Air Date: October 23, 1998
Maryland Politics: Republicans Play Catch-Up/ Meghan Cox Gurdon
In the eyes of his constituents, Maryland's incumbent Governor Parris Glendening leads on environmental issues against his opponent Ellen Saurbrey. So in a tight race, Glendening is stressing his environmental achievements, with special emphasis on combating the sprawl of communities. Even the Governor's republican critics acknowledge that his is a good political strategy. Meghan Cox Gurdon has the story. (07:40)
Steve Curwood talks with syndicated reporter Neal Pearce about who is looking at sprawl as a political issue, and why. Pearce indicates that an unusual trinity of urban and inner suburban dwellers, along with businesses, and environmentalists all seem to stake a claim on the issue. (04:00)
San Francisco Bay Bridge Blues/ Peter Thomson
In California, there's a proposed referendum to take part of the San Francisco Bay Bridge away from auto lanes for mass transit. The debate ensues while the bridge continues to undergo reconstruction following the earthquake of a decade ago. Living on Earth's senior correspondent Peter Thomson reports on the varying viewpoints towards decongesting one of America's busiest, and most scenic, roadways. (08:40)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about... the scientific experiment, Biosphere 2. (01:30)
Panama's Litter of Yankee Armaments/ Joe Rubin
As the U.S. prepares to return the canal which bears its country's namesake to Panama, Panamanians are expressing their concerns that the Yankees are also leaving behind the dangerous litter of lethal armaments from their war exercises. Joe Rubin prepared this report. (08:30)
Plutonium, To Canada or Bust/ Suzanne Elston
Canadian commentator Suzanne Elston ponders her country's willingness to receive shipments of plutonium for nuclear reactor use testing from the U.S. Department of Energy. Ms. Elston is a syndicated columnist who lives in Courtice, Ontario, and she comes to us by way of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium. (02:25)
We check in with recent responses on our inquiry into some of the motivating forces behind war, plastics plant placement, and uranium extraction. (02:30)
Presenting Mister Schumer/ Beth Fertig
In the U.S. Senate race in New York, current Representative Charles Schumer is in a heated match with incumbent Senator Alfonse D'Amato. Following on from our piece on Senator D'Amato's environmental record a few weeks ago, Beth Fertig of member station W-N-Y-C has this piece on Representative Schumer's sixteen year enviro record. (03:00)
New York Gubernatorial Candidate "Grandpa" Al
teve Curwood speaks with Al Lewis, the Green Party candidate for Governor of New York. At age 88, Al Lewis is best known for his television character of Grandpa in the 1960's spoof "The Munsters." Like other actors turned politician, Lewis' visibility may help to bolster his party's visibility and election chances. ()
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Meghan Cox Gurdon, Peter Thomson, Joe Rubin, Beth Fertig
GUESTS: Neal Pearce, Al Lewis, Craig Seamon
COMMENTATOR: Suzanne Elston
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
As Democrats capture votes with a perceived environmental friendliness, a new coalition of Republicans is calling for a free-market approach to ecological protection.
NORQUIST: We reject your idea that state-sponsored edict, one size fits all economic fascism is good for the environment. It's wrong; it's bad for the environment.
CURWOOD: Also, a pundit predicts a growing backlash against sprawl and congestion. And a bid to put trains back on the bridge that links San Francisco and Oakland is stirring up deep political passions.
DEAN: If future generations look back at us and they wonder who the idiots were that didn't make the right decisions about mass transit, that's a terrible legacy.
CURWOOD: This week on Living on Earth, but first this hour's news.
(NPR News follows)
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
Voters will soon head to the polls to pick the 106th Congress and many state and local offices. In Maryland, Governor Parris Glendening is in a tight race with his GOP challenger Ellen Saurbrey. The Governor has been campaigning heavily on his environmental achievements, one area where the Democrat feels there's a clear difference. As Meghan Cox Gurdon reports, the questions about Ellen Saurbrey's environmental record illuminate a larger debate within Republican ranks: how to repair the party's image as environmentally ruinous rogue elephants.
(Bluegrass Country music plays)
GURDON: On a cool autumn day Maryland Governor Parris Glendening opens a new public trail on an old railway bed. The outdoor setting is a picture- perfect backdrop for a Democrat who's risen to national prominence on his environmental record.
GLENDENING: I really, truly care about the quality of life, and we're not willing to sacrifice that investment in the quality of life and especially in these very, very good economic times that the nation and the state are experiencing.
GURDON: Governor Glendening is leaning heavily on his reputation as a fearless defender of Maryland's outdoors. He's been endorsed by major environmental groups, which applaud, among other measures, his decision to close 3 state rivers last year when an outbreak of the toxic microbe Pfiesteria threatened the Chesapeake Bay.
GLENDENING: The environment has become very important today because of things like the Pfiesteria outbreak, because of the excess of sprawl that is destroying our open space. And it has always been a major issue in Maryland. It's also very important, though, because there's probably not a more stark contrast between 2 different records.
GURDON: To sharpen the contrast between his record and that of his Republican challenger, Maryland legislator Ellen Saurbrey, Governor Glendening recently stepped up his media excoriation of Mrs. Saurbrey's environmental wrongdoing.
