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

June 18, 1993

Air Date: June 18, 1993


Clinton's Missing Timber Plan / Henry Sessions

As scientists and White House advisors work towards a forest plan for the Northwest, both the timber industry and environmentalists worry that the final product will please no one. Henry Sessions of Portland, Oregon reports on the long wait for Clinton's forest plan. (04:45)

Green Government / Alex van Oss

The Clinton administration is making a commitment to buying and living green — more energy-efficient computers, electric cars, and an initiative to reduce post-consumer waste in the Federal government. Will these efforts stimulate the growth of green businesses and help lead the nation to more environmentally responsible habits? Alex van Oss reports from Washington, DC. (06:18)

Pollution Porkbellies / Janet Reynolds

Commentator Janet Reynolds examines the pitfalls of buying and selling pollution rights. (02:49)

The "Making a Difference Contest" Grand Prize Winner

Delilah Flynn of Seattle, Washington maps out her plan for a "Well-Nation Day" and talks with Steve. (10:08)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1993 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or retransmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Pye Chamberlaine, Betsy Bayha, Stephanie O'Neil, Henry Sessions, Alex Van Oss
GUESTS: Janet Reynolds

(Theme music intro)

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

(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

The Clinton Administration has yet to produce a Northwest forest plan. The President has promised to protect the old-growth forests, but the heat is on from worried lumber interests. Environmental lobbyists are also nervous.

KERR: . . . that Bill Clinton will do a 180 on forests as he's done on Haiti, gays in the military, the grazing and mining fees. We're very worried about that.

CURWOOD: Also, more government plans to "buy green," and one plan to help the environment - a day of rest, every month.

FLYNN: Think of this as a celebrated public holiday for the preservation of the quality of life on Earth. A day when everything stops.

CURWOOD: On Living on Earth, right after the news.

Environmental News

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

The Senate's stripping of the proposed "broad-based" energy tax from the Federal budget spells trouble for part of President Clinton's environmental program. In place of the BTU tax, which passed the House last month, the Senate has proposed a hike in the gas tax of less than a nickel. From Washington, Pye Chamberlaine has our story.

CHAMBERLAINE: The original proposal was a tax on all energy and was estimated to achieve about one-fifth of the President's goal of reducing greenhouse gases. Environmentalists say it set a precedent that could be built upon, but the new plan does none of that. Senators of both parties agreed that the new version would not even be high enough to reduce automobile use, especially since gasoline prices are lower than they have ever been in real dollars. Some officials of the Clinton Administration and some environmentally-sensitive House members say the tax on all energy may come back when the House and Senate negotiate the final version of the bill. But Congressional leaders on both sides of the debate doubt it. They point out that there was never a large or enthusiastic cheering section for the President's BTU tax. For Living on Earth, I'm Pye Chamberlaine in Washington.

NUNLEY: In spite of the Senate's thumbs-down on the BTU tax, Vice-President Al Gore says the US will meet its promise to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels within seven years. Gore's pledge came at the first meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Development Commission. But the means of reaching that target are still being debated. Options reportedly include voluntary emissions cuts by electric companies and US companies operating overseas, increased use of alternative-fuel vehicles, and tree-planting programs.

Gore's comments were part of what he called an effort to "reassert US leadership" in environmental politics. It also includes the formation of a new White House Council on Sustainable Development. The panel includes environmental, business and civil rights leaders, Cabinet secretaries, and the head of the EPA. They will make recommendations to the President in areas such as energy efficiency, transportation, and pollution prevention.

A group of prominent California Republicans has gotten together to encourage their party to put more emphasis on the environment. Betsy Bayha of KQED in San Francisco reports.

BAYHA: The group is called the California Environmental Forum, and is co-chaired by former Environmental Protection Agency administrator William Reilly. The group will develop policies that use market forces and economic incentives to protect natural resources. Reilly says Republicans have made a mistake by conceding environmental issues to the Democrats, and former President Bush's failure to emphasize environmental issues cost him votes last fall.

REILLY: In many respects, we ran from it. And I think that that experience should serve as a cautionary tale to the Governor as we prepare for the next election in California.

BAYHA: Formation of the group could help California Governor Pete Wilson, whose popularity is at an all-time low. For Living on Earth, I'm Betsy Bayha in San Francisco.

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth.

