Air Date: November 11, 1994
The New Majority Rules: What's Ahead
Host Steve Curwood interviews Dale Curtis, editor of the political news wire service Greenwire, and Dan Weiss of the Sierra Club on the recent election's Republican sweep and implications for the environmental movement. Curtis and Weiss discuss Superfund, the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and Farm bills, and touch on some anticipated general trends. (09:56)
Conservatives Take Idaho, For Example/ Jyl Hoyt
Reporter Jyl Hoyt of station KBSU in Boise surveys the outcome of the gubernatorial and Congressional seats which both went to Republicans in Idaho, and their projected impact on future protection of the state's natural resources. Environmental issues were key factors in deciding the fate of this western state's mid-term elections. (03:26)
Women Demand Action on Breast Cancer Causes/ Tatiana Schreiber
Tatiana Schreiber reports on a recent conference in Boston which explored the possible links between breast cancer and environmental risk factors such as pesticides, plastics, nuclear radiation, food additives and electromagnetic fields. Former New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug was among the organizers of the conference which brought together 70 groups of grassroots women's health activists seeking research funding, answers and results. (06:54)
Copyright (c) 1994 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.
HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: George Hardeen, Gordon Bassham, Jennifer Schmidt, Jyl Hoyt, Tatiana Schreiber
GUESTS: Dale Curtis, Dan Weiss
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living On Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
The new Republican majority in Congress is preparing to select its leadership, and environmental lobbyists are predicting some tough times ahead.
WEISS: The expected chairman of the environmental committees all have terrible environmental voting records. All of them on the House side have voted against the environment 90 to 100% of the time.
CURWOOD: And concerns about environmental links to breast cancer are fueling a grassroots political campaign for long-term research and immediate action. It's led by a former Congresswoman, Bella Abzug.
ABZUG: We no longer will tolerate our health to be at risk. We demand of our government immediate responses to take care of continuing the civilization of which we are at least 50%.
CURWOOD: Breast cancer and politics on Living on Earth. First news.
NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with the Living on Earth news. Many pro-environment lawmakers will be looking for work this winter after the midterm elections, but ballot question results indicate voters may be slightly greener than the new Congress. Florida voters approved a ban on most fishing nets in state waters. Oregonians outlawed using dogs to hunt big game, although they rejected a move to require restoration of exhausted mines. And in the most closely watched environmental referendum, Arizona voters rejected a law subjecting environmental regulations to review for their effect on private property values. George Hardeen reports.
HARDEEN: Proposition 300 would have required Arizona state agencies to assess the impacts of any environmental, health, or safety regulations on the value of private property before any action was implemented or land was taken from property owners. The law would have also kept any regulations from going into effect if they were deemed to unfairly reduce the value of somebody's property. Throughout the country, property rights advocates expected Proposition 300 to do well in a conservative state like Arizona. Its loss is largely attributed to environmentalists' claim that it would have created a huge new layer of bureaucracy and hamstring Arizona state agencies in their efforts to implement environmental regulations. Jerome Kaden is an attorney with the Lincoln Center of Land Use Policy in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
KADEN: Any way you slice it, the Arizona result is a defeat for property rights advocates. Whether or not it's a major defeat is something that we'll see in the future.
HARDEEN: Kaden says 300's failure suggests that voters may feel the goals of environmental regulations and protection of endangered species are worth infringing on some property rights. Still, proponents of 300 say they'll carry on their fight. Linda McClure is director of Arizonans for Private Property Rights, which promoted 300.
McCLURE: This is a movement that's going to go forward. Our government has continued to encroach, over-regulate, take people's property, and there is a backlash on a government who doesn't seem to care about what effect it's having on its citizenship.
HARDEEN: Some 43 states are now examining property rights legislation. The movement pitting property rights against environmental protection has also started to gain momentum in Congress. Now, with both houses and a majority of governorships securely held by Republicans, property rights advocates are encouraged despite the Arizona defeat. For Living on Earth, I'm George Hardeen in Tuba City, Arizona.
NUNLEY: Conservatives may control the next Congress, but environmental legislation won't grind to a halt. Kansas Republican Senator Nancy Kassebaum will reintroduce a bill that could be a model for public-private partnerships in habitat preservation. From KMUW, Gordon Bassham reports.
