MOYERS: Welcome to NOW.
Next week, over 100 heads of state will meet in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Their goal is to search for ways to save the Earth's life support system: air, water, land, the things we humans need to thrive on the planet.
Ten years ago, they gathered in Rio de Janeiro for the same purpose.
But official studies reveal a steady decline in the Earth's environment since then.
The leaders of every major industrial country will be in Johannesburg next week, except for George W. Bush.
Representatives of the religious right, conservative activists and big companies like Exxon wrote the President this week praising him for not going to the summit.
They also asked him to make sure American officials who do get to Johannesburg keep the issue of global warming off the table.
It's all part of a pattern.
The Bush administration is carrying on what the LOS ANGELES TIMES this week calls "the most concerted exploitation of the public's land, air and water since fundamental protection laws went into effect three decades ago."
If you want to know how that's being done, listen to three government insiders who worked for decades to safeguard the environment.
They talked to NPR correspondent Emily Harris and NOW producer Greg Henry.
EMILY HARRIS: Jim Furnish spent over 30 years working for the US Forest Service. His time in government spanned eight presidential administrations.
But Furnish is one of several career civil servants who recently left their jobs after run-ins with the Bush administration over environmental policy.
back in the 1960s, when Furnish started with the Forest Service, timber companies were busy clear cutting big sections of National Forest. A large part of Furnish's job was to help get those trees to market.
JIM FURNISH, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: We were laying out clear cut timber harvests and marking the boundaries, measuring the value and the volume of the timber to be sold. This was an extension of the post-World War II housing boom. There was a tremendous need for new lumber. Here I was, like an ant in the woods a part of all that thing. It was actually pretty exciting.
EMILY HARRIS: But as time went on, public concerns began to grow about the impacts of logging on the environment. And Furnish's thinking began to change.
JIM FURNISH: For me, a real light went on. The sense that these are rare and precious lands we're dealing with. And that we've probably been too cavalier in our pursuit of what we can take from the land via timber, grazing, mining, oil and gas. And that the public probably has a right to rely on agencies like the Forest Service to be an advocate for the natural resources. Not necessarily an advocate for their removal.
EMILY HARRIS: Furnish would get a chance to promote his views in the 1990s, as head of the Siuslaw National Forest in Oregon.
Decades of logging had left their mark on the forest. And it wasn't just that the trees were getting cut.
Thousands of miles of roads had been built to get to the timber. Old and decaying gravel roads now crisscrossed the Siuslaw. This spelled trouble. Especially when it rained.
During storms decaying mountain roads can turn into landslides. That happened in the Siuslaw in 1996. Some rain-soaked roads collapsed, causing sliding mud to swamp bushes and trees. And it all dropped into the swollen creeks.
JIM FURNISH: And when these landslides encounter streams bad things happen. A lot of the salmon spawning areas are ruined. Or the young fish that are in the streams are killed. It's just not, it's just not a pretty picture. And, inevitably when you go back and you trace these you always end up on a road.
EMILY HARRIS: To stop future landslides, Furnish set out to fix the old logging roads. Some he let return to their natural state. He says it was the best way to keep the forest healthy.
EMILY HARRIS: His efforts were noticed back in Washington. In 1999, Furnish got a great job offer that took him to the top of civil service. He jumped from running a single forest to be Deputy Chief for the US Forest Service.
There are nearly 200 million acres of National Forest in the United States, mostly in the West. About a quarter of those woods have no roads.
In the late 90s, the Clinton administration was working on a new proposal to keep roads out of that part of the forest. It was called "The Roadless Rule." Its aim was to limit logging and stop environmental damage to the land.
The Roadless Rule was being crafted when Jim Furnish moved to Washington. But permanently limiting roads in part of the National Forests was a controversial proposition.
Bob Maynard is a lawyer and a trained forester. He opposed the roadless rule and helped file suit against it.
BOB MAYNARD: There's a to me a false notion that if you leave these areas alone, if you stay out of them, that you're protecting them. And that's not the case.
No one that I know of is advocating criss-crossing the countryside with permanent roads. It's a matter of some roading carefully designed to the landscape in areas where it's appropriate and makes sense.