(Dramatic music and voice-over: "In the legislature Saurbrey voted against banning phosphates. Against the Clean Air Act. Even against penalties for oil spills in the Bay. The League of Conservation..." Fade to a phone ringing)
WILKINSON: Thank you. Good evening, Ellen Saurbrey for Governor. This is Tom Wilkinson. How can I help you?
(A copier runs)
GURDON: At Ellen Saurbrey's campaign headquarters, an ailing copier pushes out press releases laying out her environmental goals, such as seeding Chesapeake Bay with disease-resistant oysters to help filter the water. Mrs. Saurbrey claims Governor Glendening is grossly distorting her environmental record, highlighting a handful of highly controversial votes from her 16 years in the Maryland legislature.
SAURBREY: You don't have the time to go on television and rebut, point by point, why these votes were cast. And often bills have titles that sound good, but they include things that most people would have great difficulty believing are the right things to do.
GURDON: A week ago, Mrs. Saurbrey parried the Governor's attacks by publicizing a development he's proposed on environmentally-sensitive land. But otherwise, the Democrat has controlled the environmental debate. Here in Maryland and across the nation, that's a special problem for Republicans. For when pollsters asked the public who it thinks cares most about the environment, the public says Democrats.
HAYDEN: Republicans have not, except for a few of us, embraced the environment and conservation as we should have.
GURDON: Mike Hayden is a former Republican Governor of Kansas and the new chairman of the League of Conservation Voters.
HAYDEN: So it's partially our fault. It's also smart politics on the part of the Democrats to elevate their environmental record while chastising the environmental accomplishments of Republicans.
(Breezes blowing and birds chirping)
GURDON: And Republicans do have an environmental legacy. I'm standing right now on a small part of it here in Washington, DC. This is Roosevelt Island, a leafy nature reserve just across the Potomac River from the Kennedy Center. The island is a memorial to Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, who dramatically expanded the National Parks system. President Eisenhower, another Republican, created the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And Presidents Nixon and Bush respectively signed into law the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts.
Yet the image of Republicans in the pockets of plutocrats and polluters endures, and with recent justification, according to Steve Cochran, legislative director at the Environmental Defense Fund.
COCHRAN: Perception is very strong, but perception is fueled by the reality of the very strong anti-environmental efforts that occurred in the 104th Congress in 1995. Taking some flight again because of some of the efforts that are going on now at the end of the Congress. So there is some reality to the perception.
GURDON: The efforts Mr. Cochran mentions are dozens of anti-environmental riders some Republican members of Congress attached to this fall's budget proposals. Meanwhile, the Congressional leadership has launched a new effort called the Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates, or CREA. Its national co-chair, Grover Norquist, says the environment as an issue is ripe for an ideological shake-up.
NORQUIST: We reject your idea that state-sponsored edict, one size fits all economic fascism is good for the environment. It's wrong; it's bad for the environment.
GURDON: Mr. Norquist says CREA will trumpet Republican environmental achievements and promote what he calls a more rational debate.
NORQUIST: Take a look at the difference between prosperous countries with property rights and economic growth and free trade, and countries in the Third World that don't have property rights and don't have economic growth and don't have free trade, and you ask me which one has safer drinking water and safer food and a more healthy environment.
GURDON: But CREA is not the only GOP group trying to burnish the party's image on the environment. In Congress, Republican Representative Sherry Boehert of New York and his Senate ally John Chaffee of Rhode Island have funneled through their Political Action Committee, the TR Fund, about $100,000 to help elect environmentally-minded Republicans. Boehlert says he's seen a dramatic increase in the number of Republicans willing to toe a more moderate environmental line, since a vote he particularly remembers back in early 1995.
BOEHLERT: There was a bill that was advanced. It sounded very good. The generic name was Regulatory Reform. Now, who would be opposed to reforming needless regulations? Well, the answer is, as you began to look, examine the provisions of that bill, one quickly discovered it was not a good bill in terms of the environment. We had 2 Republicans that voted against that bill: Christopher Shays of Connecticut and me. Fast-forward. Now, every time we have a test on a key environmental issue, I get anywhere from 60 to 80 Republicans voting with our bloc to protect the environment.
GURDON: The GOP is clearly wrestling with how to handle its approach to the environment. But the party is split between those who dismiss environmentalism as just so much tree-hugging, and those who think ecology is good for both party and country.
(A woman on a bullhorn; a man answering)
GURDON: Back in Maryland, Republican Gubernatorial challenger Ellen Saurbrey, who's on the honorary board of CREA, says Democrats have had the issue to themselves too long.
SAURBREY: I think it is important that Republicans not just continue to be playing defense on the environment. That Republicans identify things that we care about and can go out and do something aggressively to pursue.
GURDON: Right now, though, Mrs. Saurbrey is concentrating on her aggressive pursuit of the Governor's job. And polls suggest she has a strong chance of taking it. Which is why Parris Glendening is getting some help from the White House.
MRS. CLINTON: Oh, thank you.
GURDON: In the serene and smiling person of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who shares the Governor's enthusiasm for nature trails like the one being opened on this day.
(Sirens in the background)
MRS. CLINTON: You know, when we take a stroll on the BNA trail or the CNO canal, we're walking in the footsteps of people who understood clearly how important it was for all of us who live in an urban environment, like we can hear (audience laughter amidst the sirens), to get out and be able to enjoy nature and to do it in a way that's accessible to every person.
