the choice 2000
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issue: environment
· what is the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependence on foreign oil?

· what is the best way to clean up brownfields and preserve parklands?

what they say
what they'll do
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Four decades after the start of the environmental movement, a majority of Americans today rate the environment as an important voting priority. For the first time in a presidential campaign, one of the major party candidates is an avowed environmentalist, and the Green Party is putting up a serious candidate, Ralph Nader who is attracting significant national attention. In some ways, however, the issues have become harder to define compared to the seventies, when environmentalists could much more readily point to smokestacks and toxic waste dumps as vivid and real threats to health. Today, with lead emissions down, and air and water quality much improved, most Americans say they are happy with the environmental quality of their surroundings. While there is concern about global warming, ozone depletion, excessive energy consumption and dependence on fossil fuels, these issues seem less tangible and there is little serious talk of making any changes to the often wasteful consumerism at the core of many of the problems.

The December 1997 global warming treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, which requires all industrialized nations to cut their production of polluting gases below 1990 levels, has turned into a campaign issue this year, because it sets the U.S. a reduction target of 7 percent by 2008. The treaty has not been ratified by Congress, and there is little evidence that the public is willing to increase its use of public transportation, or to accept higher gas taxes to help meet those Kyoto levels. How to reduce excessive dependence on foreign oil, how best to clean up 'brownfields' (areas contaminated by industrial pollution) and how much logging to allow in national forest areas are also up for debate.


The environment is Al Gore's passion, and he has promised to make this the decade of the environment under his presidency. "We're going to fight to beat back the rogue special interests who want to mine and drill and clear-cut our national heritage into oblivion....This Earth is not in a liquidation sale," he has declared. Despite his credentials, several activists are dissatisfied with Gore's record as Vice President, saying he did not sufficiently stress environmental issues. Environmentalists have also been divided about whether to endorse him or the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. In general Gore believes the federal government has a strong leadership role to play on environmental issues.

George Bush believes the federal government is important in setting standards, but prefers public-private partnerships and market-driven solutions as the best ways to an improved environment. "The government cannot sue its way to clean air and water," he has said. Environmental advocates have been critical of Bush's record in Texas, charging that though new clean air and water laws were passed when he was governor, compliance was voluntary for many of the polluting industries. The Sierra Club ranks Texas first in toxic releases to the environment, and first in chemical accidents. Last year, Houston overtook Los Angeles as the smoggiest city in the country. Bush has tried to make an issue of the need to restore America's "crumbling" national parks and the controversial matter of breaching dams in the Pacific Northwest in order to ensure salmon stocks.


What is the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and decrease dependence on foreign oil?

Gore proposes that a part of the budget surplus be used to set up a Trust Fund for the Environment. The money would be used to fund research into more energy efficient technologies, protect rivers and forests and clean up the nation's air and water resources. He believes that the Kyoto protocol should be ratified since it is "an important first step" in reducing the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. Gore says the only long-term solution to fossil fuel dependence is to phase out the internal combustion engine and promote newer, cleaner technologies for vehicles. He has offered to go beyond the current moratorium on oil drilling off the California and Florida coasts and institute an outright ban on drilling there. He would also like to maintain the ban on drilling in the pristine Arctic shelf region off Alaska. (More on Gore's environmental views.)

Bush opposes the Kyoto protocol, which he regards as too intrusive. He believes that industry and market driven solutions are the only way to develop alternatives to current energy use patterns. He supports the moratorium on oil drilling off Florida and California, but thinks drilling should be allowed in the Arctic region near Alaska, so that dependence on foreign oil can be reduced. Bush believes more use of natural gas, development of "cleaner coal", and electric deregulation, which he carried out in Texas, will help lessen use of oil. He also opposes the removal of dams in the Pacific Northwest. (More on Bush's views on these questions.)

What is the best way to clean up brownfields and preserve parklands?

Gore proposes a $4.2 billion plan to transform brownfields--abandoned industrial sites, often with contaminated soil--into parks through loans to local communities and developers. He would provide local governments with grants to preserve open space and parkland. He supports continuing the existing Superfund industrial waste cleanups, which he helped start in the early eighties. Gore is also opposed to all logging in roadless areas of national forests and reserve areas, and would also ban road construction in such areas. Some critics say Gore's views are impractical and that his experience as an environmentalist does not extend to wilderness conservation in America. Peter Huber, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, says of Gore's book 'Earth in the Balance.': "'Wilderness,' 'national parks.' and 'national forests' don't figure in his index at all. For Gore, the 'balance' of the earth is mainly about such things as global warming, chlorofluorocarbons, ozone depletion and birth control. Only recently has Gore made any effort to reposition himself as a land-use environmentalist."

Bush does not believe that the existing Superfund cleanups have worked: he says they have been slow, expensive, and overly burdened by fear of litigation. Bush would have the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) set high (but more flexible) standards for brownfield cleanups and ban the federal government from suing local businesses which do the cleaning, provided the standards have been met. He also believes in private stewardship of land and water resources, which he would encourage by offering loans through the Land and Water Conservation Fund and through tax incentives to Americans who take the initiative to keep their lands pristine. "It's time to build conservation partnerships between the federal government and state governments, local communities and private landowners," he has said. His cooperative approach has been derided by critics who say the Texas record on the environment shows it does not work, but supporters point out that the state pollutes more because it is large and home to several heavy industries. His program promotes "a new environmentalism, which recognizes that most people and most companies want to do the right thing, and encourages them to do so through incentives," according to Lynn Scarlett, executive director of the Reason Public Policy Institute.


FRONTLINE/NOVA's special report "What's Up With the Weather" offers experts assessments on global warming--how bad is it and what are the causes?
Public Agenda's Issue Guide
New York Times Environment Issue Guide (requires free registration)
"Gore in the Balance" (Michael Barone, US News and World Report)

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