The US is threatening action against China and Taiwan for allegedly tolerating trade in endangered species. The countries officially prohibit the trade of species such as tigers and rhinos, but enforcement is criticized as lax. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has given both countries until July first to respond. The countries would be the first to face US trade sanctions for violating an international treaty protecting rare animals.

High-tension lines near a California condor sanctuary are being fitted with anti-perching devices, following the deaths of two endangered condors in power-line accidents. Federal officials say they'll also release the next batch of captive-bred condors in a more remote area, in hope of minimizing danger to the birds. Three of the eight condors released into the wild last year have died, all from causes related to human activity.

A US company has been fined for dumping lead waste in Mexico. It's a case some say could bolster the chances for the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement. From Los Angeles, Stephanie O'Neil has the story.

O'NEIL: The case involves RSR Incorporated, a Dallas lead recycler charged by the Los Angeles District Attorney with improperly transporting 31 million pounds of lead waste from its L-A smelter to Mexico. The firm pleaded no contest to the charges, and agreed to pay Mexican officials $2.5 million dollars, most of which will go towards cleaning up the highly-polluted site. A Mexican official said the settlement is an example of the cooperation possible under the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement. But some environmentalists caution that Mexico's cooperation was merely a staged effort to ease concerns that Mexico will become a dumping ground for US firms if the trade agreement is adopted. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neil in Los Angeles.

NUNLEY: Electric cars will be a bit more affordable as of July first, when a ten percent Federal tax credit goes into effect. The tax break could save an electric car buyer up to $4,000. The new law also offers a smaller tax break for vehicles powered by natural gas, hydrogen, or alcohol.

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

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(Theme music up and under)

Clinton's Missing Timber Plan

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

Since April's Forest Summit conference in Portland, Oregon, the Clinton Administration has been working on a plan. The President promises it will protect old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest without causing undue hardship for people who earn their living turning trees into lumber. Mr. Clinton also has predicted that both factions in the long-running dispute will be angered by his decision. He may be right about that. As Henry Sessions reports from Portland, previews of the plan in advance of its official unveiling have already sparked some hot words.

SESSIONS: President Clinton promised three things at the one-day Forest Conference in Portland - to obey existing environmental laws, to find a balance between environmental and timber interests in Northwest forests, and to have a plan ready by June 2nd. He's already missed that deadline, and many of those involved in the issue believe he won't be able to reconcile the other two promises.

DEFAZIO: I'm worried that the President could get himself back into a position where he can't deliver on something that is truly protective of old-growth and ecosystem values but also has the least impact on economic and social values.

SESSIONS: Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio represents one of the most timber-rich districts in the country. He's worried the scientific panel working on the forest plan will say that, in order to protect the spotted owl and follow existing environmental laws, timber harvest levels will have to be reduced to as little as one-fifth of their peak levels in the mid-1980's. The minimum cut level the industry could accept is more than twice that. Most members of the Northwest Congressional delegation stand behind the industry, and they've pushed the White House for more creative scientific forest management solutions. Among those, a newly-crafted plan that would allow selective logging over a much wider area than current options allow. Adopting such a plan might also mean the government would have to change key environmental laws, such as the National Forest Management Act and the Endangered Species Act. Andy Kerr, conservation director of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, the state's leading environmental group, says the new scientific options may just be a creative way to circumvent current laws.

KERR: It's of concern that the White House is asking that new alternatives be developed by the scientific community, and concern that those alternatives will not comply with law, so why should they consider them? We think that the minimum protection is the environmental laws that are on the books already, and we shouldn't go below that.

SESSIONS: Kerr's group was responsible for many of the lawsuits that have shut down millions of acres of Northwest forests to logging. He and other environmentalists worry the struggling Clinton administration won't have the political will to stick to the laws as they're written, and that the forest plan will end up being just another administration turnaround.

KERR: Environmentalists are damned worried that Bill Clinton will do a 180 on forests as he's done on Haiti, gays in the military, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, the grazing and mining fees. We're very worried about that.

SESSIONS: But what might be another Clinton flip-flop to Kerr would make good sense to the timber industry. Ralph Saperstein is vice-president of the Northwest Forestry Association, which represents mill owners who depend on Federal timber.

SAPERSTEIN: He said his proposal would make both sides angry, and we personally revel in that declaration because thus far in the debate, which has gone on for five years now, only one side has been angry and that's been the forest industry. And so we're looking for a balanced plan that, for certain, we're not going to be pleased with, and we may even be angry about, but if it also provides some balance so that the environmental community is upset, maybe that's the position's strength.