BASSHAM: Kassebaum's bill would allow the National Park Service to buy up to 180 acres of a private ranch in the Kansas Flint Hills and turn it into a national park. She believes her legislation will serve as a model to encourage the Federal Government, conservation groups, and agriculture interests to come together to protect other important natural resources. Many environmentalists who like Kassebaum's bill point out that only about 3% of the pre-Columbian tall grass prairie in North America remains. One of those who applauds the legislation is Kurt Koespel, an official of the Sierra Club who specializes in prairie ecosystems.
KOESPEL: This addresses concerns of a lot of the opposition and there have been a growing level of support for a tall grass prairie park. And this was a way of getting it established.
BASSHAM: Some of those opponents are ranchers who live in the Flint Hills. They didn't like the idea of a national park nearby because they were afraid it would upset their peaceful lifestyle and lead to Government encroachment on their lands. This is Gordon Bassham reporting.
NUNLEY: Seattle officials are using unorthodox methods to rid a downtown park of an unruly gang and reclaim it for residents. Jennifer Schmidt of KPLU explains.
(Noisy flock of birds)
SCHMIDT: Every night at dusk, Seattle's Occidental Park looks like a scene right out of Hitchcock's movie "The Birds". As the sun sets, thousands of starlings swoop in and swarm onto nearby trees. The starlings first arrived in August, and since then, says city spokeswoman Jennifer Cargal, the condition of the park has gone downhill.
CARGAL: This is a small urban park and it has - those starlings have made it unpleasant for the friends and neighbors of this park to use it, mainly because of droppings. The volume is such that we really need to move the starlings on.
SCHMIDT: The city is using a variety of non-lethal measures to try to get rid of the birds. City workers have filled the park with giant reflective balloons painted with eyeballs intended to resemble the eyes of predators. They're playing the recorded sounds of starling distress calls, and harassing the birds with strobe lights. City officials say they'll continue the barrage of noise and sound until the birds are gone, which they say will probably happen by the end of November. For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Schmidt in Seattle.
NUNLEY: That's the Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In early December, the triumphant Republicans are scheduled to select the new leaderships of the House of Representatives and Senate. The new majority itself as well as the personalities and priorities of its new leadership will of course have profound effects on environmental politics. And with us now to give us a preview of how things may change is Dale Curtis, publisher of the daily environmental briefing, Greenwire. He joins us from the studios of NPR in Washington. Dale, welcome to Living on Earth.
CURTIS: Pleasure to join you again, Steve.
CURWOOD: Two years ago the Democrats came into power and environmental groups expected a flood of legislation, but received barely a trickle. With Republicans now in control of both houses in this next term, can we expect that faucet to be completely shut off?
CURTIS: Well, no, not completely shut off. But any efforts to significantly strengthen or expand the scope of environmental laws is unlikely to fly, unless it's inexpensive and non-bureaucratic and overwhelmingly popular to boot.
CURWOOD: What sort of thing might fall under that criteria?
CURTIS: Well, from time to time in Congress we see something that I call the enviro-cheapo coalition, which pulls together enough of the pro-environment Democrats with the fiscally-conservative Republicans to attack things like timber subsidies or pork barrel water projects that damage the environment.
CURWOOD: Now, there's a lot of legislation left over from the last Congress. Indeed, some environmental activists that thought well, gee, maybe a little bit later things like Superfund, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species, could be pushed. Now, do you think we'll see any movement on that, and what's the outlook?
CURTIS: I think on Superfund there is still a good chance that it could go through and both sides, business and environmentalists, support changes that would make it less costly and more efficient. The Clean Water Act, Mr. Schuster, the Republican from Pennsylvania, who will take over the Public Works Committee, had a bill in the last Congress which did not get considered due to efforts by the Democratic chairman. But now if Mr. Schuster's the chairman, you can be sure he'll be pushing that bill. And I think the Endangered Species Act, there may be a concerted effort by those Western conservatives to try to weaken that. For example, by adding a provision that when a species is being listed as endangered, that the economic impacts of that decision would have to be taken into effect. Right now the decision is made purely on science.
CURWOOD: Now, with the change in the majorities in both houses, the committee chairs are changing. From what we know now, Dale, who do you think will be the major players here?
