Air Date: January 20, 1995
An Overview of the 104th Congress
Host Jan Nunley reviews some possible environmental policy changes likely under the new Republican Congressional majority and the Contract With America. (05:39)
A Newcomer's View/ Linda Smith
Newly elected Congresswoman Linda Smith of Washington State discusses her priorities on environmental policy with Steve Curwood. Smith, a Republican, she believes in stronger property rights and a weakened Endangered Species Act. (06:03)
Slow and Steady in the Senate/ Peter Thomson
Veteran Republican Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont says there are definitely some changes on the horizon for environmental laws. But Jeffords, who has just become head of the Senate Environment Committee, tells Peter Thomson, there are enough moderate Republicans like him to keep environmental protection strong. (06:20)
Listeners Speak Up
Last week's show on the intimidation of environmentalists resulted in a lot of reaction as well as some first hand reports of similar incidents from listeners. (03:40)
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: Jan Nunley
NEWSCASTER: Kim Motylewski
INTERVIEWERS: Steve Curwood, Peter Thomson
REPORTER: Jeff Rice
GUESTS: Linda Smith, Jim Jeffords
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NUNLEY: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley.
The new Republican majority in Congress has liberalism on the run in Washington and some say environmentalism is on the run as well.
TAYLOR: The environmental lobby is in a state of denial, I think, about how little clout they really have with the American people. That's the real, uh, that's the real political commodity of trade in Washington. And the environmentalists are broke.
NUNLEY: Not all Republicans want to make big changes in environmental policy. One GOP senator says he and other moderates will fight to preserve environmental protections, but that it will be a tough battle.
JEFFORDS: But unless the environmental leaders out in the public get active and really mobilize, we could have a hard time trying to ensure that a lot of damage isn't done to the environmental laws.
NUNLEY: The Republican Congress and the environment this week on Living on Earth; first this news.
MOTYLEWSKI: From Living on Earth, I'm Kim Motylewski. Federal officials say they've broken up a major chlorofluorocarbon smuggling ring. Two men were indicted in Florida for smuggling 126 tons of the refrigerant CFC-12, a prime culprit in depletion of the ozone layer. If convicted, the pair face up to 20 years in prison and more than $2 million in fines. Black market demand for CFC-12 has been growing, even though its production and importation is still legal until the end of this year. That's because the government has imposed hefty taxes on the product, aimed at hastening its phase-out. Starting next year, only existing stocks of the chemical will be legal to use.
The San Diego Zoo has won permission to import 2 giant pandas from China, despite a US ban. The ban is aimed at discouraging poachers who might otherwise be encouraged by a US market. Interior secretary Bruce Babbitt approved the application because the zoo plans to fund protection and expansion of the bear's habitat. Shi Shi, a 13-year-old male, and Bai-Yin, a 3-year-old female, will be only the second pair of pandas imported to the US. Researchers say there are only 1,000 of the bears left in the wild.
Honda Motor Company's announcement of an engine reducing tailpipe emissions by 90% has been met with skepticism by the American auto industry. Representatives from Detroit's Big Three car makers call the announcement premature, saying the engine is merely a prototype and not ready to be mass produced. Reg Modlin of Chrysler.
MODLIN: Producing one at a time is not really the issue. The issue is, can you produce that, and then be able to reproduce the technology millions of times over to satisfy a public demand for these cars?
MOTYLEWSKI: American car companies had previously said that low emission engines would be prohibitively expensive. But Honda estimates the motor will add no more than $1,000 to the sticker price. Honda's engine would be the first to meet California's ultra-low emissions standards without using natural gas.
The General Accounting Office says the Army's chemical weapons stockpile poses a significant and increasing hazard over the next decade. The weapons are stored at sites across the country and await incineration at the much criticized Tooele Base in Utah. From KUER in Salt Lake City, Jeff Rice reports.
