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Environmental Divide

A panel compares the Clinton and Bush environmental policies.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Joining us now to discuss the nation's environmental policies past, present, and future, are two supporters of the Clinton administration's approach: Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, a research organization; and Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. And two supporters of the more free-market approach favored by President-elect Bush: Lynn Scarlett, president of the Reason Foundation; and Terry Anderson, executive director of the Political Economy Research Center and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Ken Cook, we just heard Spencer Michel's piece in which he talked about how President Clinton used unprecedented executive power to preserve federal lands. Overall, let's talk first about the Clinton administration's legacy. Was it a good one or a bad one for the environment?

  • KEN COOK:

    I think there's no question — it's a very good legacy for the environment. And I think anyone who thought there was no difference perhaps between Al Gore and George Bush in this election cycle needs only to look at this first round of nominees to see what a stark difference it will be from that administration to the next one by almost any reckoning. President Clinton came into office with a reputation for not knowing a lot and caring a lot or having a very good record on the environment. He left office with a considerable legacy, some of the items were mentioned in the show tonight, public lands, pollution controls. He left some work undone, but over time he trended in the direction of Al Gore and learned a lot and became more activist. I think what we see now is a distinct shift — potentially a very deep shift in which we will enter a period of combat over the environment from the standpoint of defending what we've gained.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Lynn Scarlett, how about that, did President Clinton do the right thing or did he overreach at some point?

  • LYNN SCARLETT:

    There is no question that President Clinton did do some major initiatives on the land side, but actually it was more business as usual and not major initiatives on the pollution front. He had an opportunity to move programs more towards incentives that would inspire some greater private stewardship and he didn't take that opportunity.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Was it the right approach, Mr. Schlickeisen, to actually take these kinds of executive steps to decide rather than having to fight everything out through Congress to do it on his own?

  • RODGER SCHLICKEISEN:

    Oh, absolutely, to really get an understanding of the difference of public lands management that President Clinton brought to this you have to look at a perspective of history. Historically the public land agencies administered the public lands in order to maximize commodity production. Then they would take a look afterwards and see what kind of environment damage they caused and see how to clean it up. What Clinton did was he turned that basically on its head. He asked the logical, scientific question — how do we make sure that these public lands are healthy for the long-term, for future generations? And… called that ecosystem management. And so he would manage the public lands and all the land agencies, first of all, to maintain the long-term health of the lands themselves, and then they would ask what kind of commodity production, how much and when can the land sustain? And that is an important legacy that he is leaving and I think one that the Bush administration would think very carefully about before they would overturn it.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Terry Anderson, at what point, in your opinion, does President Clinton's approach to the environment become a good or a bad thing for what this Bush administration now has to take up?

  • TERRY ANDERSON:

    His approach, which begins from the top down, is an approach that is definitely not going to leave the environment in better condition and certainly the public lands in better condition. I think what he has done is lock up and indeed tie the hands of the people who can really do the management. Therefore, I think what the task ahead for the Bush administration is to unlock those hands and give managers, especially people at the local level, a bit more control. I think that is what will really distinguish the Clinton administration from the Bush administration. It's clear that we did have a period of time and one can look at the Reagan administration as part of this, when perhaps some of the commodity groups had more control than maybe they even should have had. Under Clinton, however, what we ended up with was now the environmental groups in control and basically a locking up of the public lands to commodity production. The Bush administration I think will move us from that.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Well, how? That's the question I was going to ask you. How does the Bush administration move?

  • TERRY ANDERSON:

    I think that the big task and one that for example Gale Norton at Interior will take on is to return us to a bottom up approach, an approach that says let's get down to the communities, let's bring everybody in, and that means environmentalists too. There is no question that President-elect Bush cares very deeply about the environment. Bring the environmentalists to the table with commodity producers, community leaders, and start the process of land management from the bottom up. That will be I think the hallmark of the Bush administration.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Ken Cook, what do you think is going to be the hallmark of the Bush administration on environmental matters?

  • KEN COOK:

    Well, I think it's one thing to look at the bottom up as a democratic approach. It's another thing to have that be a code word for basically to turning power over to mining interest and forestry interests to use public lands as they see fit. No, I think we only know now a little bit about what President-elect Bush might do from his appointees. And it's not an encouraging picture. Gale Norton is way outside the mainstream thinking on how to use public lands and how to manage environmental problems. Certainly, Spencer Abraham had a deplorable environmental record while he served in the Senate. He was one of the dirty dozen that the League of Conservation Voters went after in this election — I think partly lost because of his anti-environmental positions. Governor Whitman is a little bit more of a mixed picture. But you need strong environmental advocates in these jobs for them to work, particularly EPA and Interior, because they are facing all the rest of the government and all its executive power and all that economic pressure. If you don't have strong advocates coming in, then I think what you are looking at is great potential for backsliding.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Lynn Scarlett, you hear this pessimism. You have written that you believe that George W. Bush will favor cooperation over conflict on these issues.

  • LYNN SCARLETT:

    Yes, I actually have a more optimistic picture. We do have more to go by then just the appointees and even in the appointees themselves some things to look to. Governor Whitman's record has actually been fairly good in New Jersey. In the bottom up approach that Terry describes, they have actually done a lot of hazardous waste site cleanup in New Jersey, really doing better than the federal government with its top down approach. If you look at Governor Bush in Texas, though his record was much maligned, I think it was wrongly so. He embarked on what was called a Clean Texas 2000 campaign to encourage companies to reduce toxic emissions into the air. He had a landowner incentive program which said, gee, let's get our farmers to work with us to actually protect endangered species, take some of their cotton growing farms turn them into natural prairie habitat. These are the things you need to look to to see what Bush might do and what Governor Whitman with I think a fairly strong environmental record in New Jersey might do.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Rodger Schlickeisen, what is your take on that?

