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

January 8, 1993

Air Date: January 8, 1993


New EPA Chief / Alex van Oss

Reporter Alex van Oss profiles Carol Browner, Bill Clinton's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Browner is a confidant of Vice President-elect Al Gore, and in two years heading Florida's Department of Environmental Regulation she earned a reputation as a tough but creative administrator. (05:23)

Clinton's Environmental Team

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. (04:39)

Reilly Looks Back, and Ahead

Steve talks with outgoing EPA administrator William Reilly about the successes and failure of his tenure under President Bush, and what the future may hold for his successor, Carol Browner. (05:58)

Remembering 12 Years Of Reagan And Bush

Liberal and conservative activists remember key moments in environmental policy during a dozen years of conservative administration. (04:53)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Scott Schlegel, Tess Vigland, Andrea Deleon, Alex Van Oss
GUESTS: Phillip Shabecoff, William Reilly, Denis Hayes, Tom Goldtooth, Fred Singer, Lynn Scarlett, Hunter Lovins

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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

President-elect Clinton's environmental team is getting ready to take over, and supporters and skeptics alike are predicting a tougher and more active Environmental Protection Agency.

JEFFRIES: We will see under Carol Browner the EPA moving much more strongly in the direction of land and natural resource management.

CURWOOD: Outgoing EPA chief William Reilly reflects on his tenure.

REILLY: The critical battle we lost was to take a really forward-leaning position at the Rio conference last summer. It was not ultimately a good idea to use the president's willingness to attend the conference as a bargaining chip.

CURWOOD: Also, Bruce Babbitt takes over at Interior . . . and a look back to twelve years of Republican rule for the environment, this week on Living on Earth , right after this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news.

Congressional investigators charge the Justice Department let defense contractor Rockwell International off too easily, in the prosecution of environmental crimes at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant near Denver. Scott Schlegel reports.

SCHLEGEL: Last June, Rockwell pleaded guilty to repeatedly dumping hazardous waste into the ground at Rocky Flats. The company was fined a record $18. 5 million dollars, but no individuals were indicted. The report by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee charges that the Justice Department pressured the US attorney in Denver to settle the Rocky Flats case without indicting Rockwell employees, despite the recommendations of a Federal grand jury. But deputy assistant attorney general Myles Flint says there wasn't enough evidence to indict the Rockwell workers.

FLINT: We indict in order to obtain a conviction. It is less satisfactory not to be able to get to individuals, but you can't go after the individuals unless you've met that prosecution standard.

SCHLEGEL: The handling of this and other environmental crimes cases by the Justice Department is being investigated by several Congressional committees. For Living on Earth, I'm Scott Schlegel.

NUNLEY: Smoking may be driven from public places, following the EPA's new report linking passive smoke to lung cancer. But the threat of private lawsuits will probably have more impact than Federal regulation. That's according to Richard Daynard, of the "Tobacco Products Liability Project." Daynard says the EPA report will end the debate over passive smoke, and that concerns prompted by the report may lead more businesses to ban smoking.

DAYNARD: The fear of litigation produces social change, and that's going to be the immediate and dramatic change. But I think the regulation will follow.

NUNLEY: Some 35 percent of US businesses already ban smoking, according to the American Lung Association.

Oregon's only nuclear power plant has become the latest in a series to shut down permanently, rather than undergo expensive repairs. Tess Vigland of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.

VIGLAND: PGE says Trojan's immediate shutdown will save ratepayers $40 to 60 million dollars. That's because the company has apparently found cheap replacement power that will cost less than the $125 million dollars projected for repairing broken-down areas of the facility. That's the exact opposite of what PGE claimed last fall, when it spent millions of dollars to defeat an Oregon ballot initiative that would have closed the plant and forced company stockholders to pay for decommissioning. PGE customers will now likely foot the bill, which could total more than $500 million dollars. The utility had been setting aside money to pay for decommissioning, but the plant closed fifteen years early. Like dozens of nuclear facilities around the country, Trojan will have to hold off on decommissioning until the Federal Government comes up with a permanent nuclear waste repository. For Living on Earth, I'm Tess Vigland in Portland.