RICE: The storage of leaky M55 rockets is of particular concern to the GAO. The report warns that as these 30-year-old rocks begin to corrode, internal leaks may cause the rockets to combust and explode. Nearly 2,000 M55 rockets carrying the deadly nerve agent GB are already leaking externally, but are sealed in airtight storage silos. The GAO also criticized the Army for relying on old data and for having no contingency plan for emergency disposal of the rockets. The Army said it felt there was no significant threat of the rockets exploding, but would be studying the GAO's findings further. The bulk of the rockets are stored at the Tooele Army Base 30 miles west of Salt Lake City. Steve Erickson, spokesman for the citizens' watchdog group Utah Down Winders, called for increased scrutiny of storage safety. He is disturbed by the specter of an explosion of nerve agents that are deadly in quantities as small as the head of a pin.
ERICKSON: The worst case scenario for explosion and dynamic release, if you will, of nerve agent from the Tooele Army depot is that 20,000 people will wind up dead. So we're talking about a high stakes gamble here.
RICE: The Army hopes to have a more detailed study of the rockets' stability within 6 months. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Rice in Salt Lake City.
MOTYLEWSKI: The EPA will allow one of the most toxic farm chemicals to remain in use despite its link to at least 5 deaths. Application of the pesticide Phosdrin was to have ended next month. Now, the product will remain in use and on the market until the end of November. The EPA says Phosdrin poses a severe risk to farm workers' health, but the extension was granted because farmers have so much of it on hand. The Agency hopes continued use under much stricter rules will be safer than leaving large amounts of it in barns and warehouses.
The over-harvesting of natural resources is taking an increasing toll on the world's economy, according to a World Watch Institute almanac. This year's edition of State of the World says every major oceanic fishery is now being used at or beyond capacity, resulting in the collapse of many local economies. And for the first time, seafood now costs as much as beef in many developing countries. The book also highlights the growing number of nations which once had native logging industries and now must import wood. The authors maintain the resulting decrease in economic output has meant an increase in political instability. However, the book's authors also see hope in 2 new global agreements: on population, and World Bank environmental funding.
That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Kim Motylewski.
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NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley, in this week for Steve Curwood. The 104th Congress has hit the ground running, racing to make good on Republican promises to reduce the size and scope of the Federal Government. And that could mean big changes for environmental policy. Many conservatives see the recent elections as a mandate for major changes in the way we deal with environmental issues. Others caution that when it comes to the environment, voters don't want to stray far from the status quo. This week on Living on Earth, we'll be exploring the new majority's views on environmental policy with 2 GOP legislators: a conservative freshman representative and a moderate veteran senator. First, a sampling of opinion from the pundits.
It's important to note that the environment hardly gained a mention in last fall's elections. The word "environment" doesn't even appear in the campaign's defining document, Newt Gingrich's Contract With America. But many conservatives say the contract, and the election itself, gave voice to widespread frustration with Washington's chronic inability to deliver the goods it promises, including protecting the environment. Jerry Taylor is a resource analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank with close ties to conservative Republicans.
TAYLOR: The Federal Government can't grow corn very well. It can't deliver the mail very well. It's virtually incapable at doing anything about poverty in our cities. Yet somehow we expect it to micro-manage thousands of different eco-systems. I think that that idea, frankly, collides with everything we know about government action. And I think the voters realize it.
NUNLEY: One part of the contract that may have the biggest impact on environmental legislation is a promise to end unfunded Federal mandates. Bills to end mandates imposed but not funded by Washington were the first issue on which both House and Senate took action. They rushed through committee hearings at lightning speed in the session's first weeks. Other elements of the GOP contract could have serious consequences for the environment. Conservative Republicans want to strengthen the rights of private property owners over public interest restrictions such as protections for endangered species or wetlands. And that includes payment to land owners for nearly any infringement on the use of their property caused by government action. Conservatives also want to weigh new Federal environmental regulations in the exacting scale of risk assessment, with Federal agencies such as the EPA required to balance the benefits of every new regulation against its likely burdens.