CURTIS: Well I'm watching particularly 2 committees. On the Senate side, the Environment Committee, Senator John Chafee from Rhode Island is in line to become the chair. However, he worked fairly closely with the Clinton Administration on the crime bill and on the health care bill in the last session, and there's rumor that some Conservatives might want to punish him for that and deny him the chairmanship of the Environment Committee. Now, Chafee is a favorite of the enviros, works together with them quite effectively. So that would be significant. If Chafee doesn't get it, the next guy in line is Alan Simpson of Wyoming, and further down the list others who are equally conservative. So that's one to watch. The other key one to watch on the House side, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the gentleman who's in line to become chairman is Carlos Moorhead of California. However, he might go for the Judiciary Committee, which would leave it open for Tom Bliley of Virginia. Both of them less sympathetic even than the current chairman, John Dingell of Michigan, who's well known as an advocate of the automobile industry. And I might also add the House Public Works Committee, which has some jurisdiction over Superfund and jurisdiction over Clean Water. The guy who's in line to become the chairman there is Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania and he got a zero rating from the League of Conservation Voters.
CURWOOD: The Farm Bill is up for consideration by the next Congress. There has been some talk of using it to enact some conservation reforms. What do you think of the prospects for that now?
CURTIS: Well you're almost certain to see a farm bill pass in the 104th Congress, and the environmental community have been talking over the last several months about focusing a lot of their efforts on that bill, because it's a way to address water pollution, pesticide regulations, and wetlands conservation in agricultural areas. There's a long tradition of bipartisanship on the Farm Bill, and an orientation towards the agriculture industry, and I think that will continue to be the case and it'll be even tougher for the environmental community to use that as a vehicle to push their agenda.
CURWOOD: Anything in general you see coming now with this new alignment of Congress that will be of special concern?
CURTIS: Well I think an issue that is not typically thought of as an environmental issue, but which would have significant implications, is the Balanced Budget Amendment. I think that's something that the Republican leadership will bring up very early on. I think it's likely to pass. I think there's a better than even odds that it will pass the requisite number of states to become a part of the Constitution. And if that does occur, there's only a couple of ways to balance the budget. One is to raise taxes and we know how popular that is. Another is to cut Social Security and the big expensive entitlement programs, and that's equally difficult politically. And the remaining option is to cut discretionary spending, things like environmental programs. So that's something that I think is worth keeping an eye on.
CURWOOD: Why do you think that would energize the environmental community?
CURTIS: Well, it's been a while since the environmental community had an enemy to run against. Reagan and Bush Administrations served that purpose. When the Clinton Administration came in, there was kind of a drop-off in terms of the membership of some of the groups, and one of the possible explanations is that the people didn't feel as threatened. And now, with a Republican Congress, I think the environmental community can use that to energize their base, use it in fundraising appeals and so forth.
CURWOOD: Let me check that now with a gentleman who's joined you there in the studios at NPR, Dan Weiss. He's political director of the Sierra Club. Hello, Dan.
WEISS: How are you?
CURWOOD: Now Dan, 2 years ago, you and other environmental activists had pretty high hopes with Clinton in the White House and a Democratic Congress. But there's not been a whole lot that's happened in terms of environmental legislation. So tell me, with the President alone, do you feel that things have gone from bad to worse?
WEISS: Well first of all, it's important to note that environmental protection traditionally has not been a partisan issue but an American issue. The Clean Air Act of 1990, for example, one of the strongest environmental laws we have, had significant contributions from people like Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island, Congressman Sherry Bolard of New York. We hope that that bipartisan spirit will continue when it comes to environmental protection. That being said, we are concerned that the expected chairmen of the environmental committees all have terrible environmental voting records. All of them on the House side have voted against the environment 90 to 100% of the time. The only exception to that is John Chafee on the Senate side, who is one of the true leaders of the environment in Congress.
CURWOOD: So, what are you going to do in this particular climate? Do you have some priorities?
WEISS: Well first, there are some areas where we've got a high degree of consensus between industry and environment and between folks of both parties, like on reforming the Superfund Toxic Waste Program. Hopefully, those consensus will move forward and that we'll be able to actually enact that into law. On the other hand, if Senator Dole and Representative Gingrich take the voting results as a green light to move backwards by undoing existing public health and environmental protections, then we plan on fighting them tooth and nail.
CURWOOD: Dale, you worked on environmental policy in the Bush White House, and at that time you had the same situation that the Clinton Administration has. The White House in one party, both Houses in the other. From your experience back then, is there anything that you would suggest as lessons to the Clinton White House?
CURTIS: Well, I'm sad to say it, but I'm afraid that anyone in the Clinton Administration who wants to push through some sort of constructive change is going to get very frustrated. I'm afraid there is going to be continuing gridlock in the political process. It's a lot easier to stop things than it is to push things through. And it's almost as though the whole game is rigged against the President; whether he's Clinton or Bush, he'll get attacked whether he moves to the left or to the right. Now, where I think President Clinton can avoid the mistakes of the Bush Administration is by being persistent on that agenda. I think too often, during the latter part of the Bush Administration, we ran away from environmental issues because some people felt they had nothing to gain politically from pushing an environmental agenda, and I think that contributed to President Bush's defeat in 1992.