GURDON: Love of nature is not confined to either political party. Love of political advantage is craved by both. Which is why Republicans seem intent, if not in this election then in the next, to capture some of the green terrain now held by the Democrats. For Living on Earth, I'm Meghan Cox Gurdon.
CURWOOD: Ever since World War II, a house in the suburbs with a 2-car garage, a white picket fence, and a lush lawn has been the dream of many American families. But in much of the country, that dream is becoming a nightmare of long commutes, congestion, and unsightly development. Syndicated columnist Neal Pearce follows the sprawl issue. He says many politicians are missing out on the growing anti-sprawl revolt.
PEARCE: There are a few who are really sort of picking it up as a cause, but there are not many of those. Governor Christie Todd Whitman, Republican of New Jersey; Parris Glendening in Maryland; John Kitsauber in Oregon; Roy Roemer in Colorado. But mostly, I think that the elected leaders, just as in the early days of the Civil Rights movement, this is too hot a potato to touch, that they'll cross local office-holders who want to control everything down at that level, or that development interests will crucify them if they start to push for controls or guides on where growth will go.
CURWOOD: So, people's sentiment against unchecked development is really growing, you're saying, and something could pop loose as big as the Civil Rights movement?
PEARCE: All I can tell you, as a reporter and a correspondent who tries to listen, as I go around the country, almost anywhere where there's a group of citizens gathered together to figure what will happen with my community or my region, you hear them bemoaning the loss of open space and the traffic nightmares and how they're always promised a rainbow at the end of this path of growth. But all they get is more congestion. And you combine that with what many people feel is injustice to older cities, and now the inner suburbs, many people are noting, are being victimized by sprawl as the investment goes into rings further and further away from the traditional urban centers.
CURWOOD: Give me a little demographic profile. Who are the folks who are starting to say no to sprawl development?
PEARCE: Some of the people against it are minority communities who begin to feel that sprawl isolates their communities, foster sort of environmental racism. Some of the other folks are businesses that are becoming very concerned about long commute times, unaffordable housing for their workers. And there are also folks who believe in environmental values who see that it's going to be impossible to maintain clean air, clean water, high values within regions that sprawl indefinitely.
CURWOOD: Now, given the economics of development, can sprawl really be stopped?
PEARCE: Can we really stop the pressures outward? No. Can we try to channel growth into more compact forms? And I think the answer there has to be yes. There are immense opportunities for recycling older urban land or taking the highways filled with low-grade commercial clutter. The franchise foods and gas stations and so on. Recycling a lot of those into urban boulevards. There's the whole new urbanist movement underway in this country for planning walkable neighborhoods and communities, which actually we're finding is very favorably viewed by lots of people as a more traditional type of community. That's one reason that I believe that we don't simply have to accept the idea that we continue expanding at the very low densities of your familiar subdivision development.
CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.
PEARCE: Thank you.
CURWOOD: Neal Pearce is a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post Writers' Group.
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CURWOOD: Coming up: mass transit versus the automobile in San Francisco. Hopes for reducing congestion across the Bay Bridge. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
The San Francisco- Oakland Bay Bridge is one of the busiest sections of roadway in America. A part of the bridge collapsed in an earthquake nearly 10 years ago, and the state of California is hoping it can get it replaced before the next big quake hits. But the planning process has been contentious, and now a last-minute fight has erupted. As Living on Earth's senior correspondent Peter Thomson reports, the debate is over whether to take part of the bridge away from cars and give it to trains.
THOMSON: When a section of the Bay Bridge collapsed in the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, it threw the Bay area into chaos for weeks. The quake cut off the only direct highway link between congested San Francisco and the sprawling East Bay. But even under normal conditions, traffic rarely flows smoothly here. A day on the bridge can be one long rush hour, from before dawn until long after dark.
(Traffic and music)
THOMSON: Congestion and vulnerability to earthquakes have long been the dual plagues of the Bay Bridge. So, when talk began about replacing the quake-vulnerable part of the bridge, many people saw it as a chance to deal with congestion as well.
DEAN: We want to make sure that we've got a transit system, because mass transit can move people 10 times greater than if they're in a single occupant car.
(String quartet music plays in the background)
THOMSON: That's Shirley Dean, mayor of the city of Berkeley. She pushed to include a rail corridor in the new bridge plan, something which could carry several hundred thousand commuters a day between San Francisco and the East Bay and get almost as many cars off the bridge and off the rest of the region's highways. But when a plan for a new east span of the bridge was finally settled on earlier this year, it didn't include a rail link. The idea had been rejected as technically unfeasible and difficult to fund. So the Bay Area's bridge of the future would only be able to carry as many people as it does today. Mayor Dean was outraged.
DEAN: It's unbelievable to me that we would build a bridge of the current capacity and expect this bridge to serve the area for the next 150 years. We've just got to have some vision about how we're going to move people.
THOMSON: Now, in a last-ditch effort to revive the mass transit vision, Mayor Dean has joined her fellow mayors in San Francisco, Oakland, and the tiny city of Emeryville in sponsoring a non-binding referendum, asking voters to endorse a rail link on the bridge. Mayor Dean says the obstacles to a rail link are far from insurmountable, while congestion is strangling the Bay Area and polluting its air.
