Air Date: April 9, 1993
Public Lands Move Ends Clinton's Environmental Honeymoon
Steve talks with Tom Kenworthy of the Washington Post about the political fallout of President Clinton's decision to remove Federal land-use reforms from his budget. The move was made to appease western Democratic senators, but it prompted cries of betrayal by environmentalists. (06:08)
Clinton and the Chickens/ Derrick Jackson
Commentator Derrick Jackson says President Clinton's willingness to bargain public lands reform right out of the budget should be no surprise to anyone familiar with his record as Governor of Arkansas. (02:47)
Making a Difference Contest Promo
Great Lakes Anti-Pollution Plan/ Doug Johnson
Doug Johnson of Michigan Public Radio reports on a major new anti-pollution plan for the Great Lakes, which for the first time would impose common pollution standards in all eight Great Lakes states. The standards are aimed at reducing the flow of toxic substances into the lakes and the food chain. (04:55)
Mothers Fight Pollution in East LA/ Stephanie O'Neill
Stephanie O'Neill profiles the activist group known as the Mothers of East L.A. (This report is part of our 2nd anniversary series on people and groups that are making a difference in the environment.) (05:28)
HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Michael Richards, Janice Windborne, Doug Johnson, Stephanie O'Neill
GUESTS: Tom Kenworthy, Derrick Jackson
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
The joy of some environmentalists about Clinton's election has turned to dismay, after the President's sudden reversal of a plan to reform the use of federal lands.
KENWORTHY: They saw the advent of the Clinton administration as a chance to get some really fundamental reform in land use in the west, ah, so I guess that exacerbated their frustration.
CURWOOD: In East Los Angeles a group of determined mothers has become a major force of environmental activism.
LOPEZ: A lot of people think that because they were homemakers, they were quiet at home, never hear from them. then they came out and spoke their mind and said you know what, let's take our neighborhood back.
CURWOOD: Also, a sweeping new anti-pollution plan for the Great Lakes, that and more this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after the news.
NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news.
President Clinton's first budget contains an almost 20-percent hike in funding for the operation of the country's national parks. But it actually cuts the amount allocated for the purchase of new parklands. Michael Richards reports from Washington.
RICHARDS: President Clinton's proposal is more than forty percent smaller than what President Bush put forth last year. Interior Department officials say it's simply a matter of economics. Money is being increased for maintaining and improving existing national parks, and the Administration says there's simply not enough in the deficit-ridden Federal coffers to do more. But environmental groups have responded critically. They accuse President Clinton of breaking a written campaign promise to "expand" efforts to "acquire new parkland." For Living on Earth, this is Michael Richards in Washington.
NUNLEY: The President's budget would also increase funds for the Environmental Protection Agency, provided certain portions of the economic stimulus package pass. And the President wants to shift a billion dollars from nuclear weapons production to cleaning up the radioactive legacy of the Cold War.
Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary has ordered a review of military nuclear waste facilities in the US, in response to the radioactive chemical explosion at a former Soviet weapons plant in Russia. That explosion and fire at a nuclear waste tank released a cloud of radioactivity. O'Leary's department says such an explosion at similar tanks in the US is unlikely. But some critics of the department say it's not impossible. Arjun Makjani is president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.
MAKJANI: In most of these tanks they didn't keep adequate records of what they put into the tanks. The situation is so bad right now is that it's very hard to find out what is in many of these tanks because introducing instruments could create a spark which could initiate an explosion.
NUNLEY: Makjani acknowledges that nuclear waste storage tanks have been significantly upgraded since the last explosion of radioactive chemicals in the US in the 1950's.
For the first time in the United States, a lawsuit claiming personal injury from the effects of electromagnetic fields has made it to trial. From member station KPBS in San Diego, Janice Windborne has the story.