An extraordinary amount of environmental legislation awaits action this session. The Clean Water Act, the Farm Bill, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Magnuson Fisheries Act are only a few of those up for reauthorization. But they may be upstaged by two main issues. John Shanahan of the influential conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation.
SHANAHAN: I think the two laws that you're going to see pushed early on are reforms made to Endangered Species and Superfund. There will also be some movement towards oversight in changes in the Clean Air Act in terms of the way it's implemented, but I think that that's a back seat to the concepts of Superfund and the Endangered Species, which are very important to both conservatives and environmentalists.
NUNLEY: Of course, the down and dirty battles over environmental issues will be fought in the halls and committee hearing rooms of Congress. And the battle lines may be drawn not so much between Republicans and Democrats as between the Republican House and the Republican Senate. GOP moderates make up key voting blocks in both houses, but there are significant differences in the leadership. The Cato Institute's Jerry Taylor.
TAYLOR: I think the House whip Tom DeLay is one of the major players in the environmental scene. Tom is a Republican, of course, from Texas. He used to be a small businessman. And he feels about environmental regulations the way the Cambodian people probably feel about Pol Pot. He's very suspicious of them and very hostile. In the Senate side I think John Chafee's the key player. The environmentalists had probably more to agree with about, with John Chafee than they did with the Democrats.
NUNLEY: Now, among the chief players will be 2 members from Alaska, Senator Frank Murkowski and Representative Don Young. Both are conservatives heading important environmental committees, and both favor opening up the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration. Ultimately, the fate of all these concerns may rest on how influential lawmakers read the results of November's elections. Opponents say the GOP proposals could dismantle old laws and hamstring new environmental initiatives. And they point to polls suggesting that despite the GOP sweep, voters may side with environmentalists who criticize the contract. In last fall's elections, nearly every ballot initiative aimed at reducing environmental regulation failed. And a recent Newsweek poll found 73% of voters opposed eliminating or weakening environmental laws. William Roberts of the Environmental Defense Fund says wholesale changes aren't in order.
ROBERTS: I don't necessarily think it would be right for anybody to look at the election results and say all of a sudden that the American people are against healthy air, against drinking water that's safe for their kids to drink, or against protecting some of our natural heritage. I think what they're looking for is a smart, leaner, and meaner way to do that. And I think that we're supportive of that as anybody else is.
NUNLEY: But Cato's Jerry Taylor maintains that Roberts and other environmentalists are hopelessly out of touch.
TAYLOR: The environmental lobby is in a state of denial, I think, about how little clout they really have with the American people. And that's all that matters when you're talking to a politician about a political agenda. How much clout do you have with the American people? How much support will I get at the polls for these positions? That's the real, uh, that's the real political commodity of trade in Washington. And the environmentalists are broke.
NUNLEY: Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute.
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NUNLEY: A large number of the newly elected Congressional Republicans hail from the west. In Washington State, for instance, the delegation in the House of Representatives flip-flopped from 7 Democrats and 2 Republicans to 2 Democrats and 7 Republicans. One of the newcomers is Linda Smith, who ousted 3-term incumbent Democrat Jolene Unsoeld with considerable support from the Christian Coalition and Newt Gingrich's Political Action Committee, GOPAC. Her clout with the new Republican House leadership was made clear when she landed the chairmanship of the Small Business Committee's Subcommittee on Taxation and Finance. She's the first female freshman ever to chair a subcommittee. Representative Smith has also been an outspoken critic of the Endangered Species Act and a strong supporter of Republican efforts to strengthen the rights of property owners, and she has an opportunity to act on those sentiments as a member of the House Resources Committee. She spoke with Living on Earth's Steve Curwood about her priorities for remaking environmental policy.
