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

Clinton's Environmental Team

Air Date: Week of

Steve talks with veteran environmental reporter Phil Shabecoff about the rest of the new environmental officials taking the reins in Washington. The new administration's top environmental policy-makers will include Interior Secretary-designate Bruce Babbitt, Energy Secretary-designate Hazel O'Leary and Agriculture Secretary-designate Mike Espy, along with Vice President-elect Al Gore.


CURWOOD: Joining me now is Phil Shabecoff, he's publisher of the environmental digest Greenwire and the author of a forthcoming book, Fierce Green Fire. Phil's been closely watching the building of the Clinton Administration for Greenwire and Living on Earth. Phil, before we move on to the members of Clinton's cabinet, I want to spend a moment more on Carol Browner, who'll hold the reins at EPA. As we've heard she's a former aide to Vice-President elect Al Gore, and that raises the question -- how much power the Vice President will have in this administration, do you think? I mean, will he really be pulling the strings on environmental policy?

SHABECOFF: Well, first of all it ought to be said that Carol Browner has a reputation as a tough-minded, rather independent woman and I doubt if she's going to be anybody's puppet. That being said, she clearly was Al Gore's choice to run the EPA, and I think Al Gore was named to the Democratic ticket because of his environmental background in large part. So he will have a substantial say in environmental policy in this country, in this new Administration, although not necessarily too much in issues having to do with resources and public lands, because Bruce Babbitt, another powerful politician, is going to be Secretary of the Interior.

CURWOOD: What do you think he'll focus on?

SHABECOFF: Well, several things. He has a reputation as a very strong environmentalist; he was chairman of the League of Conservation Voters. He has a number of specific interests dating from his days as a Governor of Arizona, one of which was water policy. I think you will see under his administration a attempt to shift water policy away from giving the lion's share to agribusiness in the West and give more to urban areas and to wildlife and recreation in the West. He's also very much interested in public lands and parks; I think you'll see a concerted effort to upgrade the national parks system which has fallen on hard times. I think you'll also see an effort to increase the size of the public domain, adding to the national parks system, to the wilderness system.

CURWOOD: I was surprised by the appointment of Hazel O'Leary to head the Department of Energy. What do you know about her?

SHABECOFF: Hazel O'Leary was a former official in the Energy Department during the Carter Administration. She's a high-ranking executive in Northern States Power, has a good reputation both among environmentalists and business. She's known to favor alternative fuels, conservation, energy efficiency; she is probably going to push natural gas; whether or not she's an advocate of nuclear power, I don't know, but Northern States Power of course has nuclear facilities, so she's certainly not opposed to them.

CURWOOD: The Department of Agriculture is in charge of the nation's forests, and environmentalists were originally concerned about the designation of Mississippi congressman Mike Espy as its secretary, but then a number of them seemed to back him. Why were some environmentalists worried about Mike Espy, and why the apparent flip-flop?

SHABECOFF: Well, Mike Espy did not have a particularly good voting record on environmental legislation in Congress; in fact, he had one of the worst records among the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which traditionally has one of the best voting records. So environmentalists were somewhat dismayed by the appointment of a secretary, or the designation of a secretary of agriculture with a poor environmental record. On the other hand, the environmental movement, or the national environmental groups are now in an effort to change what has been called "the whiteness of the green movement," and opposing Mike Espy would have sent a very poor signal on that issue.

CURWOOD: What's the overall sense you get from Clinton's appointments, here, on the environment?

SHABECOFF: Well, I get a sense that it's going to be a mixed bag, and you'll see intense internal debates within the Administration on environmental policy. I think people like Carol Browner and Bruce Babbitt might be expected to push for strong environmental action in the next few years, but somebody like Lloyd Bentsen might be an anchor on that kind of action, particularly since Bentsen, coming from Texas as he does, has strong connections to the oil industry. But again, coming back to our first question, I think the fact that Al Gore as vice president will have major functions in environmental policy is probably the most important thing that could be said about this Administration.

CURWOOD: Phil, thanks so much for checking with us.

SHABECOFF: Thank you, Steve.

CURWOOD: Phil Shabecoff is the publisher of Greenwire and author of A Fierce Green Fire, which is a history of the American environmental movement which is due out later this month.



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