DEAN: It's an economic issue, it's an issue of quality of life for the East Bay. If future generations look back at us and they wonder who the idiots were that didn't make the right decisions about mass transit, that's a terrible legacy.
THOMSON: But opponents of the rail link think people like Mayor Dean who keep pushing the issue have lost track of the urgent need to build a new bridge.
KOPP: That bridge is not safe in the event of an earthquake.
THOMSON: San Francisco State Senator Quentin Kopp thinks it's folly to drag out the debate over the bridge any longer.
KOPP: If you stop now to redesign that new span, you're looking at a 2-year delay just for the design alone. Every day of delay places people at risk.
THOMSON: Mr. Kopp is chairman of the State Senate's Transportation Committee. He says he's a strong supporter of rail transit in general, but that after years of hearings, studies, and lobbying, this rail idea has lost. He says even if the design problems and the funding issues could be worked out, it's politically impossible, because building a rail link on the bridge would mean taking away at least 2 lanes from cars. And Senator Kopp says Bay Area drivers would never stand for that.
KOPP: It simply is infeasible to even visualize trying to do that. I've been making decisions that are based upon the will of the people as you try to gauge it together with common sense for 27 years, and I could tell you this would be the most painful process politically that I can imagine in the field of transportation.
THOMSON: Debates pitting highways against mass transit are the order of the day around the country. But this one strikes a deeper chord than usual, because many people here see the bridge project as a golden opportunity to undo a huge mistake made more than a generation ago.
(Soundtrack sounding music)
THOMSON: Newcomers to the area are often surprised to learn that when it was first built, there were trains on the Bay Bridge.
(Music continues; honking)
MAN: Let's take a little ride into history, across the bottom deck of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge via the Key System Electric Train.
THOMSON: The Key System was one of 3 train lines which once operated on the bridge.
(A train whistle blows; more music)
THOMSON: It was a streetcar line that served San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley.
NARRATOR: The first train started running through it in January 16, 1939. Here comes a Key System train pulling into the terminal.
(Music continues; trains running on tracks)
THOMSON: Key System trains carried millions of commuters a year over the Bay Bridge for nearly 20 years. But by the late 50s the entire country was turning away from trains and betting its future on cars, and the Key System was shut down.
THOMSON: Today you can still detect the echo of the Key System in the broad streets of Oakland and Berkeley. A few of the old orange and silver cars even haunt the wheat fields 75 miles north of San Francisco.
(A door creaks, hydraulic sounds)
KLUVER: Come on, hop aboard here.
THOMSON: At the Western Railroad Museum in Rio Vista Junction, Bill Kluver and John Pleitnik tend to the memory of the Key System. They rode the trains as kids.
PLEITNIK: There was a great hue and cry about abandoning the trains. But at the time, you know, the freeway lobby and everybody else, they had much more say. Of course, the Key System was owned at the time by National City Corporations, which was owned by Standard Oil, Firestone Tire, and what have you. And most of their operations they got rid of the streetcars and the trains and replaced them with buses.
THOMSON: Like dozens of other lines across the country, the Bay Bridge trains succumbed to the newfound economic, political, and cultural force of the automobile and the highway industry.
PLEITNIK: People wanted to drive. I mean, as Will Rogers said, America fell in love with the automobile, and it was a seduction. And of course, we are paying for that today.
THOMSON: Time stands still on these creaky old Key cars. But since their last run over the Bay Bridge, the region has been transformed. A frenzy of growth has paved over the old tracks and built upon the depots. Even if the public wanted to bring trains back to the bridge, it would be hard to find space for them on the ground.
KOPP: You can't go back and recreate history and undo that. And so you have to embark upon new strategy.
THOMSON: State Senator Quentin Kopp says it was a mistake to stop the trains 40 years ago. But he calls the movement to bring trains back to the bridge a trolley to the past. For Senator Kopp, the way forward should build upon what's in place now. More ferry boats, more buses, and yes, more trains, but on the subway line that now runs under the Bay. But many people here feel these things just can't keep up with the region's booming population, and that the Bay Area has to make a more dramatic shift to public transportation.
(Trains running on tracks)
NARRATOR: And from Poplar Street we turn onto Twelfth Street to downtown Oakland. Poplar Street was so rough, the locals used to say, "Swing and sway on the Key System way."
THOMSON: Even if it wins, the Bay Bridge referendum won't bring back the old Key System. It may not bring any new rail service at all; it's only an advisory question. But if it does pass, it may signal that at least in the Bay Area, residents are willing to take some space back from cars, and are no longer willing to let the future of their communities be dictated by bad decisions made in the past.
NARRATOR: Here we are in the edding to the crossover at Haven's Cook. This became the end of the line for the Key System.
(Trains on tracks)
THOMSON: For Living on Earth, I'm Peter Thomson in Oakland.
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CURWOOD: It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; and Church and Dwight, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.
