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

Remembering 12 Years Of Reagan And Bush

Air Date: Week of

Liberal and conservative activists remember key moments in environmental policy during a dozen years of conservative administration.


While Reilly and others are looking ahead to the future Democratic years in Washington, we thought we'd ask some people who've been active in environmental issues to look back over the last twelve years of Republican rule, and to highlight some key moments.

HAYES: I'm Denis Hayes. During the Carter years, I was the head of the Federal Government's solar energy research effort, and then in 1990 I was the chairman of the big Earth Day event. In the long sweep of history, when we look back upon this twelve years, I think that the greatest crime against the environment will be the decision early on in the Reagan years to shut down the renewable energy development program to the extent that they could. In my particular institute we had a budget of $130 million dollars, which he reduced by $100 million dollars, down to $30 million, and this research that was being done on solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, other renewable, sustainable, safe, benign, resilient, decentralized energy sources came to a halt. Twelve years ago we led the world with regard to every one of those technologies; today we don't lead the world in a single one of them. And I think the cost that we will be paying, politically and economically, unless we move aggressively to reestablish that leadership, will be enormous.

GOLDTOOTH: My name is Tom Goldtooth, I'm a council member of the Indigenous Environmental Network. It was during the Bush administration that a new federal office was created called the Office of the Nuclear Waste Negotiator, and the basis of this is that the government was looking at our tribal governments to become disposal authorities for spent nuclear fuel, nuclear waste. There was promises by the nuclear negotiator, David Leroy, of millions of dollars as economic incentive to tribes that would possibly host these nuclear waste facilities. And we view it as economic blackmail.

SINGER: My name is Fred Singer, I'm professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. I guess my greatest disappointment of the past decade is to watch as science is ignored or misused in setting environmental policy. A classic example is the controversy about acid rain. Senator Moynihan, in 1980, started a study which took ten years, three thousand scientists, and cost over $600 million dollars. The result of the study was that acid rain is not a major environmental problem, but it was judged to be 'not policy relevant,' because they didn't like the answer. It was disappointing to watch the Bush Administration abandon the study. They didn't fight for it, and as a result we're now stuck with legislation that will cost some $10 billion dollars a year, it'll do very little good for the environment, and I think there are more pressing needs in our society for these kinds of monies.

SCARLETT: This is Lynn Scarlett, vice-president of research of the Reason Foundation. Bush's four years did give us something notable, specifically, in the Clean Air Act, it was the first time in Federal history that we used a market-oriented approach to reducing some air emissions. This approach took in a sense thirty years of theory saying, gee, let's use markets to reduce emissions, taking thirty years of theory and putting it into practice. In a sense it has opened the door to mainstreaming these approaches, not only at the Federal level but across the nation.

LOVINS: I am Hunter Lovins, president of Rocky Mountain Institute. There were many examples of stupidity in energy policy during the twelve years of Reagan and Bush. Perhaps our favorite stupidity was the Reagan Administration's rollback in 1986 of (?) car standards from 27.5 miles per gallon to 26. Doesn't sound like much, but it led to a doubling of oil imports from the Persian Gulf and wasted oil at the same rate in which Reagan and then Bush hoped to get up from under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It also helped expand Japan's growing share of the US car market. It was done because Ford and GM could not meet the standards, and rolling them back to a standard they could meet saved them over a billion dollars in penalties they would otherwise have to pay. Basically Americans guzzled their way into a future of driving foreign cars fueled with foreign oil over crumbling roads and bridges from their inefficient homes to their uncompetitive workplaces, because of an Administration policy of corporate socialism. We're very much looking forward to a different point of view in energy policy in the next Administration.

CURWOOD: Reflections on 12 years of environmental policy under Presidents Reagan and Bush. . . from Denis Hayes, Tom Goldtooth, Fred Singer, Lynn Scarlett and Hunter Lovins.



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