WINDBORNE: The parents of 5-year-old Mallory Zuidema claim the little girl contracted a rare form of kidney cancer after exposure to high levels of electromagnetic radiation. They are suing San Diego Gas and Electric, which owns the power lines close to their house. The utility company says there is no evidence to support the claim, citing among other things a recent study paid for by the utilities. It says there is no connection between power lines and cancer. The parents also have research to support their claim. They cite a study from Sweden that found levels of leukemia, a different form of cancer, four times higher in children who lived near power lines. If the court finds for the family, the precedent could open the floodgates for similar claims all over the country. For Living on Earth, I'm Janice Windborne in San Diego.
NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth.
The effects of lead poisoning in children may be partially reversible. That's according to a new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study says a group of moderately lead-poisoned children scored higher on a standardized intelligence test, six months after their blood lead was reduced. Dr. Holly Ruff of Albert Einstein College, who headed the study, says the news is encouraging, but that the intelligence increase was very subtle, and did not occur in every child.
The parasite that's caused a rash of intestinal illnesses in Milwaukee has been hitting the US with increasing frequency. The waterborne parasite, Cryptosporidium, has been responsible for similar outbreaks in Oregon and Texas, and it caused nearly 13 thousand illnesses in Georgia in 1987. The parasite is a common cause of diarrhea for travelers in the Third World.
The EPA has issued voluntary building standards to guard against radon gas contamination. The agency says building-in radon protection costs 75% less than fixing the problem later. The agency is also advising home buyers to test for radon before they buy a property. The colorless and odorless gas causes thousands of lung cancer deaths every year..
Acting on the recommendation of the EPA, an Indiana steel mill has agreed to move 1500 plants that may be home to an endangered species of butterfly. The company will uproot and replant the lupine plants, on which larvae of the endangered Karner blue butterfly feed. The move would make room for an expansion of the mill's landfill, and, hopefully, protect the butterflies. Carol Witt-Smith of the EPA.
WITT-SMITH: We're hoping that if there's eggs that exist on the plants that will be transplanted that they will then get moved into the new habitat and hopefully stay in the new habitat.
NUNLEY: Federal officials acknowledge that habitat relocation is risky. As insurance against failure, the steel company will buy another fifty-acre site where the butterflies have been known to exist, and turn it into a protected reserve.
That's this week's environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
The honeymoon is over on Pennsylvania Avenue. That's what many environmentalists are saying after the White House's recent announcement that two key environmental reforms would be dropped from President Clinton's budget: royalties for minerals taken from Federal lands, and higher fees for grazing livestock on Federal property. Officially the White House says the matters have merely been put on hold, in order to curry the votes of Western senators for the President's economic package, and that the fees would be imposed later. But a number of activists have said they feel betrayed by the move.
With us now is Tom Kenworthy, who covers environmental and natural resource issues for the Washington Post . Tom, What happened? Why the abrupt about-face?
KENWORTHY: Well, what happened is pretty simple politics. Senator Max Baucus of Montana, who's a Democrat from Montana, and several of his Democratic colleagues convinced the Administration that a combination of higher fees on mining, timber and grazing was going to be too much for the economies of the West, and the Administration in turn decided that they needed the votes of those Senators to get the budget through.
CURWOOD: But what about the politics? I mean, now, Bruce Babbitt had been running around saying we're gonna have these fees, they're gonna be in the budget, and suddenly he looks up the next day and I gather he reads about it in the newspaper that this is what's happening.
KENWORTHY: I think he may have gotten a little bit more warning than that but he certainly didn't get very much. Secretary Babbitt had begun to be pretty outspoken on these issues, and there's quite a feeling that he got the rug pulled out from under him.
CURWOOD: So why is that? Why not at least consult with him?
KENWORTHY: That's an interesting question and I wish I knew the answer to it. I think they did tend to look at it as a minor fiscal matter rather than a question of sort of fundamental policy, that these changes have been sought by environmentalists for many years, and they saw the advent of the Clinton administration as a chance to get some really fundamental reform in land use in the West, and so that's probably why you have the reaction. I think Secretary Babbitt is certainly going to live on to fight another day on this. He's got a lot of
stature and a lot of respect within the Administration.
CURWOOD: What's the reaction among the folks on Capitol Hill and the environmental lobbyists who care about this? What about George Miller, for example, he's chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee -- how did he respond to this?