  • RODGER SCHLICKEISEN:

    You know, I think I want to join Lynn and hope for the best, but I think the environmental community is fearing the worst. I think Ken Cook is exactly right. We hoped when President-elect Bush talked about governing from the middle and having a moderate approach that is what we'd get. But in his selection of Norton and of Abraham I think we've seen from what the selections themselves say about their records and what they've said, that this is going to be a real fight. I mean it is not just the nominations. It's what they've said. When Norton came out, the first thing she did was say she supports the president and she wants to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And that is a nonstarter. It's absolutely a nonstarter. It's always been a nonstarter. It is not an answer to our short-term energy crisis but she is already going to persist along that pathway.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Terry Anderson, should we read anything into the fact that so many of George W. Bush's senior advisors including the president-elect himself have had such close ties to the oil industry?

  • TERRY ANDERSON:

    Well, I can't speak for what the governor's and president-elect's ties are to the energy industry. I can speak for what those of us who advised the governor thought about these issues, and it wasn't that we were bought off by any energy companies. It was that we believe that balance could be achieved in the management of these public lands. For example, with ANWR, it's very clear that –

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The Arctic National Wildlife – I just wanted to let people know what ANWR is – Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

  • TERRY ANDERSON:

    It's very clear you can drill for oil in sensitive lands, the Audubon Society does it on its land. It extracts oil and saves the environment. We can do the same in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. My point would be if it's good enough for the environmental community why isn't it good enough for our national lands? And that is the kind of approach I think we need to have — one that says we are going to save the environmental amenities that are there. President-elect Bush began the very first meeting I had with him saying when he is finished with the office of president the lands will be better cared for. I believe him, and I think that that is exactly where Gale Norton will start. She will just bring a lot more balance. I would also note that this is not going to be an administration of revolution, this is going to be an administration of real reform and how we approach the management of public lands, and save the environment.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Let's talk about that oil drilling in Alaska. Sixteen billion barrels of oil are – that it's possible for us… we are supposed to be on the verge of an energy crunch. What is the argument against exploratory drilling there?

  • KEN COOK:

    Well, what is the argument for it? The argument for it is pretty short sighted. It suggests that we can solve this current problem in soon enough time by drilling in ANWR to solve this problem we have — this short-term issue. It's going to take years to bring that online. It doesn't make sense from the standpoint of overall national energy needs to pick up a small fraction of our oil when we could easily do that through conservation and other means for the sake of risking this incredible natural resource. It's also I think very important to point out that for someone who came up 500,000 votes short in the popular vote, he has picked a number of people in this first round of choices who are not in step environmentally with the American public. Poll after poll shows that, and I feel very strongly that if we don't see in the second tier of appointments, which should happen soon, who is going to balance this out, you are even going to see moderate Republicans, particularly for Interior, walking away and saying I'm not sure I can work with this administration — it looks like James Watt II. That is a problem for all of us.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Lynn Scarlett, you are the optimist in the crew tonight, so give us a sense of that. Do you think it's possible that what we've seen in the first tier of appointments bodes ill for what happens with the second tier?

  • LYNN SCARLETT:

    Again I think we need to be comprehensive. Let us look at Governor Whitman's record. It has been really quite good — not just in land preservation in New Jersey and in hazardous waste cleanup, as I mentioned, but they really have embarked in New Jersey on some major innovations. We have to go back and look at what was wrong with or the shortcomings of the environmental infrastructure that we currently have. It is as Terry said a top down system. It is one, it is a system that has said, gee, we need to use the stick rather than the carrot. And it has been very prescriptive telling companies this is how you are going to clean up with this technology. What Governor Whitman has done is to say, gee, there is a lot of innovative spirit in the private sector. Let us unleash some of that; so they've moved to a more innovative permitting system for factories, which has shown some dramatic improvements. I think like Terry said, we will see a kind of evolutionary effort on the part of the Bush administration to encourage this kind of thing — working with the private sector, cooperatively, encouraging, giving compliance assistance, but this is going to be a performance-focused, I hope, administration. I think they will focus on environmental performance, but they will recognize it needs to be done in different ways.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    How about that, the market-oriented, performance-tested way of approaching the environment.

  • RODGER SCHLICKEISEN:

    Well, I think all environmentalists agree there is a very important role that the market can play and market forces can play. But going in a direction say of Ms. Norton when she was the Colorado attorney general and basically approving the self-audit approach so that polluters if they revealed their mistakes would not be liable for anything is going too far. Everyone has to acknowledge that that is going too far. It's those kinds of policies I think that have convinced the majority of the environmental community that they are going to have to oppose the confirmation.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    You wanted to respond, Ms. Scarlett?

  • LYNN SCARLETT:

    Yes, I think we need to go to the Colorado situation which was slightly mischaracterized. I understand the concern of a self-audit that would have no external checks on it. But what I think that miss Norton was trying to do and many, many other states, by the way, was to say, gee, there are many environmental problems we don't know about. Let us inspire companies to look for those and then if they report them, but don't stop there with reporting them. If they also adhere to and agree to ameliorating those problems, then we will not get out the stick and clobber them on the heads. That really was what the self-audit legislation in Colorado and elsewhere was attempting to do. Perhaps it didn't do it ideally but that was the thrust.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Unfortunately, we are going to have to leave it there for tonight. Thank you all.

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