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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: Just ahead: Panamanians fear for the ecologically sensitive land surrounding their canal. They say the US aims to leave behind unexploded and toxic weapons when it hands over the waterway. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
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SECOND HALF HOUR
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Stonyfield Farm Yogurt, profits for the planet, supporting initiatives that protect the Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
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CURWOOD: Five years ago this month, the first people to inhabit Biosphere II emerged from their self-contained bubble world. For 2 years a crew of 4 men and 4 women were lab animals in the biggest terrarium on Earth, located on a desert hilltop north of Tucson. Biosphere II was a greenhouse of domes and pyramids enclosed over 3 acres. It contained 5 ecosystems: a rainforest, a savannah, a coral reef, a marsh, and a million-gallon ocean equipped with a beach. Biosphere II was stocked with 3,800 species of animals and plants. But within the 2 years most of its vertebrates and insects were extinct, including pollinators. The colony became infested with mites, ants, and cockroaches. At one point, an outside supply of oxygen was needed to keep the residents alive, and a strange kind of air pollution set in. The glass ceilings kept out ultraviolet rays, rays that normally destroy nitrous oxide. So, high levels of the gas more commonly known as "laughing gas" accumulated.
CURWOOD: The lessons to be drawn from Biosphere II aren't so funny. It seems that humans still don't know how to construct a completely sustainable living system. And that the loss of species signals the decline of a livable environment. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
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CURWOOD: At the beginning of the 20th century, President Teddy Roosevelt and the 57th Congress had enough political will and financial resources to complete one of the greatest engineering feats in human history, the Panama Canal. As the century comes to a close, the US is set to return the canal and surrounding lands to Panama after using them for commerce and to hold war games and test weapons. But there are complaints that the US isn't planning to leave the land quite the way it found it. Joe Rubin explains.
(Tropical bird calls and cock crows)
RUBIN: On the outskirts of Panama City, in the squatter community of Cerro Sylvestre, Algis Amores sits outside his makeshift concrete block home and tells the story that changed his life. Ten years ago Algis and 2 relatives were collecting scrap metal on a nearby US military firing range to earn a few dollars. Hidden among their daily harvest was a small unexploded mortar shell.
SAMORAS: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: He says that they had the whatever it was, they didn't know exactly at the time what it was. It was together with the cans, which they were used to just squishing with their foot, and then it just happened to explode.
RUBIN: Algis lost a leg and hand in the ensuing explosion. His cousin and brother in law were killed. According to the Panamanian Foreign Ministry, at least 200 Panamanians have been maimed and 21 killed after coming in contact with UXOs. That's what the US military calls the unexploded shells and mines that are left on firing ranges after war games or weapons tests. Military policy is to find and remove unexploded ordinances, but Panama's environment makes that a difficult task.
ELTON: You also have situation where you have this rainfall, you have very, very high temperatures. You have perfect conditions for corrosion.
RUBIN: Charlotte Elton is with the Panamanian social service organization CEASPA.
ELTON: There's a lot of washout. There's a lot of change in the terrain. The likelihood of some of these unexploded ordinance ending up somewhere different from where it first was is also very high. We have kids killed who were playing in water courses and stuff like that, not actually on the firing ranges.
(Clicking sounds; a man calls out)
RUBIN: On the edge of a lush tropical rainforest, just a mile from the banks of the Panama Canal, Marines are testing a new machine gun on the Empire Firing Range. It's one of 3 active US firing ranges in Panama, a country that served as the US military's tropical testing center for more than 80 years. Today the area that surrounds the firing ranges are the fastest-growing in Panama. About 100,000 mostly poor Panamanians live nearby. And the worry is that once the US turns over the Panama Canal and the surrounding 90,000 acres of US-controlled lands to Panama next year, people will move on the abandoned firing ranges to plant crops and search for scrap metal. Under the 1977 Panama Canal treaty, the US agreed to clear the ranges of all weapons before returning the land. Despite a 1999 deadline, clean-up operations got underway just this year. And now the Army says it plans to clean up only about 10% of the ranges. Colonel David Hunt is in charge of the treaty implementation, and he says the US effort is in line with the spirit of the document.
HUNT: The treaty states that we will do, prior to turnover, everything that is practicable to ensure the removal of all hazards to human health, life, and safety. Panama agreed to that, understanding that we could not do a 100% clean-up.
RUBIN: Some estimates say a complete clean-up of the firing ranges could cost up to $100 million. But Colonel Hunt says the limited clean-up isn't about money. It's about concern for the ecology of Panama.
HUNT: To go in and to thoroughly clean it out, if you had unlimited amounts of money, would require tearing down the entire forest before you dug down 10 to 15 feet looking for everything. The damage to the environment would be incredible. The damage to the canal would be serious.
(Machine gun fire. Man's voice-over: "The ranges are often perceived to be frightening places, areas of destruction and environmental degradation. But for those who've had the opportunity to see or study what lies beyond the gates and signs, the ranges are known for their beauty and biodiversity, and they're recognized as one of the most significant nature preserves in the world." Tropical-sounding music follows.)
RUBIN: This video is part of the US military's campaign to sell its limited clean-up plan. Some call the effort "greenwash." Rodreigo Noriega of Panama's Foreign Ministry claims the US is playing games with the fine print in the treaty. And he says if the US was serious about the fragility of the rainforest, it would stop its daily bombing exercises.
NORIEGA: It doesn't make that much of any sense to say on the one hand, these areas are so valuable, so important, so filled with environmental wealth, environmental richness, and on the other hand saying well, A.) we cannot clean them, but B.) we'll keep bombing them.
