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Democrats on the Environment, part 2

Air Date: Week of

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Our special, Democrats on the Environment, continues.


CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. We continue, now, with Democrats on the Environment, a special forum for the party’s presidential candidates sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters.

OLNEY: It’s just about time to go to any questions from the reporters. Let me just ask any of you to chime in at this moment and raise an issue, give us a priority, give us a particular issue that you’re concerned about. Very briefly. Ten seconds. Let me just go down the line. Senator Lieberman, you first.

LIEBERMAN: The clean power act. You know, air pollution in America is causing 30,000 people to die prematurely everyday. And a lot of this is coming from old power plants. The Bush Administration actually wants to make that worse, with a proposal that’s made, which would cause 9,000 additional people to die earlier than they otherwise would.

OLNEY: So you want to crack down on emissions from power plants.

LIEBERMAN: Clean power act – close the loophole – close the old plants unless they can clean up and not hurt people – not kill people.

OLNEY: Governor Dean.

DEAN: When I was governor, my major environmental contribution was conservation. Top priorities as president: conservation and wilderness, dealing with brownfields and making Superfund work again. And then the biggest emphasis, is reducing our reliance on foreign oil using renewables in a sustainable economy.

OLNEY: Okay, Senator Braun, same thing. 15-20 seconds.

MOSELEY-BRAUN: When I was in the Senate, I did brownfields legislation, and I would certainly want to continue in that regard. I also was active in past legislation having to do with environmental justice, which is another whole issue. But I also think that the issue of agriculture policy and public lands is a place where we really have to focus in terms of protecting the environment.

OLNEY: Senator Kerry?

KERRY: I want to change the entire debate and discussion about the environment in this country. It’s about jobs, it’s about health, it’s about our legacy as a generation and it is about national security. And we need to make it clear to the country that the false choice that has been given by this administration – it’s either jobs or the environment – is wrong. The environment is jobs. And we’re going to prove to Americans we can put them to work, and we’re going to do it in a way, Warren, that’s just. Eighty percent of all Hispanics in America live in counties with bad air. Twenty-five percent of the kids in New York have asthma. We need an environmental justice environment at the civil rights department of the justice department, and I intend to guarantee that we restore that.

OLNEY: Reverend Sharpton, new subject. Go ahead.

SHARPTON: You asking me the same question?

OLNEY: Yes, 10 or 15 seconds, whatever you’d like to introduce.

SHARPTON: Environmental justice. I think that we’ve seen various communities in this country penalized just because of where they were in the income level. We’ve seen in some of these emission trade agreements that has impacted people wrongly. I would clearly fight hard for environmental justice. I would also fight for the absolute cap on carbon dioxide, I would absolutely reenter the discussions around the Kyoto Accord.

OLNEY: I do want to ask one question. Maybe it will come up with the reporters, but a question would be, it seems to me, would you vote for the Kyoto Treaty as it currently exists. But, let’s just leave that one hanging for a moment. I think it’s interesting, but it’s not my turn anymore. It’s time for the reporters to get their opportunity. And I want to introduce them. First, they are Pilar Marrero, who is politics editor for the Spanish language newspaper La Opinion. Steve Curwood, who is host of National Public Radio’s Living on Earth. Paul Rogers, environmental reporter for the San Jose Mercury News. And John North, who is a reporter for KABC television in Los Angeles. Now, each reporter will ask a question of one candidate with an opportunity for one follow-up. As you know, and I’ll try to enforce it this time around – I’ve been having a little trouble seeing the signs – it has been agreed that the answer to each question won’t go for more than one minute. You’ll then have 30 seconds for a follow-up. So we’ll just go round robin until we run out of time. The first question comes from Pilar Marrero, and it goes to Senator Kerry.

MARRERO: Senator, there are many studies, as you were mentioning that show that low-income neighborhoods are more likely to have major sources of pollution than other areas. For example, Latinos are more likely to live near a toxic-emitting plant, and children from low-income families tend to live in areas where there is more traffic and exposure to automobile emissions. What do you plan to do to address some of these inequities? Some specific measures.

KERRY: I’ve been deeply involved in this issue for a long time. I was involved in the first Earth Day, I was chairman of New England Earth Day 1990. And on this Earth Day, this year, I chose to go to Roxbury, Massachusetts, not the place where most people think of the environmental movement. And I went there to announce that I will appointment an assistant attorney general for environmental justice, and reinvigorate the department in order to deal with what is an epidemic across our country, of unfairness. I mean, we have, everybody knows this institutionalized separate and unequal school system in America. And we have a racial-profiling that takes place in everyday life in America, where loans cost more, cars cost more, homes cost more, because of the kind of profiling in our economy against people of color. And their lives are degraded on a daily basis, whether it is lead paint poisoning or whether it is diesel trucks that drive through the community because those are the routes they’re given, or toxic waste sites. And the bottom line is that minorities live next to toxic waste sites and dumps more than any other people in the country, and we have to give their voices power. I intend to do that as President of the United States.

MORRERO: Can you give us an idea of a couple of specific measures.