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth.

The harbor porpoise may soon be listed as a threatened species. The marine mammal is getting the support of some of the people partially responsible for its troubles -- Maine fishermen. Andrea DeLeon of Maine Public Broadcasting reports.

DELEON: The fisheries service says there are only about 45 thousand harbor porpoises left migrating up the Atlantic Coast. Each year, more than a thousand drown in gillnets, which are used to catch cod and other species. And Ted Ames of the Maine Gillnetters Association says fishermen have been lobbying the Federal Government since the 1970's to develop ways to protect the porpoises.

AMES: They're really pleasant, innocuous critters who simply are fellow travelers. They're chasing the feed just the same as the groundfish that we're after.

DE LEON: Ames says researchers in Canada report good results with a noise-making device that seems to frighten the porpoises away from the nets. He says the US Government has failed to support such research. Instead, he worries, the government will restrict fishing and drive gillnetters out of business. Officials say it will take about a year to decide whether the harbor porpoise merits special protection. For Living on Earth, this is Andrea DeLeon in Portland, Maine.

NUNLEY: Heavy snowfalls in California's Northern Sierras have state water officials encouraged. But no one's saying the region's seven-year-long drought is anywhere near over. The state's drought information center says it will take two years of normal rainfall for the general public to stop feeling the effects of drought. Ranchers and businesses will need up to four years to recover, and groundwater basins won't be replenished until rainfall is normal for up to seven years.

The water you buy at the store will now have to be at least as good as the water you get out of your tap. New Federal labeling rules that go into effect later this year will set first-time guidelines for bottled mineral and spring waters, and require that water drawn from a public water supply be labeled as such. FDA officials say up to 25 percent of bottled water is taken straight from the tap, although it can cost up to a thousand times more.

That's this week's environmental news. . . I'm Jan Nunley.

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New EPA Chief

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

BROWNER: I'm thrilled to be here. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to serve at a time when environmental protection and restoration will finally receive the attention and commitment it deserves . . . (fade under)

CURWOOD: Carol Browner was little known outside of Washington and Florida when President-elect Clinton recently brought her to Little Rock, to present her as his choice to head the US Environmental Protection Agency. Born in Florida and steeped in grassroots environmental activism, Browner currently has recently been balancing two jobs: head of Vice-president-elect Gore's transition team. . . and chief of Florida's Department of Environmental Regulation. She may be relatively unknown , but as Alex van Oss reports from Washington, Carol Browner has already made her mark.

VAN OSS: At age 37, Carol Browner is one of the younger members of Clinton's top-level appointees. Since her nomination to head EPA, she's been called everything from "ideal" to "abrasive." But both supporters and detractors of Browner agree that the self-proclaimed environmentalist is a direct person who can hold her own in tough negotiations.

MICAH: In Carol's case, when she went before legislative committees, she was a very aggressive person.

VAN OSS: David Micah was a classmate of Carol Browner at the University of Florida, where she got her undergraduate and law degrees. Micah is now associate director of the Florida Petroleum Council, and he's often faced Browner across the negotiating table.

MICAH: Then when we became involved with her in working on specific issues, such as Florida's underground storage tank issues, Secretary Browner was an in-your-face, if you will, environmental activist, and she could cut right through the fluff of any discussions and want to get to the core of what could be done for the environment.

VAN OSS: Still, Micah says, Browner as head of Florida's Department of Environmental Regulation did not let her convictions get in the way of facts and analysis. Browner's credited with reinvigorating one of the nation's largest environment agencies, and for finding creative solutions to some daunting problems. For example, she worked out a first-of-a-kind, long-term deal with Disney World, in which the giant corporation got permission to develop more than 400 acres of wetland in exchange for purchasing, preserving and improving a tract of land almost twenty times the size, a refuge for the bald eagle and other wildlife. One high Disney official calls Browner a "visionary with integrity," who could, she said, reach accomodations without compromising Florida's environmental review process. Not every business in Florida is so complimentary about Browner's environmental vision.