SESSIONS: A key player in the debate is House Speaker Tom Foley of Washington, a long-time backer of the timber industry. Foley's support was crucial in getting President Clinton's economic plan through the House. Now Clinton may find it hard to sell Foley on a forest plan that the timber industry doesn't like. Environmentalists say despite Foley, they have enough votes lined up in Congress to kill proposed changes to key environmental laws. However the fight in Congress plays out, a long, bruising battle over forests may end up being one more political strike against an already struggling Administration. For Living on Earth, this is Henry Sessions in Portland.

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Green Government

CURWOOD: The US government has tremendous buying power, and President Clinton has promised to use his direct authority to help stimulate the production of goods that help protect the environment. This spring, the White House issued executive orders for the purchase of a number of "green" items, including more recycled paper, electric and other alternatively-fueled cars and trucks, and energy-efficient computers. But as Alex Van Oss reports from Washington, there are questions about whether the government's initiatives on these and other products will have the desired impact.

VAN OSS: Washington, DC is the city of signals, and that's what these executive orders are - signals from the White House to American industry that there is a market for items less stressful to the environment. The President hopes the orders will be a kind of "it's OK" signal to manufacturers to market these items to one of their biggest customers, Uncle Sam. Take, for example, the new Energy Star computer project, steered by Bryan Johnson of the Environmental Protection Agency.

JOHNSON: I'm told that the Federal Government buys about five percent of all of the personal computers and software in the United States.

VAN OSS: That, says the White House, makes the government the world's largest purchasers of computers. Under one of the executive orders, from now on, the Fed will shop for computers from the growing number of manufacturers who are putting energy-saving features into their computerware - computers which bear the EPA's new Energy Star logo. The order, says Bryan Johnson, will save the government $40 million dollars a year in electricity bills, and it will also have an immediate effect on the computer market.

JOHNSON: By signing the executive order, President Clinton guarantees that Energy Star computers will capture immediately five percent of the market, and drive the computer industry to making the feature standard much more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.

VAN OSS: The Government claims that when these features become standard, the energy savings would be enough to power a good portion of New England each year, and so eliminate the carbon dioxide and other pollution produced by generating that electricity. There's little criticism of the President's order to buy these new computers but there are questions about a second executive order concerning alternative-fuel vehicles. The fuels include ethanol, methanol, and compressed natural gas, and also electric batteries. Kathy Zoy, deputy director of the White House Office on Environmental Policy, says the order boosts government purchases of these vehicles by fifty percent.

ZOY`: Now the Federal Government purchases about fifty thousand vehicles each year, so we're going to be, you know, over the next three years, looking at over twenty percent of the cars that are purchased are going to be alternately fueled.

VAN OSS: The White House hopes the executive order will spur auto manufacturers to develop whole new lines of alternative-fuel vehicles for public sale. But while the government orders a few thousand non-gasoline autos, Detroit likes to think in terms of millions. Marika Tatsutani of the Natural Resources Defense Council says government purchases alone are hardly enough to get Detroit to hold the assembly line and retool .

TATSUTANI: It will probably mostly encourage a few limited production runs, but I think for a really major shift there's going to have to be more commitments from state and local government, and from some private fleets before we really begin to see a, major numbers of these cars on the road.
STANDON : Our research says that there probably is not an overwhelmingly large market.

VAN OSS: Mike Standon is a lobbyist with the American Automobile Manufacturers Association.He says that even if the government buys lots of alternative-fuel vehicles, that's no guarantee about the general public .

STANDON: There definitely will be pockets, and there will be opportunities, but , but a lot of things have to happen that are well beyond our control. For example, for us to build vehicles and offer to sell them, if the infrastructure is not there, they won't be supported, we won't sell 'em. And it does us no good to build vehicles that aren't sold.

VAN OSS: The infrastructure for compressed natural gas and other fuels is beginning to emerge, as more states around the country demand alternatives to gasoline-powered cars. But the executive order does have another weakness, according to Marika Tatsutani of the Natural Resources Defense Council. The problem is that it mentions several fuels, but it doesn't specify environmental criteria for the vehicles using them.