KENWORTHY: George Miller was very angry, and when George Miller gets angry you know about it. His attitude is that he and some of his Western Democrats, some of them from states like Montana who have big constituencies out there in these industries, that they took a tough vote and they took it for nothing because the White House cut a deal with the Senate, and I think Congressman Miller's attitude is, if they're going to pursue things like mining law reform, they're going to have to get it through the Senate first and the White House is going to have to push hard for it.
CURWOOD: So the President has burned some bridges in the House?
KENWORTHY: Yeah, well, he -- yeah, they may not be totally down but he set a fire over there.
CURWOOD: If some folks in the House are upset with the President, seems that some environmentalists are enraged. Jay Hair from the National Wildlife Federation, he had some pretty strong rhetoric; what did he say -- it's gone from a honeymoon to date rape, this decision? What's the political fallout going to be in the environmental community for the President, do you think?
KENWORTHY: Well, I think this is going to be quite interesting to watch. The environmentalists were very, very supportive, as you know, of the Clinton/Gore ticket in the campaign, and ever since the election they've had very high hopes. They've gotten a lot of appointments they like very much. So I guess that exacerbated their frustration at this. The good news for the environmentalists is they never even got a date with the previous crowd.
CURWOOD: All right, now let's look ahead. The White House is a bit surprised by all this -- what are they going to do next?
KENWORTHY: Well, the White House has said that this is not a change in policy, it's a change in process, and that both administratively and through legislation, they can get these things later on and that one of the interesting things about this will be to see how hard the White House pushes. On the grazing fees, Secretary Babbitt has planned all along to do that administratively, and he's going to hold a series of hearings out West beginning the end of this month. Mining law's a little bit more complicated, it requires legislation, and it's harder to get standing alone than if it was wrapped up into a big budget bill, and I think the environmentalists and some of the members of the House are going to say, this is a big test for the White House and they've really got to get behind this.
CURWOOD: Below-cost timber sales invoke the same principle, that is, instead of giving away common wealth the people should pay for it. The President made a strong appearance in Portland. How do you think the issue of below-cost timber sales is now going to fare, given this move on mining and on grazing?
KENWORTHY: I think achieving what the environmentalists would call reform of below-cost timber sales is a little more problematic. There's generally more political out West for cutting timber on our national forests, there's a lot of forests in a lot of Congressional districts and a lot of jobs depend on it. It's a tougher argument and I'd be very surprised if they got that this year.
CURWOOD: The knock on Clinton during the Democratic primary campaign was that he was the least environmental of all the candidates. What do suppose his actions today tell us about him?
KENWORTHY: Well, I think Clinton's a complicated man, and this is going to be a complicated story over the next four years. I think what you saw in his performance in Portland was to some extent an attempt to find common ground between people who've been fighting for years, and that is not an issue that you can just cut the baby in half. I think some of these issues are going to be tough for him, but I think his appointments please the environmentalists, he's got Vice President Gore there, I don't think you can judge his environmental record based on just the past couple of weeks.
CURWOOD: I want to thank you. Tom Kenworthy writes about the environment and natural resources issues for the Washington Post.
KENWORTHY: Thank you for having me.
JACKSON: It was almost yuk-yuk and a playful roll in the mud for environmentalists in the early days of Bill Clinton's presidency.
CURWOOD: Commentator Derrick Jackson.