EMILY HARRIS: Maynard says roads let foresters get in where they need to go to manage forests well...And do things like, for example, take out dead wood that can fuel forest fires.
BOB MAYNARD: Fires don't pay attention to roadless versus roaded boundaries. And so basically you've got the issue of something starting in a roadless area and then spreading across the countryside and doing a lot of damage.
EMILY HARRIS: But arguments against The Roadless Rule were drowned out by overwhelming popular support.
At 600 public meetings and through thousands of emails and letters, over a million people nationwide submitted comments. Most liked the notion of keeping the last of the country's woods road-free.
JIM FURNISH: We were touching a nerve I think of about 90 percent public approval, on that there's probably fewer people than that that agree to paying income tax. And to me to have touched on a concept that enjoyed such broad public support, boy, I tell you that felt good. To be serving the public in that way.
EMILY HARRIS: The "Roadless Rule" was adopted just as Clinton's term was ending.
Jim Furnish is a Republican. He voted for Bush in 2000.
Just hours after being sworn in President Bush suspended the popular roadless rule.
JIM FURNISH: I just don't think they got it, in terms of that this was symbolic of a really sweeping change, in terms of public views about public lands. And I just viewed their actions as being regressive.
EMILY HARRIS: Furnish says the administration began ignoring what he had to say.
JIM FURNISH: The notion of leaving early, was something I never would have contemplated. What was disappointing to me was I didn't feel I was given a seat at the table, I was never asked my opinion I wasn't allowed to make a contribution. I wasn't able to talk about the pluses and minuses of any particular approach. And after spending an entire career I didn't want to be in a position like that.
EMILY HARRIS: Nine months after President Bush took office, Jim Furnish decided he had had enough. He left his position at the Forest Service.
JIM FURNISH: To me, one of the fundamental miscalculations of this Bush administration, is I think they haven't gauged the depth to which environmental sentiment exists within the mainstream of America. And, I mean, for me, that's just not it's just not good business, not to recognize that.
EMILY HARRIS: Thirty years ago, those battling to preserve America's environment got a huge boost from Congress with passage of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
All that happened under President Richard Nixon. America's environment is undeniably cleaner now. But today, Bush administration critics say, those core laws are under attack.
ERIC SCHAEFFER: My job was enforcing environmental law. And it didn't take long to get the idea that that's not something the Bush administration was really interested in.
EMILY HARRIS: Eric Schaeffer used to be the head of the enforcement branch of the Environmental Protection Agency. He joined the government in 1990, when the first George Bush was in the White House.
In the late 90s Schaeffer's office threatened to sue Dominion Virginia Power, one of the country's largest power producers. Dominion runs eight coal-fired power plants in the Southeast.
One of its largest plants sits on Mt.. Storm Lake in West Virginia.
SCHAEFFER: We started with a notice of violation for this one plant. We suspected there were problems at other plants. But to the company's credit when we approached them with the Mount Storm problem, and we suggested you know, you probably have wide spread violations. They said, "Okay, let's talk. And let's try to work it out." And the discussion went from there.
EMILY HARRIS: The EPA claimed that when dominion put in new equipment between 1988 and 1992, it also created new pollution. And under the Clean Air Act, that was against the law.
But utility industry lobbyist Scott Segal argues that the law is being misinterpreted. Or example, he says, what the EPA calls new equipment is really just part of routine maintenance. And penalizing utilities for that, he says, actually discourages old power plants from upgrading.
SCOTT SEGAL, UTILITY INDUSTRY LOBBYIST A rational actor might say, Boy. There's a lot of downside risk in engaging in routine maintenance activities .We'd really better think twice before we do it. And as maintenance declines, efficiency at facilities declines. As efficiency declines, pollution increases.
EMILY HARRIS: Eric Schaeffer says some old plants just call big capital expansions "routine maintenance" so they won't have to get a new pollution permit.
At any rate, in late 2000, Dominion was working with the EPA. Just as the presidential election wrapped up, Dominion agreed to sign a major settlement and spend more than a billion dollars to clean up its old plants.