RUBIN: While the issue of unexploded weapons has grabbed much of the headlines, Rick Stauber believes it's just the tip of the iceberg. Stauber spent 20 years in the Army as a bomb disposal expert. He's now an international consultant on firing range and base clean-ups. In 1995 he was hired by the US military to recommend a clean-up plan for Panama. But from the outset, Stauber felt the Pentagon wasn't interested in an independent investigation.
STAUBER: We got it in briefing by an engineering colonel, and his first words out of his mouth was that we've already determined the extent of your report and we want you to support these findings. And he basically had them up on a flip chart, and lined out exactly how he wanted the report to be written.
RUBIN: Stauber says the Pentagon wanted him to investigate only 3 specific areas: the Pina, Empire, and Balboa firing ranges. But Stauber kept finding disturbing evidence that unexploded chemical weapons tested elsewhere in Panama were leaking.
STAUBER: What happens in a tropical climate is that chemical munitions are very corrosive, and they'll develop leaks. And the information that is out of the National Archives and other information that is readily obtainable indicates that a high rate of leaks developed with the chemical munitions that were stored at Panama.
RUBIN: Stauber says that for him the next logical step was to get out in the field and investigate. But he says the military stopped him in his tracks.
STAUBER: I was basically flatly given an order that I would not go out and site-investigate any areas involved in this report.
RUBIN: A US Embassy spokesman in Panama dismissed Stauber's accusations. But Stauber was so upset by what he felt was a cover-up of the chemical weapons problem in Panama that he decided to get in touch with the San Francisco-based Fellowship for Reconciliation. The group's director, John Lindsey Poland, was at the time doing his own investigation, and last month, along with Greenpeace and the Chemical Weapons Working Group, issued a report called Test Tube Republic. The report charges that the US is in violation of the International Chemical Weapons Treaty for lack of disclosure in Panama. Much of the chemical weapons testing took place in Panama Bay, on San Jose Island in the 1940s. And Lindsey is convinced the chemical weapons are still in the jungles.
LINDSAY: The rate is about 5 to 10% unexploded ordinance, both for conventional and for chemical munitions. So on San Jose, for example, the cases that we were able to document, there were about 4,000 munitions that were dropped. So that would mean that there were several hundred chemical munitions that did not explode. When I visited San Jose Island in July, I did see leftover bombs, also other kinds of containers, that were just sitting out in a field, and some of them in the woods.
RUBIN: When asked about San Jose Island, Army Colonel David Hunt acknowledged that chemical weapons testing was conducted there up until 1947.
HUNT: When we left the island, we left warnings that people should not go onto the island. There are now people living there, they want to develop it. There are a lot of rumors about it, but the fact is that people live on the island. There is plenty of flora and fauna on the island. Are there hazards out there? We're still doing the research. But people live there.
RUBIN: Outgoing US Ambassador to Panama, William Hughes, says he's working with Panamanian officials to come up with a long-term firing range management plan. Hughes said that education programs and security for the ranges were being discussed. But he stopped short of committing US funds for range clean-up beyond 1999. It's unclear whether the Clinton Administration and Congress will allocate the millions of dollars that the government of Panama says is needed for an environmentally sound, multi-year clean-up. With several firing ranges in the US also vying for clean-up funds, the prospect appears unlikely. For Living on Earth, I'm Joe Rubin.
CURWOOD: Next month the US Department of Energy is scheduled to begin shipping weapons-grade plutonium to Canada for testing as fuel for nuclear reactors. Commentator and Canadian Suzanne Elston wonders why her country is being so hospitable.
ELSTON: On the stupid scale from 1 to 10, this one definitely rates an 11. The folks at Ontario Hydro and Atomic Energy Canada Limited have come up with a mind-numbing plan. They want to take weapons-grade plutonium and turn it into fuel for Canada's nuclear reactors. See, when the United States and the former Soviet Union stopped threatening to nuke each other, they were left with this huge arsenal of nuclear bombs. So they've been slowly taking them apart, only to be left with big piles of the deadliest substance known to man: weapons-grade plutonium.
Now, the Americans and the Russians may have decided to make peace, but there's a whole new generation of potential nuclear terrorists out there. They'd just love to get their hands on the stuff, so they could take their turn at threatening the world. So the problem becomes how to prevent it from getting into the wrong hands for the next several thousand years.
Enter us Canadians. We've cooked up this plan to mix the plutonium with uranium and use it for fuel in our nuclear reactors. Now, the first hurdle is getting the stuff up here from Los Alamos, New Mexico. So the US Department of Energy proposed 3 different truck routes. Michigan has already said no. So now the DOE has to decide on one of the 2 remaining routes, either through upstate New York or through the Dakotas.
What's really funny about this fiasco is that the communities that are simply going to get to wave at the stuff as it motors on by are more concerned than the Canadians who are going to end up babysitting it forever. Even once this mixed fuel has been spent in the reactor, it will be more radioactive than regular waste. And if this plan actually gets off the ground, Russia and the US have enough plutonium to keep Canadian reactors going for 20 years or more.