JACKSON: But when Clinton backed down from his pledge to charge new fees for commercial exploitation of public lands, he returned us to the days when he chickened out to chicken farmers. When he was Governor of Arkansas, Clinton was very friendly with Fortune-500 chicken baron Don Tyson. Tyson Foods has 25 percent of the nation's chicken business, killing 25 million chickens a week. What Tyson will not tell you is that in a state of 2.3 million people, the industry produces enough waste in its northwest corner alone to equal that of four million people. About 300 miles of rivers are so fouled -- pun intended -- from chicken waste that no swimming is allowed. In one town examined by the Washington Post, Tyson's waste led to groundwater contamination and dysentery. It took Clinton a year and a half to declare an emergency. From 1988 to 1990, Clinton gave Tyson $7.8 million in tax breaks. Conversely, environmentalists rarely won a clean break from pollution. When Clinton appointed a 28-member animal-waste task force in 1990, only three members were environmentalists. Chicken waste was not a priority. The Tyson-Clinton bond has already been felt in Washington. Tyson helped fund Clinton inaugural parties. Sources told the Los Angeles Times that Tyson killed the appointment of consumer activist Ellen Haas to run meat and poultry inspections in the Department of Agriculture. This is after Clinton and Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy promised tougher inspection policies, after tainted hamburger meat killed several people in Washington State. Haas had promised tough seafood inspections, but by coincidence, Tyson recently purchased a seafood company. Tyson, unworried about super-tough inspections, is dreaming of leapfrogging from the Forbes 200 into the low 100's. The public is left without parallel assurance that the cost of Tyson's growth will not involve unswimmable and unfishable rivers and a trip to the hospital. When Clinton dropped the mining and grazing fees, outraged environmentalists should not have been surprised. Instead of 'yuk-yuk, thank God I have a foot in the door of the White House,' they should have kept their ear to the ground. The sound on Clinton's farm is bawk-bawk-bawk bawk-bawk bawk-bawk bawk-bawk . . .(fade under)
CURWOOD: Derrick Jackson is a columnist for the Boston Globe and a commentator for Living On Earth.
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CURWOOD: After two years in regulatory limbo, the Environmental Protection Agency has released sweeping new draft rules aimed at controlling pollution in the Great Lakes. The rules were held up for nearly two years by the Bush Administration, and were finally released only under orders of a Federal judge. When the rules go into effect, they'll form the basis of a comprehensive plan to restrict toxic contamination in the Great Lakes, which together form the world's largest freshwater system. Doug Johnson of Michigan Public Radio has our story.
JOHNSON: Stretching from Minnesota to New York State, the Great Lakes Basin is a vast region, home to over forty million people and 95 percent of the United States' fresh surface water. But the mighty lakes aren't invulnerable: over the years, a host of persistent toxic chemicals, such as PCB's and dioxins, have found their way into the Great Lakes food chain, affecting fish, wildlife and even human populations. The draft rules, once adopted, will set one standard across the region for reducing the flow into the waters of such bio-accumulative toxics from industrial pipes and municipal wastewater treatment plants. James Hanlon, the EPA's acting director of the Office of Science and Technology, says because of the sheer number of substances and sources targeted by the initiative, it's the most comprehensive project ever undertaken by the EPA.
HANLON: The impact, we believe, will require local governments, municipalities, local industries to look very closely at their discharges, their effluents and their internal processes to assess what the source of any toxics contamination are, in particular the bio-accumulative chemicals of concern.
JOHNSON: The rules, however, almost never saw the light of day. Completed and slated for public comment in 1991, the EPA shelved the plan, keeping it from public view. The National Wildlife Federation brought suit last year, charging that by holding the report the EPA was violating both a Congressional mandate and the Clean Water Act. Ultimately a Federal judge ordered the EPA to release the rules. The new standards will cost the region $2.7 billion over ten years, and according to those calculations, much of those costs will fall directly onto the industries and wastewater treatment plants that ring the lakes.
NIEL: We are concerned that there may be very little benefit for the costs of this program because of the very narrow focus.
JOHNSON: Karen Niel is with the Great Lakes Water Quality Coalition, as association of Great Lakes manufacturers and local governments. Niel says the proposed rules would greatly increase the cost of doing business in the region with limited benefits, a position she hopes will be borne out by other studies.
NIEL: We estimate that the cost is far greater than what has been put forth in EPA's preliminary economic analysis. We'll be very interested in seeing an economic analysis that the Council of Great Lakes Governors is conducting, to determine what the impact of this initiative might be on the Great Lakes region both from the standpoint of output and jobs.
JOHNSON: Each of the Great Lakes states currently set its own water quality standards, a situation that has led to competition among the eight states to lower their standards and attract sorely-needed industries. While the new EPA rules would eliminate that regional competition, Tracy Mehan, head of the Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, says the new rules may put the region as a whole at a disadvantage in relation to other regions with lower water quality standards.