But after Bush came into office, energy companies began a concerted effort to weaken the law Schaeffer was trying to enforce.
They got just what they wanted in the President's May 2001 energy plan a specific recommendation to "take another look" at the section of the Clean Air Act the EPA had used against Dominion.
President Bush has his own ideas on how to best reduce power plant emissions
Step one -- back off on enforcement.
PRESIDENT BUSH (TAPE OF SPEECH FROM FEB 14 2002): Instead of the government telling utilities where and how to cut pollution, we will tell them when and how much to cut.
EMILY HARRIS: He calls his plan "Clear Skies."
PRESIDENT BUSH (TAPE OF SPEECH FROM FEB 14 2002): We will give them a firm deadline and let them find the most innovative ways to meet it.
We will do this by requiring each facility to have a permit for each ton of pollution it emits. By making the permits tradable, this system makes it financially worthwhile for companies to pollute less, giving them an incentive to make early and cost effective reductions.
EMILY HARRIS: But critics say enforcement just of the existing laws would clean the air faster than Bush's proposed legislation.
Last February, Schaeffer quit the EPA, charging that cutbacks in clean air enforcement would literally make people sick leaving pollution at levels that increase asthma and bronchitis. Ironically, even though no agreement has been signed, Mt. Storm has improved.
In the spring of this year, the plant voluntarily installed what are known as "scrubbers" to neutralize sulphur dioxide coming from the stacks.
EMILY HARRIS: So at this point Mt. Storm is doing what you had wanted to do in the agreement.
SCHAEFFER: Right. Mt. Storm is scrubbing. And if you look at the white plume there, that's a sign that the scrubbers are working. So that's a good thing. And they'll take 95% of the sulfur dioxide out of the air. The problem is our agreement was about more than just Mt. Storm.
EMILY HARRIS: The agreement was about cleaning up all eight of Dominion's coal-fired power plants.
Dominion tells now that they are still in discussion with the EPA. But Schaeffer believes that if Dominion had signed the initial deal, other utilities would have agreed by now to clean up.
The EPA still has lawsuits pending against eight other companies and the more than three dozen coal-fired power plants they own. But Schaeffer believes that since Dominion hasn't signed, all the momentum is gone.
ERIC SCHAEFFER: I think they're having trouble finding their pens to sign this agreement as long as they think the White House is going to weaken the law.
EMILY HARRIS: Laws can be weakened in very subtle ways. Something that seems minor, like issuing a permit, can actually have a significant impact.
Take the case of federal lands in the state of Idaho. Here government lands are used for everything from mountain biking to mining. Rules and restrictions can be contentious and public opinion strong.
Martha Hahn used to oversee over 12 million acres of federal land in Idaho. In 1995, she became the first woman director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management office here.
Hahn learned early after the 2000 election, that the new administration would go to new lengths to control what happens on these lands and limit the public's right to know.
MARTHA HAHN: One example is that all of the Federal Register notices, that normally the state director approves. And the Federal Register notices are ones that indicate to the public that an action is being taken, something is going to happen.
EMILY HARRIS: This may seem like bureaucratic trivia. But the Federal Register is actually one of those pieces of process that are vital to democracy.
Here's the idea: Everything official the government does gets publicized in the daily Federal Register. Anyone who wants to have input can find out details there. Lobbyists, activists and citizens groups monitor it regularly to keep up on new rules and to learn where and when to comment on proposed ones.
MARTHA HAHN: It's a very formal process and very boring to read, but it's the formality that if you ever wanted to know something that was going on you could go to that notice and it would tell you.
EMILY HARRIS: As a state Director for the Bureau of Land Management, Martha Hahn had authority to approve the publication of nearly any notice relevant to Idaho. But that changed right after President Bush took office.
A memo was issued stating that as of that day all Interior Department announcements, even the most routine, had to be approved at the top by the Office of the Secretary of the Interior.
Hahn says the administration used that approval power to, in effect, block public comment about mining in Idaho's Bruneau Canyon. The canyon runs through Southwestern Idaho and it's known for its semi-precious stones. It had been closed to mining under the first Bush administration, but only for ten years.