Talk about a growth economy. We're going to build a whole new industry around weapons-grade plutonium, and we get to keep the leftovers. That's right. Canada may soon become a global nuclear waste dump. What a deal. We get the waste, the terrorist threat, and possible environmental impact for thousands of years. And the 2 countries that made the mess in the first place get off scot-free. But hey, isn't that what good neighbors are for?
CURWOOD: Suzanne Elston is a syndicated columnist who lives in Courtice, Ontario. She comes to us by way of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.
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CURWOOD: And now it's time to year from you, our listeners.
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CURWOOD: Our point-counterpoint discussion of the idea that a high proportion of young men steers a society toward war drew a response from Norma Roche, who hears us on WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts. Ms. Roche suggested that our guest arguments weren't so far apart as they might seem. She writes, "Aren't our biology, our culture, and our conscious modern understanding all contributing factors to what we do? It seems to me that whichever of your guests is right, the solution is the same. To prevent war, we needed fairer distribution of land and resources."
Stephen Gilmore, who listens to us on WNSC out of Rock Hill, South Carolina, wrote in about our story on the plastics plant that decided not to locate in a largely poor and African-American community in Louisiana. Mr. Gilmore says that for lower-income neighborhoods the bottom line is jobs. He writes, "Now, you've got politicians who have convinced residents of these neighborhoods that they have a right not to have these facilities in their neighborhoods. These facilities won't disappear. The only losers will be the residents of the areas where the facilities don't locate."
Finally, our recent stories on uranium mining in Arizona and nuclear waste disposal in Texas prompted Richard Hill to ask, "What about coal?" Mr. Hill, who hears us on Maine Public Radio, bemoans what he calls press indifference to the use of coal, and its harm to our health and the environment. He writes, "The projected annual coal consumption for electric power generation in the next decade exceeds a billion tons. Yet you get all choked up over the possibility of some nuclear workers' discarded gloves in an uninhabited Texas desert. The result," he writes, "is that we will phase out the nukes, squander the natural gas, and shift to coal. And we will regret it."
We're always interested in what you have to say. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write us at 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. Once again, LOE@NPR.ORG. And check out our Web page at www.livingonearth.org. Tapes and transcripts are $15.
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CURWOOD: Coming up: politics New York State style, with a side of black humor. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
The gloves have come off in the match for New York's seat in the US Senate. Republican Senator Alfonse D'Amato and Democratic Representative Charles Schumer are bashing each other over just about every issue at hand, including the environment. Earlier this month we examined Senator D'Amato's environmental record. Beth Fertig of member station WNYC now turns to his challenger's scorecard.
FERTIG: Brooklyn Congressman Charles Schumer says when it comes to the environment, the contrast between his record and Senator D'Amato's couldn't be more stark.
SCHUMER: I have had a lifetime record from the League of Conservation Voters that is one of the highest in Congress. It's around 90%. Al D'Amato is the worst Senator from the Northeast on the issue of the environment. There's a clear choice on the environment. Al D'Amato, anti-environment with the polluters. Chuck Schumer, pro-environment, one of the leaders on the issue.
FERTIG: Representative Schumer is referring to scores prepared by the New York League of Conservation Voters. The group gives the Brooklyn law maker a lifetime rating of 88% over his 18 years in Congress. But supporters of Senator D'Amato say partisan concerns can enter into the fray when environmental groups like the League rate legislators. They dispute how the League comes up with its tallies and say it shouldn't count votes on issues like international family planning when ranking law makers. Italia Federichi, President of the Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates, says it's relatively easy for a New York City Congressman who represents Brooklyn and Queens to rack up a good environmental record.
FEDERICHI: Actually, his environmental voting record for his district is rather irrelevant. He has a district that doesn't have any grazings issues, doesn't have any takings issues, doesn't have any National Parks issues. If you look at the League of Conservation Voters score card, it's easy for a person who lives in the city to vote on issues that don't directly impact his or her district.
FERTIG: Still, the New York League of Conservation Voters and other local environmental groups say Representative Schumer has consistently backed their causes. Most recently in supporting the clean-up of toxic PCBs from the Hudson and Housatonic Rivers and opposing legislation that would allow polluters to challenge long-standing Federal environmental safeguards. Linda Davidoff, the League's executive director, says when it comes to the environment, the Brooklyn law maker has reason to boast.
DAVIDOFF: Chuck Schumer's record is notable for its consistency across each area of environmental concern, from protection of the wilderness areas in the far west of the United States to making sure that energy production is non- polluting and is efficient, to trying to eliminate automobile congestion and pollution. He can be counted on to be there for the environment.
FERTIG: Representative Schumer angered some New York environmentalists over a decade ago when he supported Federal funding for Westway, a failed highway and park project along the Hudson River and Manhattan. Environmental activists opposed the plan, fearing it would contribute to air pollution. The Brooklyn law maker hasn't built his career around his environmental record. Still, if he makes it to the Senate, activists say they'll demand that he play a more visible role fighting for the state's environment. For Living on Earth, I'm Beth Fertig in New York.