SMITH: I think my top priority is to bring some reasonableness back in. I think the Endangered Species Act needs to be refined. Some would say to abolish it, and I think that would be a very big mistake. We want to make sure that we protect the environment, and that at the same time we protect jobs and consider people, too. So I think the first thing that we need to do is redraft the Endangered Species Act to both protect the environment and jobs and to clarify it.
CURWOOD: Now, if the Endangered Species Act were changed, let's say, to open up more forests, wouldn't that cause a problem for salmon and the fishing industry?
SMITH: Actually, no. I think we need to protect the environment in a balanced way. And what happens when you don't, when you have a weak act like the Endangered Species Act, is nothing really gets protected because all you do is react.
CURWOOD: Let me ask you directly, then. Endangered Species versus the jobs for people. Let's say that if the owl weren't protected it would mean 100,000 more jobs for your district. Should the owl go?
SMITH: Well, first of all, I don't think that's a question we have to ask. I think that we've tried to do both. Which right now, all we do in our state is manage our resources by where an owl lands, or what burns. The question is, if there was one snake or one insect left, one spider, and it was the last one, and we had to consider that going extinct or a lot of people in the Columbia Gorge starving, I'd probably choose the people over that one last critter.
CURWOOD: What about property rights? The Speaker has campaigned saying, in his contract, we'd be looking at changing how the government looks at property rights. In particular, the government would be required to pay land owners any time a Federal regulation reduced the value of property by 10%. Can you explain this, and do you think the property owners should have the right to do absolutely anything they want to do with their property?
SMITH: Definitely not. We are neighbors, and we are all responsible together for living together. But on the other hand, in our state, if a land, or if an owl landed in the timber that I had grown and my family had grown, and we had put 70 years into this timber, a couple of generations, so that there was always retirement, we could take care of ourselves, but in the middle of it a set of owls landed, in our state right now the owls own the land, and nobody has to compensate us for their loss. Even though we grew it, we spent nearly millions of dollars planting those trees, and now all of a sudden the owl owns it. Now, what I would suggest in that situation is that we make sure there's a certain amount of habitat for endangered species, and in our state we have a lot of public land, and we ensure that no more than a half percent of public old growth is cut a year. Then you maintain, on a 200-year rotation, enough old growth that you have hiding habitat for them. You also maintain the place that they go hunt. They find where it has been logged the things that they eat. They don't eat in the old growth. In fact, they would starve in the old growth. And so, I think there's enough land to manage there without us stealing someone's - I do believe that the government should pay if they are going to take that land, whether it be for an owl or for some other public purpose.
CURWOOD: Some people charge that there's a - forgive me for this word - stealth, anti-environment agenda in much of the material from the contract. That indeed, if you were to take the notion of property rights or unfunded mandates or risk assessment to the extreme, that you would dismantle much of the environmental protection laws we have on the books right now. Is that a fair knock?
SMITH: Probably not. No, I think that what you have are people like me that have come out of the 60s. I was pretty well, have been an environmentalist all my life. And believed that there has to be reasonableness. And some of my colleagues that have gone off the deep end believing that they would sacrifice their neighbor, their neighbor's job, their neighbor's children - so the radicals I think in the environmental movement have probably caused some damage. And if they're making that kind of a statement, it's really too bad, because it will be real hard, then, to negotiate with such strident positioning.
CURWOOD: I want to ask you about your own environmental philosophy, and ask you if you feel that you are in synch with the Republican leadership and certainly they seem to think very highly of you. You were financially supported through GOPAC; you have a subcommittee chair. What's your personal philosophy?
SMITH: I'm not here with an agenda of the Republican Party. I'm here with an agenda of the people of Washington State. And one of the top issues in those people's minds, and especially in the Third District, was that I come and bring reasonableness back to Congress. And they don't probably know who Newt Gingrich is. But they know that Linda Smith is close to them. And so I'll be representing that view.
NUNLEY: Linda Smith is a freshman Republican Representative from Washington State. She spoke with Living on Earth's Steve Curwood.