CURWOOD: So you're saying over the long run, that Clinton should take the risk to support environmental issues because you think it would help his re-election bid.
CURTIS: I do, and I've got to say I think there's more continuity than discontinuity between President Bush and President Clinton on environmental policy. Clearly, with Clinton, any environmental program has to pass the test that it's going to create jobs, going to help the economy. So there ought to be a way to package his environmental agenda with that in mind, and gain some bipartisan support.
CURWOOD: I want to thank you both for joining us. Dale Curtis, publisher of Greenwire, and Dan Weiss, political director for the Sierra Club. Thank you.
CURTIS AND WEISS: Thank you.
CURWOOD: What do you think of the Republican sweep? Is there a new mandate for a conservative approach to environmental issues? Give us a call on our listener comment line at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or you can write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. Transcripts and tapes are $10.
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CURWOOD: Few of this fall's elections turned exclusively on the environment. But in the West, environmental and resource issues are often in the forefront, and they played a significant role in an number of the contests this year. The environment may have been most prominent in Idaho, where the conservative wave turned away an incumbent Democratic member of Congress and a Democrat seeking to maintain his party's hold on the Governor's office. Jyl Hoyt of member station KBSU reports from Boise.
HOYT: Logging, mining, wilderness designation, and the recovery of Idaho's wild salmon populations were at the heart of Idaho's Governor and First Congressional races. Two-term Democratic incumbent Larry LaRocco had introduced a Wilderness Bill and advocated helping salmon recover. LaRocco lost to Helen Chenoweth, a Republican with Christian Coalition support, who opposes any more wilderness designation and insists that salmon are not endangered because she can buy them in cans at the store. Steve Shaw teaches political science at Idaho's Northwest Nazarene College.
SHAW: Chenoweth reflects this kind of war on the West mentality that the West is under siege by the Clinton Administration. You know, attempted mining reform, grazing fees.
HOYT: Shaw predicts Chenoweth and other Congressional Republicans will stop mining reform, block new government regulation, and try to undo existing laws such as the Endangered Species Act. In the Governor's race, Democratic Candidate Larry EchoHawk often drew on his Native American heritage while campaigning for salmon recovery. He lost to Republican Phil Batt, a 67-year-old onion farmer who says he'll consider agricultural irrigation and timber harvesting before salmon recovery. Analyst Steve Shaw.
SHAW: I think those in the natural resource and, say, salmon recovery conservation camp, if you will, are in for a long haul now.
HOYT: Much depends on what agenda the new wave of Republican office holders pursue. Boise State University political scientist John Freemuth says Republicans in Idaho and the nation could choose to redefine the environmental debate, and combine stewardship of natural resources with economic development. Or do the opposite, and try to do such things as deauthorize national parks or wilderness areas.
FREEMUTH: The Republicans, if they want to go into kind of anti-environmental rhetoric, may find that the American people still support environmental protection. They just want it done more intelligently.
HOYT: Protecting Idaho's environment, whose beauty brings in thousands of tourists each year, is not necessarily at odds with economic development. Idaho's economy is among the strongest in the nation, which should favor incumbents. But not this election. University of Idaho political scientist Florence Heffron.
HEFFRON: The population is increasing, there is an influx of people coming from the outside. We're just bombarded, you know, by technological change. And I think change always makes people anxious and afraid. They don't necessarily know what the source of that is; they just strike out at the first target.
HOYT: And the first target in Idaho, as in the nation, was the Democratic status quo. For Living on Earth, I'm Jill Hoyt in Boise.
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CURWOOD: One in nine. That's the number of women who develop breast cancer in the United States, and it's also the name of one of the more than 70 grassroots organizations that are turning to the political system for action on this devastating disease. In recent years, numerous studies have shown an environmental link to breast cancer, with questions raised about nuclear radiation, electromagnetic fields, pesticides, and plastics. Breast cancer activists and scientists are pushing for more money for research into these risks, but they're also pushing for action to eliminate them now. They argue that by the time the relationship of these risks to breast cancer is fully understood, many more women will have lost their lives. Reporter Tatiana Schreiber attended a recent gathering of these activists in Boston, led by former Congresswoman Bella Abzug.
