Joe Lieberman campaigning in Connecticut. (Courtesy of Lieberman 2006)
Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman is in the fight of his political life. Lieberman has a strong record on conservation. He also supports the war in Iraq. The heated campaign battle between the senator and his opponent, Ned Lamont, has raised a tough question for environmentally-minded voters: does the war count as an environmental issue? Washington correspondent Jeff Young reports from the campaign trail.
CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.
The odd twists and turns in the race for U.S. Senate in Connecticut challenge conventional political thinking. And now it’s challenging environmental thinking as well. In the August primary, Democratic voters angry about the war in Iraq rejected Senator Joe Lieberman, who had supported the war. But in a move that divided Democrats, Joe Lieberman refused to quit. He’s running as an Independent against Democratic nominee Ned Lamont and Republican Alan Schlesinger. Joe Lieberman’s strong conservation voting record wins him support from major environmental groups, but some activists are asking why war is not considered an environmental issue.
Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports.
YOUNG: Connecticut’s heated, hectic campaign for US Senate is nearing the home stretch. But on this sunny October afternoon Democratic nominee Ned Lamont found some time to stop and smell the flowers. He also checks out the peppers and tastes some late season tomatoes at Urban Oaks Organic Farm. The unusual farm thrives on an old brownfields site in an economically struggling section of New Britain.
LAMONT: It’s just amazing that we got an organic farm they’ll be able to open up the market within 6 months across the way.
YOUNG: Lamont is a 52-year old multimillionaire from the digital cable business who pulled off a stunning upset in August. He beat 3-term senator Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary by focusing on the war in Iraq. Lieberman supports it, most Connecticut Democrats do not. Now Lamont needs to communicate the rest of his platform. Lamont supports a cap on carbon dioxide emissions to fight global warming, and criticizes Lieberman for a vote in favor of last year’s Energy Act, which heavily subsidized the oil and coal industries. And he stresses market solutions to environmental problems.
YOUNG: If I’m the environmentally motivated voter, trying to make up my mind in this race, I might listen to you and say, ‘well, he talks a good game but what’s he actually done? You don’t really have a record to stand on, on this, do you?
LAMONT: I’d say that over the last 18 years we haven’t made real progress in the environmental movement. As I said before, we’ve got the exact same fleet mileage standards today as we had 20 years ago. CO2 and global warming are situations that are getting worse. We’re not dealing with our allies and other countries on the face of the earth in a way that says this is important to our global future. So I think you need some fresh thinking down in Washington, DC if you’re serious about the environment.
YOUNG: Lamont trails in recent polls. It’s an unusual race. The Republican, Alan Schlesinger, barely registers in polls, and that helps Lieberman. He has strong support among Republicans and is doing well among independents. And in a state where voters expect candidates to take a strong environmental stand, Lieberman has the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters. League president Gene Karpinski gives Lieberman high scores for his votes and calls him an environmental champion.
KARPINSKI: Well it’s one thing to have a good score, which Senator Lieberman does, but it’s another to actually be someone who introduces new legislation, goes down to the floor, lobbies his or her colleagues and Joe Lieberman does all those things.
YOUNG: Lieberman pledges to continue to caucus with Democrats if reelected. But many of his environmental initiatives involve reaching out to Republicans. Three years ago when the first major piece of legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions came to a Senate vote, it bore the names of Arizona Republican John McCain and Joe Lieberman.
LIEBERMAN: Global warming is real and America has a special responsibility as the number one emitter of greenhouse gases to do something about it.
YOUNG: Last year Lieberman again found common ground with Republicans on a bill to encourage biofuels and hybrid vehicles and reduce oil imports.
YOUNG: And Lieberman drew cheers from environmentalists last year for his opposition to a White House plan to drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
LIEBERMAN: We are gathered here today again to loudly and proudly defend the Alaskan wilderness form the dangerous designs of the Bush administration!
YOUNG: Despite those stands, not all environmentalists are cheering Lieberman back in Connecticut.
MOTAVALLI: Most of the environmentalists I know are probably gonna vote for Lamont.
YOUNG: Jim Motavalli edits "E the environmental magazine" at its headquarters in Norwalk, Connecticut. Motavalli is pretty plugged in to Connecticut’s environmental community. He says eco-minded voters don’t see much difference between Lamont and Lieberman on the environment. But they do see a difference on the Iraq war. And some see that as an environmental matter, as well.
MOTAVALLI: Particularly if you believe that we went to war for oil and the oil industry has one of the largest environmental impacts and if you see Lieberman’s actions as essentially protecting the American way of life vis-a`-vis oil-as-usual I think you would then have to see this as an environmental issue.
YOUNG: You don’t have to look far to find the kind of voter Motavalli’s describing.
STEPHENSON: Every war is an environmental disaster.
YOUNG: Mark Stephenson studies art at Norwalk’s community college, and until recently, he was active in the local Sierra Club chapter. Stephenson grows visibly agitated when he talks about the harm done to Iraq. And he’d prefer to see the billions spent on the war go instead to alternative energy like solar power. He and a few others pressed the local Sierra Club to consider a lawmaker’s position on the war among the environmental items when weighing political endorsements. When that idea was rejected, Stephenson quit.
STEPHENSON: Sierra Club is a wonderful organization, it does a lot of really great things but they’re missing the boat on this. Because I think ultimately people have to understand that all things are connected and you can think in these compartmentalized ways but it’s not a real, it’s not an honest assessment of the way the world is.
YOUNG: Connecticut Sierra Club leader John Blake acknowledges there was vigorous debate about the war when the chapter considered Senate candidates. Sierra’s National Political Director, Cathy Duvall, says the Club will probably not endorse a candidate in the Connecticut race. She says both Lamont and Lieberman would be good on environmental issues. As for the war, Duvall says Sierra must maintain its focus.
DUVALL: War is bad for the environment I think you can see that whether it’s happening in the current Iraq war or in any past wars. But once you start to open up that door to one set of issues around foreign policy it could open up the door to a whole bunch of other issues that also have environmental impact and it just starts to get, y’know, a little bit messier.
YOUNG: The League of Conservation Voters scores members of Congress based on what the league considers environmental votes. That does not include votes to authorize or fund the war. The League’s Gene Karpinski says he thinks that reflects what most people expect of an environmental group.
KARPINSKI: So the environment is an important issue and the war is an important issue but I think for the average person they’re seen as different issues.
YOUNG: If Connecticut’s most environmentally-minded voters do not follow the endorsement, it could indicate that national environmental group leaders are slightly out of step with rank and file members. And the debate over war as an environmental issue will likely continue well after this campaign battle is over.
For Living on Earth I’m Jeff Young in New Britain Connecticut.
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