KATIE McGINTY: It is without doubt that his trip to Kyoto at the most critical time in those discussions was the decisive element in forging the final compromise which led to the Kyoto protocol itself, and which led -- for the first time in history -- to a legally-binding regime that would have all of the nations of the world joining hands in a joint effort to turn down the dial, if you will, on the buildup of these climate disrupting pollutants.
TOM BEARDEN: But the administration has yet to submit the protocol to the Senate for ratification because senators have made it clear they will not do so without substantial guarantees of action by other nations. The Heritage Foundation's Antonelli finds a consistent pattern in all this.
ANGELA ANTONELLI: They've not succeeded legislatively, but that then has pushed them to do things administratively; that is, acting on their own authority within the White House to try and move their agenda forward.
The Clinton-Gore administration has basically gone around Congress because they haven't been able to get their legislative agenda through and moved independently to take actions -- whether it be the federal government locking off hundreds of millions of acres of land or other kinds of actions, implementation of the Kyoto protocol and global warming even though the Senate must ratify that. That hasn't been done.
PROTESTERS: Al Gore, corporate whore!
TOM BEARDEN: Even some environmentalists are disappointed with Gore's clean air record. Brent Blackwelder is executive director of Friends of the Earth, a national environmental organization which endorsed Bill Bradley instead of Gore in the presidential primaries.
BRENT BLACKWELDER: One of the reasons the Friends of the Earth Political Action Committee endorsed Bradley was we thought Bradley got far more legislative results than Gore did when he was in office. And one of our major critiques of Gore was that he knew the issues, but he did not legislate and get results.
TOM BEARDEN: But Blackwelder does applaud Gore for going to Kyoto.
BRENT BLACKWELDER: I think Gore gets credit for having been there and gotten that started. And so I think that is a high point for what they did. I think the low point on climate is the failing to actually practice what you preach by not keeping US greenhouse gas emissions down to 1990 levels, instead letting them grow to be 13 percent more by the time we ended the decade.
TOM BEARDEN: The Sierra Club's Carl Pope has a much higher opinion of the administration's clean air record.
CARL POPE: Al Gore's been a real hero on cleaning up air pollution during the last eight years. We have seen phenomenal progress from the Environmental Protection Agency in cleaning up what comes out of our cars, in cleaning up power plants in the Midwest that had gone for 30 years without being regulated, in setting down some standards that will complete the job of cleaning up air quality in the Northeast.
|Toxic waste and Superfund sites|
BEARDEN: Of all the aspects of the environment that Gore has dealt with,
toxic waste may have stirred the most controversy. The Superfund Law,
which deals with the cleanup of toxic waste sites, is one of the pivotal
and most contested pieces of US environmental legislation.
AL GORE: The subcommittee will come to order.
TOM BEARDEN: The Gore campaign says he played a leading role in creating that law when he called for congressional hearings in 1978 that revealed the illegal dumping of billions of pounds of toxic chemicals. McGinty says he's followed through in the years since.
KATIE McGINTY: We have completed with the vice president's leadership more than three times the number of Superfund cleanups than any of the previous administrations, so the record is very strong. However, the administration has also put on the table time and time again over the last seven years, important new legislation that would update the Superfund program, that would improve it. And at every turn, the majority in the Congress has failed to pass that legislation.
TOM BEARDEN: Angela Antonelli sees the record differently.
ANGELA ANTONELLI: We're doing a terrible job. We need to do better. Most Americans want that. They understand the program is broken. But unfortunately, as has been the case with many other programs, the administration has been unwilling to effectively work with Congress, to craft a bipartisan solution on how to improve the superfund program.
TOM BEARDEN: In his 1992 book "Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit", then-Senator Gore said, "we must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization," and said, mankind should undertake "wrenching transformation" to save the planet. Such proposals are logical to some, radical to others. The Vice President's environmental rhetoric and his long record will be pivotal for some voters when they consider his candidacy.
GWEN IFILL: We'll have a similar extended look at Governor Bush's record on the environment tomorrow.