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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Teamsters and Turtles Undone?

Air Date: Week of

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Commentator Mark Hertsgaard notes the formation of an alliance between the Teamsters Union and a Republican environmental organization, thereby ending the flirtation of the union with green groups on the left.


CURWOOD: One of the enduring symbols of the 1999 anti-globalization protest in Seattle has come undone. The Teamsters and Turtles have split. The Teamsters, it seems have found someone new. As commentator Mark Hertsgaard explains, the union has been successfully courted by handsome Republicans in green clothing.

HERTSGAARD: When it comes to the environment, this is not your father's Republican party, or so Frank Luntz would have you believe. Mr. Luntz is a top GOP strategist. His specialty is crafting messages that sell a candidate or ideology to voters. And Luntz has concluded that Republicans have a problem with voters on the environment. In a memo leaked to the New York Times, he called the environment, "the single biggest vulnerability for the Republicans, and especially for George Bush." It's not hard to see why. The environment is now a mom and apple pie issue in America.

According to a Gallup poll released in April, 61 percent of Americans say they are either active participants in or sympathizers with the environmental movement. Eighty percent favor stricter emissions standards for business. Only seven percent endorse the Bush-Cheney view that government is regulating too much. Frank Luntz doesn't want Republicans to change their environmental policies, just how they talk about them. He advises them to use words like, common sense, sound science, and balance. Tell voters you love national parks. Tell them you favor environmental protection, but think local people, not Washington bureaucrats, should be in charge.

Luntz's message seems to be getting through. The White House included a pitch for hydrogen fueled cars in this year's State of the Union Address. And just in time for Earth Day came the birth of a new environmental alliance, between a Republican advocacy group and one of the nation's largest labor unions. The Labor Environment Alliance brings together the International Brotherhood of Teamsters with a council of Republicans for environmental advocacy. It promises to lobby for "responsible environmentalism that walks hand-in-hand with job creation." The Alliance advocates more highway construction, brownfield redevelopment, and increased domestic energy production. It applauds the Bush-Cheney energy plan, with its emphasis on nuclear power and fossil fuel production, including opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other federal lands to oil and gas drilling.

As the 2004 campaign kicks off, Republicans need political cover against the public perception that they're in bed with corporate polluters. So, expect Republican candidates to proclaim their love of the great outdoors, and promise to preserve and protect it. They'll say they support a balance between the environment and the economy, and they'll thank the Labor Environment Alliance for showing that good jobs and clean air go together. In short, Republicans will show they understand that today, any politician who sounds indifferent to the environment invites defeat on Election Day.

But to talk the talk on the environment is one thing. Before casting their votes, Americans should demand that Republicans and all political candidates walk the walk, as well.

CURWOOD: Commentator Mark Hertsgaard is the author of “The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World.”

CURWOOD: Coming up, foreign enemies in our backyards masquerading as beautiful plants. You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Ry Cooder “Ganges Delta Blues” A Meeting by the River - Water Lilly (1993)]



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