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NUNLEY: The environmental philosophy of conservatives like Linda Smith will likely take firm hold in a House of Representatives where a strongly conservative Republican leadership can pass legislation almost at will. But it may be quite a different story in the Senate, despite the ascendance of Republicans to the majority othere as well. A sizable group of moderate Republicans holds the balance of power in the Senate, and they often vote with Democrats on environmental issues. And then there's the Filibuster rule, which essentially requires any contested bill to have a three-fifths majority or at least 60 votes to pass. Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords is one of those key moderate Republicans. He was returned to Congress in November and now serves on the Energy and Natural Resources and Appropriations Committees. Senator Jeffords told Living on Earth's Peter Thomson that the Filibuster rule could make a big difference in issues affecting the environment.
JEFFORDS: This will be protection for many sweeping reforms in the environmental movement or for environmental goals or programs or whatever, because there are only 53 Republicans and then you've got a half a dozen or up to 10 moderates who will go against some of these desires of some more conservative Republicans, plus you've got all the Democrats. So they're a long ways from 60 votes in order to pass things which are really not sitting well with many of the members of the Senate. So you won't have to worry about anything getting pushed through the Senate.
THOMSON: Do you expect to see any kind of showdown with the House on legislation that they pass and send to you, or which you pass and send to them?
JEFFORDS: I think we may. Again, getting back to just how well the moderates are able to influence the - and how close the Democrats will come towards trying to make a consensus with the Republican moderates - but then, when you get into a Presidential election, it could get very dicey and very political as we go along. And in that case, it's difficult for the moderates to work.
THOMSON: I wanted to ask you the same question we asked of Representative Smith a few moments ago. That's in regard to the criticism by some that the Contract With America amounts to a stealth environmental policy. That calls for risk-benefit analysis, banning unfunded mandates, protection of property rights, et cetera. Would amount to a wholesale rollback in environmental policy. Have you heard that criticism?
JEFFORDS: Oh, sure I have. And I think it's in the eyes of the beholder, really. I don't read it into that. And there again, the moderates will be the ones that will have the say in just how far things will go. But there are areas that you can make a good case that we should loosen up a little bit on the regulations and more flexibility for the states in particular, which I tend to agree with. Because there are different circumstances in different states. So I think that, again, it's fear on the parts of many. But all I can hope is that they will count on us, and that we will produce a reasonable consensus on some of these delicate issues and that it won't be scorch policy, whatever you want to say.
THOMSON: I want to ask you about a few specific issues. We have several large environmental bills that were stalled in the last Congress. Some of them have been stalled for quite a while, and are going to come up for reauthorization again. And over which there's been a lot of talk about the need for changes. The Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Superfund law. Do you think that this new Congress can successfully rewrite those laws which are up for reauthorization while maintaining their basic goals?
JEFFORDS: In the reauthorization area we could have some real problems. Though hopefully we can get them extended as we have traditionally. But it's going to be a very, very rough area.
THOMSON: There's been some talk coming out of the House, I believe, about actually zero funding laws which have not be reauthorized. Do you think that that's something which is likely to happen?
JEFFORDS: I think you will see that there will be an attempt to use the Appropriations Committee to do those things which can't be done in the Authorizing Committees. That's one reason I shifted to the Appropriations Committee this year, because I recognize that with Mark Hatfield and Arlen Specter and myself on there, 3 pretty good moderates, it will be very difficult to de-fund things if we can work with the other side of the aisle. Then the House side, I think it may be quite different. Again, getting back to the power that the Speaker and the Chairman have over there, again I think you're going to have to be looking to the Senate to try and get these things. Then you're going to go to conference, and it's going to be tough.
THOMSON: Well, do you think, for instance, that we might see an Endangered Species Act which is reauthorized, but with no funding to back it up?