KERRY: Yes. I have put forward a proposal to build on what we know worked with the empowerment zones. But I’m going to create environmental empowerment zones. And we are going to specifically target money in order to clean up the sites. To follow through – needless to say – the Superfund sites. The funding of Superfund is a disgrace by this president. He has changed the “polluter pays” principles. I am going to restore those principles and we are going to continue to be able to fund Superfund. 99 sites in California alone. And if you look at where most of those sites are, you will find poor people on whom they’ve been shunted. I think that it is essential for us to have a president who cares about that. There’s no way you can be president for all Americans if you don’t.

OLNEY: Senator Moseley-Braun, we’re going to go by prearranged order, so the next question will come from Steve Curwood, and it goes to Governor Dean.

CURWOOD: Governor Dean, I guess your title is also Dr. Dean, you’re a physician. The point that Senator Kerry made about lead is something I’d like to follow up with you. Recent research indicates that even small amounts of childhood lead exposure are related to increased rates of delinquency and crime, along with learning disabilities. This is a major problem in this country because there are perhaps 100 million homes that still have lead paint in them. And many of the homes that have seriously deteriorating lead paint, where these children are poisoned, are in homes of people of color, people of poverty. Lead is said to be perhaps the single most preventable disease in America today, and yet nothing has effectively been done about it. What’s your prescription?

DEAN: Let me tell you what we did in our state. Not only is lead preventable, but it is also a significant contributor to learning disabilities when kids go to school. We have very old housing stock. We simply put a lot of money in. First of all, we banned lead paints, which has been done nationally. We lowered the standards of lead that were supposed to be in kids’ blood. We tested them, we test virtually every kid – we have a law where we can do that. And then we put a bunch of money in, to go through old housing stocks where poor people lived and – it’s very expensive – take the paint off the wall, and put new paint in. It’s expensive, landlords have to pay for some of it, but it has to be done. The only way to get lead out of kids is to first of all, make sure that the paint comes off and they’re living in lead free homes. You have to do that with a combination of regulation and money. And second of all, to deal with the environmental racism issue. And if I just may, for a second…

OLNEY: Your minute is just about up.

DEAN: In that case, I won’t for a second.


OLNEY: Steve, do you want to ask a follow up?

CURWOOD: Let me follow up. That’s wonderful that you’ve done that in Vermont, but the vast bulk of these kids who are being poisoned aren’t in Vermont, governor.

DEAN: There’s not a vast bulk of much in Vermont.


CURWOOD: There’s plenty of milk in Vermont, there’s wonderful milk in Vermont. The beautiful hills. Not a lot of lead. You’re president of the United States – your dream, your wish right now – okay, you’re president of the United States, and you’re looking at this problem as a health problem.

DEAN: Sure.

CURWOOD: Because I tell you one of things that happens, when this increases the crime rate, everybody suffers in the societies, not just the kid who has the learning disability. This increased link to crime seems to be very important demographically. We don’t have time really to talk about it. What do you do to implement this?

DEAN: My health care plan for the country – my universal health care plan – is based on what we did in Vermont. In Vermont, everybody under 18 has health insurance, and everybody under 150 percent of the poverty has health insurance. That will work for the country. So will our lead program. If we can get the lead out of poor kids who are in a state of 600,000 people, you can do that in the country using exactly the same formula. It takes a combination of one – federal funding, two – legislation dealing with landlords who have lead-based paint in their house, three – outreach and testing of kids. If you can do it in the state, you can do it in the country.

OLNEY: Pilar Morrero, a question for Senator Lieberman.

MORRERO: Yes, Senator. The North American Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, U.S. and Canada, has increased trade between the countries and produced jobs. But with increased economic opportunity have come greater environmental degradation and criticism that truck and traffic and maquiladoras, or U.S. owned manufacturing plants south of the border are having a negative effect on the environment. Advocates say the protections in NAFTA are not enough and the U.S. is exporting more than goods – it is exporting pollution to the area. What is your position? Do you think NAFTA needs to be revisited?

LIEBERMAN: I supported NAFTA, supported President Clinton, who supported NAFTA because I thought it would be good for the economies of both countries. But you know, we listen, we look, we experience, and we learn. And I think one of the things that the Clinton-Gore administration learned, and I supported as we went on, is that we had to put environmental standards into labor agreements to make sure that the environment of the country with which we were negotiating, and particularly our neighbor to the south, were not being compromised. So I think that’s the way to go. And I will tell you also – and this goes to your previous question also, about environmental justice – during 2000 I took a truth tour of Texas to look at the Bush record. And I visited the Colonius along the Mexican-American border with Texas. And the desperate conditions that people are living in, the fact that George W. Bush never visited there, the environmental challenges that people were facing there were, I think, an indication of what was to come when George W. Bush became president. And I think that he has carried on that same disregard for the environment, and for people’s health.

OLNEY: Your minute is up. Pilar, do you have a follow-up?