MARTHA HAHN: The ten years was up. And our Federal Register notice identified when the public meetings would be, what the process would be and the time frame for going through this determination. That went back to Washington and we never saw it again.
EMILY HARRIS: Hahn's notice was never published and the ban on mining in Bruneau Canyon quietly ended. The canyon was back open for mineral exploration. It's not that there's been a rush to excavate. It's the violation of process that really makes Hahn mad.
MARTHA HAHN: It wasn't that the BLM was saying We are going to extend this. It was we are going to give the public an opportunity to comment on whether we should or shouldn't extend this. And that was taken away.
EMILY HARRIS: But Martha Hahn says it was another issue cattle grazing on federal land that led her to leave public service.
Before coming to Idaho, Hahn had worked for the federal government for over twenty years, in Utah, Colorado and Arizona. When she got here in 1995, the Clinton administration had just re-written rules about managing livestock on public land.
One aim was to give the environment better protection by keeping cattle out of sensitive areas. One of Hahn's jobs was to implement the new rules.
MARTHA HAHN: We were beginning to make decisions on grazing operations and making changes. Those changes are something as simple as go out, take the cows out and put ‘em on the allotment earlier than you normally did and bring them off earlier. Having less cattle go out.
EMILY HARRIS: But no land use decisions are simple in the West, where some people depend on public land for their livelihood. By tradition and by law, private ranchers may pay for permits that allow them to put their cows on public land to forage.
Mike Hanley's family has been doing this for six generations. He runs a thousand cows on federal land in Southern Idaho.
MIKE HANLEY, RANCHER: I can't make a living without it. It's estimated that 2/3 of the value of your ranch is based on your grazing permit. Because you can raise hay and pasture but if you don't have any place to go with your cattle in the spring and summer months you can't survive. You have to have the federal land.
EMILY HARRIS: The government told Hanley to take his cows off public land during the hot part of the summer, when grass doesn't grow back quickly.
MARTHA HAHN: The fence here is to keep the cattle out of this area...
EMILY HARRIS: Martha Hahn knows this is more expensive for the ranchers, but she says it's practically the only way to keep cows from ruining stream banks and polluting water.
MARTHA HAHN: You walk in here, the cattle have just left this area. Now as you can see, there's no growth of any kind left. It's just bare soil. And the idea is to try to have proper management of the cows and it's the responsibility of the rancher to see that this isn't happening.
EMILY HARRIS: Mike Hanley thought the changes to grazing policy were tough. He says in the old days the Bureau of Land Management knew how to run things better.
MIKE HANLEY: I first went to my first BLM meeting with my father and my grandfather when I was…let's see, 11 years old. So I've been involved ever since I was 11 years old, that's 1952. And at that time a lot of the people who worked in the agency were ranchers or former ranchers. So they knew something about the land. And they had ties. So they were easier to work with.
EMILY HARRIS: Martha Hahn says most ranchers went along with new grazing rules. But a few, like Mike Hanley, did not.
MARTHA HAHN: And that became almost 90 percent of the effort convincing that one or two or five ranchers to do something different. And they in turn would go to their congressmen who would then in turn make a big deal of it and then the pressure would come down politically to not to put those kinds of constraints on grazing.
EMILY HARRIS: Fights over grazing, between ranchers and civil servants are part of the normal democratic process. So is complaining to a Congressman. What is unusual here is the letter Martha Hahn got in January.
MARTHA HAHN (READING LETTER): This is to inform you of my decision to reassign you from the position of Idaho State Director, Bureau of Land Management, to the position of Executive Director, National Parks of New York Harbor, National Park Service.
EMILY HARRIS: What was your first thought when you read that sentence?
MARTHA HAHN: Well, I laughed.
EMILY HARRIS: Hahn's background as a manager of Western public lands just didn't seem to match overseeing visitors to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Hahn was given a choice take the position, or resign.
MARTHA HAHN: That would be a perfect place to send me if they didn't want me to go.
EMILY HARRIS: She chose to resign.