LEWIS: I am what is known as a loose cannon. I am in the November- December part of my life. So what can they scare me with? Death? (Laughs)
CURWOOD: Recognize that voice? That laugh? They belong to Al Lewis, better known as Grandpa Munster from the popular 1960s sitcom. Mr. Lewis's latest role is on the political set. He's the Green Party's candidate for Governor of New York. At 88, Al Lewis has had a long history of social activism, but no background in environmental issues. Critics contend his candidacy is nothing more than a ploy to boost the Green Party's fringe status with New York voters. Currently, Mr. Lewis is polling at about 2% statewide, but that may be enough to get the Greens listed as an official party in future elections. Mr. Lewis told me his biggest obstacle is lack of money.
LEWIS: Running for a state office without money is like trying to climb Mt. Everest barefooted. It is rough. But it doesn't deter me. I don't get the press. That's the fact. Money is the grease of politics. You gotta dance with those that brung you. Nobody brung Al Lewis.
CURWOOD: So you're the honest politician for us, huh?
LEWIS: Of course! I'm not a politician, sir. I'm a political animal. If I was a politician my mother would rise up out of the grave in New Jersey and beat me to death with a broom. (Curwood laughs) My campaign is directed toward Joe and Jane Six-Pack. I'm not kidding you. Because you name me one western industrialized country that in any election, presidential, gubernatorial, senator, dog catcher, mayor, 60% of the people don't vote. I mean, that's obscene to me. And I am not one of those pundits or intellectuals who say, "Well, they don't vote because they're lazy. They don't really understand the problems." 'Cause I know that 60% instinctively believe, honey, if I vote for the guy in Column A he puts his hand in my left pocket, I'm missing money. If I vote for Column B, puts his hand in my right pocket, I'm missing money. Honey, give me a beer, I'm going to watch the Giants play Buffalo, the hell with it. That's what's happening. What kind of a country is this?
CURWOOD: Mr. Lewis, you have a campaign manager. What's his name, Craig Seamon?
LEWIS: That is correct, sir, and he happens to be sitting right next to me, so why don't you just say hello?
CURWOOD: Hello, Craig?
SEAMON: Hi, how are you?
CURWOOD: Good. Listen, I've got to ask you this. One of the candidates in this race has referred to Al Lewis's candidacy as a gimmick. Is that fair to say? In fact, is it working? I mean, is he getting attention for the Green Party that other than just as a gimmick?
SEAMON: You know, there's some irony in people who think this campaign is a gimmick. When you think about it, we had Ronald Reagan who became Governor and then President and his primary media success was Bedtime for Bonzo.
SEAMON: And then we had Sonny Bono, who was elected to Congress. And he had no political background at all. He was there just because he received the kind of corporate funding and he had the right politics to get in and represent conservative Republicans. When somebody comes from the entertainment industry and actually has an extensive and progressive activist background, the media, the system, the establishment is very much threatened. So of course they had to tag or try to tag a negative label on this campaign. Al's probably got much better activist credentials than Ronald Reagan ever had and is far more qualified to be governor of this state than Reagan was of California.
CURWOOD: So you feel this really helps you at the ballot box. This isn't something that marginalizes the Green Party.
SEAMON: Oh, absolutely not. You know, at one time politics was sort of a form of entertainment. I don't mean entertainment in the sense of humor, ha ha. But in the sense like the Lincoln-Douglas debates. That was a big deal. That was a traveling show. And we've lost that now. If a good candidate can bring back the person, the 60% of the people who do not vote --
LEWIS: That's right --
SEAMON: Then there's a real potential for changing this society. And Al is excellent at doing that.
CURWOOD: So, what's the Green Party goal here? You're not going to win, so why run? What do you expect to get from this?
SEAMON: In New York State you need 50,000 votes to create a political party. That's about 1% of the vote. And what that 50,000 votes does, is it allows the opportunity for activists to get on the ballot and run for local office. We have very prohibitive ballot access laws in New York State. If we have to expend all our resources getting on the ballot, it's much, much harder to run a viable campaign. Also, we'll appear on the voter registration forms. People will be able to check off a little box saying that they're registered Green. You cannot do that in New York right now. By doing that, the Board of Elections will create in effect a mailing list, an activist list, for us to reach out to. If we have a list of registered Greens, we know who to target. We know where our voters are. We know how to get them out. And then our job is to expand that base, so that it becomes a majoritarian movement.
LEWIS: You said you're not going to win. What is winning? See, every day in my life that I struggle, I win. See, it's like I remember what a great American Eugene Victor Deb said. I'd rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don't want and get it. It's a struggle. And for me, the struggle is a lifeline, it's like a blood transfusion. I've done it all my life. So I don't know what you mean when you say you're not going to win. I win every day. I'm waiting downstairs, a guy from the UN comes over to me. Says to me, "I'm going to vote for you." A police officer comes over to me, says, "I'm going to vote for you." Two guys working on a truck say, "I've heard you, I'm voting for you." I'm a winner! I'm a winner.
CURWOOD: Al Lewis is running for Governor of New York State on the Green Party. Thank you for joining us today, and your campaign manager, Craig Seamon. Thank you both.
LEWIS: Thank you again.
SEAMON: And thank you.
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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our production team includes Jesse Wegman, George Homsy, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Daniel Grossman, and Miriam Landman, along with Roberta DeAvila, Peter Shaw, and Julia Madeson. We had help from David Winickoff, Anne Parry, and Laura Colbert. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Peter Thomson heads the Western Bureau. Our senior editor is Joyce Hackel, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
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