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SCHREIBER: The statistics are grim: a half million women died of breast cancer worldwide in 1980, and that number's expected to double by the year 2000. A million women dying each year and activists say the science isn't keeping up with the need to act.
ABZUG: We have to commit our own tax dollars to research, to prevention, to the life and the health of everybody in this country, certainly the many who are now at risk. We demand of our government immediate responses to take care of the continuing the civilization of which we are at least 50%. [Applause]
SCHREIBER: Bella Abzug, former Congress member and co-chair of the Women's Environment and Development Organization, hosted a day of testimony at the State House in Boston, followed by a day of science and activism focused on environmental links to breast cancer. Those links include chemicals and pesticides and plastics, radiation from nuclear power plants, hormones added to food, and electromagnetic fields. Early last year, Abzug held a similar hearing in New York City, in part because of pressure from activists on Long Island. Three months later, Abzug learned she herself had breast cancer.
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SCHREIBER: Rhoda Schaeffer brought her experience with the Long Island group One in Nine to the Boston meeting. She told the 300-plus audience about the group's first demonstrations in 1990.
SCHAEFFER: Four hundred women stood on the steps of the Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola, New York. Women marching with their wigs on broomsticks, and we appeared on the front page of Newsday the next day: where do we go next? So that was in 1990...
SCHREIBER: What they did next was push for money to study environmental exposures that might be contributing to breast and other cancers. Grassroots groups like One In Nine are pushing for this kind of research, because the known risk factors for breast cancer, including diet, family history, early menstruation and late menopause, only account for 20 to 30% of the cases. The majority are unexplained. But while the incidence continues to rise, most dramatically in older women, there's been little evidence pointing to external causes. That's now beginning to change. A series of studies have found an association between breast cancer and chemicals that affect the body's endocrine system. New studies also suggest that electrical workers and others exposed to electromagnetic fields may be at higher risk, and several of the scientists involved in these studies are speaking out.
SOTO: I'm honored to speak here today. For the last 20 years we have been studying the mechanism by which female hormones, estrogens, promote tumor growth. As part of this research.
SCHREIBER: Dr. Ana Soto, a breast cancer researcher at Tufts University Medical School, testified at the State House hearing that she and her colleagues had unexpectedly discovered that new plastic test tubes were leaching chemicals into their samples of breast cells, causing the cells to grow.
SOTO: To our surprise, this chemical, called nonylphenol, is used in plastic products and may contaminate foods during processing or packaging. In addition, these estrogens, alkylphenols, are used in a variety of applications: as industrial detergents, in cosmetics, as condom lubricants, and as spermicidal foams. Due to the accumulative effects of estrogens and the variety of estrogens present in the environment, I will stress the necessity of screening chemicals for their hormone-like properties before they are released into the environment.
SCHREIBER: An official from the Food and Drug Administration asked Dr. Soto if her results have been reported to the FDA. She responded that yes, they had written a letter to the Department in 1988 to express their concerns, but no action had been taken. The FDA official, Joe Rawlinitis, defended his agency's testing methods.
RAWLINITIS: We have laws and testing procedures in effect which have worked since 1906 pretty effectively. And yes, I strongly enforce strict regulation of pesticides. As to the future, as to accumulative effects, unfortunately in some cases studies are not always foolproof. Science has its limitations.
SCHREIBER: That's just what worries the activists who say this really isn't a scientific issue. Since we can never have 100% scientific certainty, they say, and because current testing can't account for the combined effects of all the different chemicals we are exposed to in our food and water, any harmful substance that persists in the environment should be withdrawn from use. Chlorine-based products are a first target of that campaign. A public relations firm hired by the Chlorine Manufacturers Association deluged reporters at the conference with materials downplaying the dangers of environmental pollutants. Ana Soto agrees that all the evidence isn't in. But she thinks it's not too early to take protective measures against the threat of cumulative exposures from millions of pounds of industrial chemicals. She's most worried about the long-term effects of hormone-like chemicals on human reproduction.
SOTO: What are you going to tell your son, if your son cannot reproduce or your daughter? So it's up to us as human, as citizens of the world to decide whether we want to continue this or not.
SCHREIBER: Sponsors of the Boston conference say they want to redefine breast cancer as an environmental issue. With dozens of other groups, they formed Rachel's Children, an international network named in honor of Rachel Carson, to redirect research toward breast cancer cause and prevention, and to work for the elimination of hazards that undermine women's health. For Living on Earth, I'm Tatiana Schreiber in Boston.
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Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, and is produced at the studios of WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
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