TATSUTANI: Some of the most common types of alternative fuels that they're talking about currently, such as methanol, ethanol, and natural gas, have very ambiguous environmental benefits. So we've always said it's very critical that when you talk about alternative fuels, you don't just assume that because something is alternative it's green.

VAN OSS: The final executive order is still in the works. It tackles an especially tough issue, and that's the lagging market for recycled products.

BIRMINGHAM: There's horror stories all over the place, how recycling is in fact failing at the very time when most individual Americans want to actually recycle.

VAN OSS: Susan Birmingham with the United States Public Interest Research Group.

BIRMINGHAM: Curbside programs are failing, printing and writing paper is increasing and yet our recycling rate stays stagnant. We have a worsening crisis in the country, and you know, we're not responding.

VAN OSS: The President's order will be a response to that problem. He's said it will commit government agencies to do more than ever to buy and use recycled products. One focus will be printing and writing paper, for all those government faxes and photocopies and miles of computer printout. The success or failure of the order may hinge on post-consumer waste, that is, the percentage of thrown-away junk fiber in the recycled paper. The President's order will mandate the percentage of that waste fiber in government purchase orders of recycled paper, and there's a real lobbying battle going on. Some environmental groups and recycling and paper companies want the waste percentage much higher than before. Other paper companies want it kept low. Weighing the options is Kathy Zoy, on staff at the White House Office of Environmental Policy.

ZOY: I don't know where the numbers will end up. I do want to send a signal that there will be a large market for paper that contains a lot of waste, so that we minimize waste that has to go to a landfill.

VAN OSS: What's at stake, say recycling advocates, is the fate of municipal paper recycling programs across the nation. The intention of these three executive orders is clear: to woo and sway markets, perhaps even create jobs. Less certain are their impact on the environment and the economy. That depends on the White House's signals being strong and not just sent, but received and heeded. For Living on Earth, this is Alex Van Oss in Washington.

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(Music up and out)

Pollution Porkbellies

CURWOOD: If the government can use the market to stimulate the production of goods that help protect the environment, then it should also be able to use the market to stimulate protective behavior as well. That's the argument of those who support the trading of pollution credits. But commentator Janet Reynolds takes a different view.

REYNOLDS: Pork bellies, move over - soybeans, watch out. There's another hotter commodity to trade these days - pollution rights. Yep, instead of cleaning up their own polluting plants, utility companies can buy the right to pollute from other companies whose emissions are lower than the standards set by the Clean Air Act of 1990. Apparently, the idea is to make low emissions an economic asset and then let the industries themselves pick the cheapest way to meet Clean Air Act standards. The EPA, meanwhile, can stop trying to chase down every single stinking smokestack. At least, that's the theory. There are, however, just a few disturbing loopholes. Like the fact that this trading is completely unregulated. That means a Long Island electric company that has lowered its emissions in New York State can sell its excess pollution rights to an Ohio company whose polluting emissions typically drift to the Adirondacks. And that means Adirondack lakes and ponds, a quarter of which are already highly acidic thanks to Midwestern utility plants, end up with more pollution. Not that people will be able to predict with any accuracy where any company's pollution will actually end up. Why? Because companies aren't required to provide any public information about the sales until at least 1995. For their part, EPA officials downplay concerns about pollution rights trading. The entire nation must cut its output of sulphur dioxide in half by 2010. Since the Midwest accounts for almost half of the sulphur dioxide produced in the country, the EPA reasons that that part of the country will also have to make the most cuts. At the same time, EPA officials figure Midwestern utilities will probably opt for cleanup over trading because it gives them the most bang for their buck. Sheer economics, the agency is betting, will dictate cuts over credits. We'll see. Not that I'm suggesting selling pollution rights is completely short-sighted. God knows, the catch-them-and-then-fine-them procedures of the past obviously haven't worked. It would be crazy then not to try something else. But as a resident of the Northeast, an area which already gets more than its fair share of pollution from the Midwest, I've got a problem with a system in which the free market rather than rational environmental mandates determines where our so-called allowable pollution is going to go.

CURWOOD: Janet Reynolds is a commentator for Living on Earth and Connecticut Public Radio.