BUCHER: Really, what you have here is a land-use plan. And if you look at the big picture, what you have is that the environmentalists have a vision of the future for land use and this is just a way of backing into that.

VAN OSS: That's Robert Bucher, senior vice president of the US Sugar Corporation, speaking in 1991 about a settlement between Florida and the Federal Government over cleaning up the Everglades, another mega-project. Browner played a large role in that settlement, which Bucher says put much of the clean-up costs on local sugar farmers. Bucher says that sugar interests have successfully challenged in court Browner's rule-making process. There are other concerns about Browner, such as her close relationship with Vice-President-elect Al Gore, for whom she worked on Capitol Hill. Critics such as Ken Jeffries of the Competitiveness Enterprise Institute, believe that Gore hand-picked Browner for the EPA position, and Jeffries says that connection may compromise her independence. He says the appointment will unleash what he calls Browner's "native environmentalist instincts" at the helm of an agency which is shifting and expanding its scope.

JEFFRIES: In the past, EPA focused on public health and protection of the environment from things like minute quantities of pesticide residues or dioxin in the water, something like that. And these were essentially health-based standards. I think in the future we will see under Carol Browner the EPA moving much more strongly in the direction of land and natural resource management, such as wetlands issues, endangered species, a host of legislative policies that are coming up for reauthorization during her period at EPA.

VAN OSS: Jeffries says Browner lacks the administrative experience to manage a major agency which requires one to delegate authority. Rick Hind of Greenpeace says that, on the other hand, there's no better place than Florida in which to learn the harsh realities of protecting the environment.

HIND: To anyone who's visited Florida recently, and knows that, a state that 90 percent of its drinking water comes from about 6 inches below the surface, to a state that is rapidly becoming as congested as New Jersey in population and development, the environment couldn't be a higher priority in that state or anywhere else.

VAN OSS: Transition officials declined to make Carol Browner available for this report, but in an interview with the New York Times, she laid out three early goals at the EPA -- speeding up decision-making, streamlining management of the huge Superfund program, and restoring credibility to an agency which has been criticized by both environmental and business groups alike during the Bush and Reagan Administrations. Despite the unknowns in any new executive team, whether the new EPA head will be overshadowed by the Vice President, or whether she puts her own stamp on environmental policy, it does seem likely that Carol Browner will be a different kind of EPA director, with a closer and possibly more effective relationship with the White House than has been seen in many years. For Living on Earth, this is Alex van Oss in Washington.

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Clinton's Environmental Team

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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Reilly Looks Back, and Ahead

CURWOOD: The outgoing EPA administrator, William Reilly, has presided over a revival of sorts at the EPA, rejuvenating the agency after the scandals and neglect of the Reagan years. Yet Reilly's tenure has been marked by almost constant friction with the White House, with environmentalists and with business, as the Bush administration pursued contradictory environmental policies. And that he managed to complete all four years under President Bush comes as a surprise to some. Now, about to leave office, Reilly has some words of advice for his successor, Carol Browner.

REILLY: Well, you know, a practical piece of advice is -- and I did give this to her at lunch the other day -- is move very fast. Get out early, with your new appointees, select your priorities, and don't allow yourself to be distracted from them. Recognize that you will never have a more congenial opportunity to close on your major priorities than the first six months or so of your service. If there is an early success, then I think the whole rest of her relationship with Congress and her tenure in this job will go easier. That would be my principal bit of advice to her.

CURWOOD: Where do you see the most important priorities ahead for your successor?