MORRERO: Yes, more specifically, there are laws already that regulate the movement of waste and toxics across the border. But even EPA officials have said they don’t have the funding to activate the monitoring of this, and as such there are gaps in control. How would you deal with stuff like that?

LIEBERMAN: This is all about priorities, which leadership is about. And I know we’re not here to talk about the president’s fiscal policies, but they have been as irresponsible as his environmental policies.


LIEBERMAN: He’s given away our national treasury in a tax cut that hasn’t worked. And what that means is that the rest of government that we depend on for the safety net for the poor, for hopes of improving education and health care and environmental protection is being compromised. Did you know that criminal environmental enforcement is down 40 percent since Bush became president? I passed a law in Congress that quadrupled the number of criminal investigators. As president, I will give the Environmental Protection Agency the money it needs to investigate and enforce – you know how to deal with environmental injustices – simply by equally enforcing the law.

OLNEY: Senator – I’m trying to equally enforce the time here.

LIEBERMAN: Okay, I yield.

OLNEY: Steve Curwood, a question for Senator Kerry.

CURWOOD: Senator Kerry, I think you’d agree with me that this is an extremely important election that we’re looking at. This is an important turning point in history. Every election in a democracy, of course, is important. But this one is really big – no? That’s not the question, though.


KERRY: Oh, God, I was hoping.

CURWOOD: No, the question is this…

KERRY: I was about to say, nice question.

CURWOOD: This is something that if you win this nomination, you go out there, you feel like you must win. Campaigning on the environment, how do you think you can beat Mr. Bush given that he’s campaigning against the environment, as you gentleman and Senator Braun have said here a number of times. In other words, what do you think this issue is going to do for you with voters. Mr. Bush is calling it the other way – he says that voters want to see these rollbacks.

KERRY: Well it’s not what it does for me, it’s what it does for us, it’s what it does for our nation. I believe that – and I’m sure that my colleagues here share this – this is part of a series of choices that this administration is offering that are completely contrary to the needs, interests, concerns and future of our country. I respectfully suggest to everybody here that on every single choice in front of this nation, there is a better choice than this administration is offering us.


KERRY: With respect to health care, with respect to the environment, with respect to children, with respect to education, housing, infrastructure, our relationship in the world. And this issue is part of that vision. This issue, the environment, number one, it’s not just about the environment. It’s about our role in the world, it’s about our legacy to our children, it’s about the jobs that we will create for the future and whether or not they will be high value-added jobs based on technology that raise our standard of living. God only gave us three percent of the world’s oil. I’m proud that I lead the fight to stop the Arctic Wildlife drilling and I’m proud that John McCain and I lead a fight to raise the emission standards that we lost.

OLNEY: That’s your minute, Senator. Steve, do you have a follow-up.

CURWOOD: Yes, I do have a follow-up. Senator, perhaps the biggest issue, though, in this election and in these times is national security. You mention national security as something the environment is related to. How does the issue of national security and the environment help you win this election?

KERRY: Well, I believe that I am particularly well-suited to take on President Bush with respect to national security, because I look forward to reminding Americans that I know something about aircraft carriers because I’ve worked with them for real.


KERRY: I intend to point out to the president that landing on an aircraft carrier at the hands of a skilled Navy pilot does not make up for rolling back every single environmental choice in this nation. And in addition to that , I will point out to Americans that – look, we are taking 20 billion dollars a year and dumping it into the pockets of some of the most uncooperative and repressive regimes in the world. And that money finds its way to those who hate Israel, and those who hate the United States. And we need to begin, for the sake of our own future, to liberate any young servicemen from ever being held hostage to our dependency on Middle East oil. We do that by striking out for independence. That’s the national security issue. I’m sorry this president doesn’t see it, but everybody here does. And at the end of this campaign, America will see it.

OLNEY: Paul Rogers, a question for Governor Dean.

ROGERS: Governor Dean, at least half of America’s current corn crop and large percentages of other crops are genetically modified. As the only physician on the panel today, do you think genetically modified foods are safe to eat?

DEAN: Yes. But I believe that we ought to have a national labeling law, because people have the right to know what they eat. We went through this with BST. I signed a labeling – with Bovine Somatotrophin -- which is a hormone that stimulates milk production. I’ve been through all the studies. There’s no indication… Here’s the problem with GMOs: it’s not whether they’re safe to eat or not, it’s one – genetic drift, which is incredibly unfair to organic farmers and two – do people have the right to know what ‘s in their food. And I think they do – so we signed a labeling law. So in our state, you can tell if your milk product has BST in it and avoid it if you choose. And I think that is not only the same choice that we ought to get here –the Europeans are entitled to that choice.


CURWOOD: You’re listening to Democrats on the environment, a special forum for the party’s candidates, sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters. Our broadcast from the Ackerman Grand Ballroom at the University of California, Los Angeles, continues in just a minute. It’s Living on Earth.

FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Support also comes from NPR member stations and Bob Williams and Meg Cauldwell, honoring NPR’s coverage of environmental and natural resource issues, and in support of the NPR President’s Council. And Paul and Marcia Ginsberg, in support of excellence in public radio.



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