MEHAN: I think we've got to also discuss thoroughly not just the idea of leveling the playing field regionally but also what does this do to the region in terms of its competitiveness nationally and internationally.
JOHNSON: But environmentalists like Dick Kubiak aren't troubled by the prospect of higher costs and taxes in exchange for cleaner water. Kubiak, president of the region-wide organization Great Lakes United, warns the costs of not doing anything are simply too high.
KUBIAK: What will be the costs in respiratory diseases, what will be the costs in cancers, what will be the costs in childrens' abnormal behavior, the behavior abnormalities that we're seeing in kids now? What about lower IQ's? All of those things are costs that are now being paid by we the citizenry as a result of allowing this toxic loading in the Basin. We need to stop that.
JOHNSON: The new EPA standards probably won't be finalized for at least two years; it's expected to take another two years for the eight Great Lakes states to put them into practice. But the clean-up process will not end there. Already EPA researchers have begun work on a set of rules protecting the waters of the Great Lakes from sources such as air pollution and agricultural runoff. Given the scope of the Great Lakes basin, it's expected that set of rules won't be finished until after the century's turn. For Living on Earth in East Lansing, Michigan, this is Doug Johnson.
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CURWOOD: What would you do to make a difference for the environment if you were President? Let us know. Enter the Living on Earth "Making a Difference" Contest in cooperation with Stonyfield Farm Yogurt.
THOMSON: Write a poem, a letter, a song or a rap. Tell us in 500 words or less what you'd do to improve the environment for your community, the country or our planet.
VOICE 1: We'll judge your entries on their creativity, their clarity, and real-life application. Be passionate, precise, and personal.
VOICE 2: First prize for adults is a ten-day trip for two to the rainforests and national parks of Costa Rica, courtesy of Overseas Adventure Travel based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, specializing in eco-tours and treks, safaris and rainforest expeditions around the world. Some travel restrictions apply.
VOICE 3: First prize for kids under 18 is a $1000 savings bond and a gift certificate for a bicycle and a helmet.
VOICE 4: And of course the winners and runners-up will have their entries broadcast on Living on Earth.
VOICE 5: Written and recorded entries must be postmarked by May 1st. The first 30 people to enter will receive a Living on Earth/ Stony field Farm Yogurt "Making a Difference" tote bag.
CURWOOD: For details on the Living on Earth "Making a Difference" contest, call Living on Earth at 617-868-7454. That's 617-868-7454. Or write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Mass, 02238.
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CURWOOD: In East Los Angeles, a group of activists with small pocketbooks has been making a name for itself fighting some big environmental battles. They're women, with low incomes and children. They call themselves the Mothers of East L-A, and they're determined to save the neighborhood they call home. As part of our series this month on people who are making a difference for the environment, Stephanie O'Neill reports from Los Angeles.
(Sound of conversation in Spanish)
O'NEILL: It's almost noon, and this modest residential street in the heart of East Los Angeles echoes with the sound of breaking porcelain as workers smash up dozens of toilets. Since August, residents from throughout this urban Latino neighborhood have traded in more than 4500 water-guzzling toilets for new low-flow models that are free. It's all part of a successful inner-city water conservation program run by the Mothers of East L-A. The group buys the toilets and then is reimbursed for them through a city rebate program. Rafael Garcia, a Mothers of East L-A employee, breaks up the toilets in the driveway of the group's headquarters and prepares them for recycling.
GARCIA: When we get the old toilets, we put them in the container and then we put them inside and we start separating all the metal and plastic and bolts and everything.
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O'NEILL: The program is the latest high-profile success story for the social and environmental group that focuses on land-use issues in this mixed residential and industrial community. In 1990, the Mothers of East L-A claimed a large victory against a Pennsylvania-based company that wanted to build a hazardous-chemical treatment plant across the street from a high school here. A year earlier, they fought off plans for a prototype toxic waste incinerator in east L-A. In 1988, the Mothers helped defeat an oil company pipeline that would have crossed through the community, and just months before that, they helped fight a municipal waste incinerator targeted for the area. Elsa Lopez, a young mother of three, is environmental director for the Mothers of East L-A.