REILLY: The first thing that needs to be done is to reauthorize the Clean Water Act. One of my regrets is that we did not do that on our watch. We didn't push for it frankly because many of our friends in Congress, friends of the environment, cautioned that to bring Clean Water up in a climate that was very negative on wetlands, for example, and very preoccupied with the recession, would not have been helpful -- would have caused a focus on property rights issues and ideological argument, would not have allowed us to address what I think is the largest remaining water quality problem we have in the country and that's, that's diffuse pollution, the stuff that flows off farms and construction sites and forest sites. That needs to be attended to in the next Congress, and I hope they give it a priority.

CURWOOD: I wanted to ask you, you've got just a few days to go before your term at the EPA ends -- what do you feel was your greatest accomplishment as the administrator of EPA?

REILLY: Well, I suppose the most important thing that we did was to propose a comprehensive new Clean Air Act, one that has measures in it that really point the way, I think, to legislation that we could craft on clean water and on recycling and any number of things that we need to do in the next Congress for this country.

CURWOOD: What's the key battle you lost?

REILLY: Well, I suppose the critical battle we lost was to take a really forward-leaning position at the Rio conference last summer. It was not ultimately a good idea to use the President's willingness to attend the conference as a bargaining chip to try to get our interpretation agreed to in the climate convention. That worked as a tactic -- it was successful in the short run, it allowed us to prevail. But in the longer run it created the perception that we were dragging our feet, that we were reluctant to go to a conference which ought to have been the capstone for environmental achievements in this Administration that I think exceed those of all others, and certainly, incontestably, a nation that has done more for the environment than any other. But I think one has to remember the economic context that we approached Rio in, and also realize the political realities of a very sharply ideological attack on the President that time from within his own party, that among other things was premised on a sense that we had gone too far on the environment, that we were excessively regulating the economy. That was the nature of the attack; I don't think it ever was a correct attack, and I think in fact many of our environmental measures have strengthened the environment. But back last June or so, that was not the perception in the country, and it certainly wasn't the perception in the party.

CURWOOD: We heard a lot of talk about some pretty tough battles that you had with Vice President Quayle's Council on Competitiveness over the regulation process, and we haven't heard from President-elect Clinton about what he's going to do with the Council on Competitiveness, although Vice President-elect Gore has been pretty vocal about saying the process of having this White House agency review regulations in his view is illegal. Do you think there's a place for something like the Council on Competitiveness in future Administrations?

REILLY: Well, all Presidents, going back to Nixon, have had some kind of mechanism to try to coordinate economic policy, or those decisions that have an economic impact. In my view, the mistake that was made in our Administration was to allow lower-level people excessive authority to hold up regulations, to stimulate conflicts, and to defer too little to the primary-line agencies like EPA. We created the impression of a lack of substantive support for an aggressive, forward-leaning environmental policy. The record of the Administration, where we've established enforcement records that are off the charts, we've had the budget increase fifty percent for EPA, when the rest of the government was increasing by about five percent for discretionary spending, we've acquired impressive amounts of land -- all of these things are undeniable, but I think the public does not really know or appreciate that; what the public is aware of is the great conflicts we've had. That is something I would hope the new Administration can learn from, and correct.

CURWOOD: William Reilly is the outgoing administrator of the EPA. After leaving office Mr. Reilly says he'll be returning to his former organization, the World Wildlife Fund, where he'll become a senior fellow. He'll also be taking a few trips to the jungle.

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Remembering 12 Years Of Reagan And Bush

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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Our director is Deborah Stavro. . .The coordinating producer is George Homsy. . . and our production team includes Kim Motylewski, Lucia Small, Chris Page, Colleen Singer Cox and engineers Laurie Azaria, Peter Lydotes and Mark Navin. A special thanks to Barbara Vierow. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR Boston. Peter Thomson is our producer and editor; I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

If you have any questions or comments about Living on Earth you can write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Mass 02238. Or give a call to our listener line at 617-868-7454. That's 617-868-7454. Transcripts and tapes are available for ten dollars.

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