JEFFORDS: Well, that's quite possible. I would hope not. But again, of course, the basic laws will be established, and then it'll be up to the environmental community to bring whatever private legal actions they can to try and enforce the Acts. I hope it doesn't work that way.
THOMSON: As far as the environment is concerned, what do you think will have to happen in this 104th Congress for it to have been a success?
JEFFORDS: First of all, the public's going to have to speak out as never before, and I speak, of course, [of] primarily the environmental members. Just as a word of wisdom, I notice that even in my Vermont, which is considered one of the most environmentally pro-active states in the nation, that the concern on the environment was hardly on the radar screen this past election. And that concerns me greatly, because there has been sort of a lulling of the feelings about some of these environmental matters, and concern that we've gone to far. So unless the environmental leaders out in the public get active and really mobilize, we could have a hard time trying to ensure that a lot of damage isn't' done to the environmental laws.
NUNLEY: Vermont Republican Jim Jeffords is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources and Appropriations Committees. He spoke with Living on Earth's Peter Thomson.
What course do you think Congress should chart on the environment? Give us a call on our listener comment line at 1-800-218-9988.
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CHAMON: This is Julie Chamon from Port Townsend, Washington. I've just finished listening to your, um, threat on the greens and your interview about War Against the Greens. And I want to confirm that that book is telling it the way we're experiencing it here in Jefferson County. We have had people in public meetings stand up and threaten to shoot people through the head, take them outside and beat them up, and various and sundry other abuses, poisoning of dogs.
NUNLEY: That's one of the many responses we received to our recent program exploring charges of violence and intimidation directed against environmental activists. We spoke in that program with investigative journalist David Helvarg, who has detailed many of the charges in his book, War Against the Greens. Joy Toles Cummings from Taylor County, Florida, called in with this comment.
CUMMINGS: I live in a dioxin contaminated, chlorine bleaching pulp mill community, where the water, air, soil, fish, and wildlife have been poisoned by the pulp mills' organochlorine toxics for the past 40 years. Many members of my environmental group, Hope, have been threatened, shunned, and antagonized by the pollution supporters here. One of our members was beaten, raped, and told that she would be killed if she didn't stop seeking clean water. And we're in David's book, and we'd like to thank him for exposing this widespread situation. Of course, such violence is directed at us to try to scare us into being quiet about the pollution, which of course we will not be quiet. We will continue to oppose pollution and will become louder, and better at educating people about dioxin and organochlorines, and environmental degradation.
NUNLEY: Author David Helvarg laid responsibility for much of the atmosphere of fear at the feet of the growing Wise Use Movement. We spoke about that with Wise Use leader Charles Cushman. Mr. Cushman denied that his movement was fomenting violence, and called the charges a new level of McCarthyism. But he said he could understand why residents of some resource-dependent communities might feel moved to threats and violence. That brought this comment from Robert Payton of Oakland, California.
PAYTON: I think that in part we need to take some lessons for the Environmental Justice Movement, that have tried to challenge environmentalists to bring humans back into the environmental agenda. And I think maybe in part that the Wise Use Movement is reaping seeds that have been sown by environmentalists. And we've seen successful organizing between environmentalists and labor, for instance. Recognizing that these communities are our allies and not enemies.
NUNLEY: Our phone number, again, is 1-800-218-9988. Our Internet address is LOE@NPR.ORG, and our postal address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $10.
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NUNLEY: Living on Earth's production team includes Constantine Von Hoffman, Julia Madeson, Jessika Bella Mura, David Dunlap, Heather Corson, Molly Glidden, and Amy Roe. The associate producer is Kim Motylewski, the coordinating producer is George Homsy, and the director is Deborah Stavro. The program is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. Special thanks this week to Jim Donahue. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Keith Shields and Frank DeAngelis. Michael Aharon composed our theme.
Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, and is recorded at the studios of WBUR, Boston. The executive producer is Steve Curwood, who will be back next week. I'm Jan Nunley.
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