LOPEZ: A lot of people think that because they were homemakers, they were quiet at home, never heard from them. then they came out and spoke their mind, they were able to really get, you know, close to the people and said you know what, let's take our neighborhood back, let's take our community back, let's fight for our neighborhood and protect our kids.
O'NEILL: The Mothers first came together in 1984, after founder Juana Gutierrez, a homemaker and mother of 9 children, got fed up with watching her neighborhood decay. Since then they've taken on most any issue that affects their environment and quality of life. Rosa Disenor, a mother of three adult children, was among the first to join the now 400-member group.
DISENOR: We're involved because we love this community. We've been living here for so long and, you know, like everything they throw here in East L-A. The freeway cuts through the middle of East L-A. When they made the Dodgers Stadium , they didn't ask anybody. You know, people got tired of that, so this is the reason people now are involved. People are more forward now than they used to be in the Fifties.
O'NEILL: The Mothers started with the development of a successful neighborhood watch program, but they soon got statewide recognition when they led a visible, aggressive campaign against a state prison slated for East L-A. Their victory in that battle and many others has earned them international acclaim from as far away as England and Russia and powerful credibility among California policy-makers. Los Angeles Supervisor Gloria Molina says the Mothers of East L-A have found a way to get support for environmental issues among people usually overwhelmed by concerns about gangs, crime and unemployment. What's more, the supervisor says, the group has called attention to issues long neglected by mainstream environmental groups.
MOLINA: The environmental issues within the inner city community are not treated as seriously as some of the wilderness issues, a lot of, you know, the issues of beaches and so on. So to have this group of people lends an awful lot of credibility to, I think a movement that sometimes seems very avant-garde, very out of touch with what's going on in everyday lives.
O'NEILL: Eric Mann is head of another multi-racial environmental group in East Los Angeles, called Watchdog, which works closely with the Mothers of East L-A. Mann considers such groups forerunners of a developing "environmental justice" movement that he predicts will eventually transform the entire environmental movement nationwide.
MANN: It's about community control over corporate decision-making. This is not NIMBYism. This is fundamental democracy at work, which is a big threat to a corporation that believes that what you own includes the lives of everybody around you. So their work to challenge corporate prerogatives has tremendous implications in communities of color, working class communities from the South Bronx to Chicago.
O'NEILL: The Mothers have been called on to help lead similar efforts in other cities, out of state and even out of country, in Mexico's Baja California, where they helped fight off a toxic incinerator. The money for these battles comes mainly from fundraisers and donations. Environmental director Elsa Lopez says the mothers are happy to go wherever they're needed.
O'NEILL: Why do you care what happens in Berkeley, why do you care what happens in Baja?
LOPEZ: Because there's children out there, the future's out there. They're people too, we're all human and we think we should fight together so there won't be all these disasters going around that there are.
O'NEILL: And Elsa Lopez says if that means fighting City Hall, battling corporate America or urging residents to trade in water guzzling toilets, the Mothers of East Los Angeles will be there. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neill in Los Angeles.
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CURWOOD: If you have any comments or questions about Living on Earth you can call our listener line at 617-868-7454. That's 617-868-7454. Or you can write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Mass. 02238. Transcripts and tapes are available for ten dollars.
Our Director is Deborah Stavro. The coordinating producer is George Homsy, and our production team includes Kim Motylewski, Lucia Small, Chris Page and Colleen Singer Cox, with help from Reyna Lounsbury. Our engineer is Laurie Azaria, with help this week from Gary Waleik and Bob Walker. The program is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon.
Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.
ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major funding provided by the National Science Foundation for coverage of science and the environment. By all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt -- Stonyfield Farm Yogurt is made with milk from family farms to feed the local economy. By the Pew Charitable Trusts, and by the W. Alton Jones Foundation. Support also comes from the Joyce Foundation and the Great Lakes Protection Fund for reporting on the Great Lakes region. This is NPR, National Public Radio.
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