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(Music up and fade)

The "Making a Difference Contest" Grand Prize Winner

CURWOOD: And now, the final chapter in our Living on Earth / Stonyfield Farm Yogurt "Making a Difference" contest - the Grand Prize Winner in the adult division, the recipient of a ten-day trip for two to the rainforest and national parks of Costa Rica, courtesy of Overseas Adventure Travel of Cambridge, Massachusetts. And the person whom our judges chose as having submitted the best answer to the question, "What would you do to make a difference for the environment in 1993, if you were President?" - are you ready? And now, the winner is - from Seattle, Washington, Delilah Flynn. And this is her winning entry.

(Diesel horn and train sound fade under)

FLYNN: If I were President, this is what I would do in 1993 to make a difference for our environment. I'd declare a day of peace on Earth - a "well-nation day." I'd do this once a month, nationwide. Think of this as a celebrated public holiday, for the preservation of the quality of life on Earth. A day when everything stops. This would mean no going to work, no phones, mail delivery, TV, radio, newspaper. No driving automobiles, no airplanes, trains, buses, power saws, lawnmowers. No shopping, no Stock Exchange. Think of this like December 25th, except no one is driving to Grandma's house. The gift we'd be giving would be for Mother Earth. The emphasis for that day would be to stop the clock, take time out to be a human being, and regain contact with the natural world around us. Only emergency agencies, hospitals and public utilities would be staffed. Use of the phone would be strongly discouraged. TV stations would be closed, except for emergency broadcast systems. This would mean complete community support and participation by private citizens, businesses and all levels of government. We'd all need to support it and we'd all benefit too. Advantages? We'd cut down on air pollution, alleviate noise pollution, achieve resource conservation, and as a human benefit, we'd reduce stress, thus reducing health care costs. We'd be scheduling the time to relax. A chance for the birds to be heard. On that day, you could read a book, paint a picture, ride a bike, visit a neighbor, rake leaves, plant a garden, take a walk in the park, meditate, play a board game with your kids, reflect on life, daydream, write letters, interact with your local community or do nothing at all. Think of it - twelve days a year to experience a different environmental reality. Technology and competition keep our noses to the grindstone 24 hours a day. Everything is paved. We are sequestered behind the glass and steel bodies of our automobiles. Our jobs take precedence over our quality of life, our human relationships and our health. We all deserve a break. I see my plan as having bountiful, holistic benefits nationwide, and soon to become worldwide. It can only happen with the help of my Administration's enthusiastic leadership and support. I pledge a full-on campaign to unite all of us behind a well-nations day - a day for peace on Earth.

(Fade out "Hail to the Chief" and applause)

CURWOOD: Well, Delilah Flynn, that was very well done. This is your prize-winning entry for the Living on Earth "Making a Difference" contest . . .

FLYNN: Thank you.

CURWOOD: . . . what you would do if you were President - a day off for everybody, huh? Once a month.

FLYNN: Yeah. Sound like a good idea?

CURWOOD: Is there something that we would realize if we did this?

FLYNN: Yes, definitely. I think it would give us time to be thinking in different respects, that's what the whole idea really is, is a chance to open up our minds. Another thing that struck me after I sent this idea in is that it wasn't really a choice of do it or don't do it, it's only a matter of choice of when. Because if we keep on with the present direction that we're going, with technology and the Earth, there'll become a day when the ozone's gone and the air's too foul to breathe and there's no gas in your car and you can't go out and do anything anyway and you're too sick to go to work - except there won't be an environment to enjoy.

CURWOOD: How were you inspired to create this sound piece for this contest?

FLYNN: Well, what I do is, one of my focuses as an artist is to dance with nature, and to tell you the truth, when I heard the prize was a trip to the rainforest, that's what I wanted to do. I want to take my sacred dances into the rainforest and videotape them, and - it was just - I wanted that prize so bad that I - you know, to be inspired means to breathe in. And I remember putting my feet on the ground, and taking a deep breath, and you could just feel that Earth energy come up into my body, gather into my belly, move up through my torso, and part of it spilled out my right arm onto the page onto the paper and the rest moved up into my head and out my mouth and now it's in the airwaves, I can't believe it. I mean, to me it's just, the whole process is an inspiration. It's a dance.

CURWOOD: All right, well, I want to thank you very much, Delilah Flynn of Seattle, Washington, and congratulate you on being the Grand Prize winner of the Living on Earth "Making a Difference" contest.

FLYNN: Well, thank you, and I feel very privileged and the prize will be put to good use.

CURWOOD: Thanks to everyone who entered our contest, and congratulations again to our four winners: Delilah Flynn of Seattle, Catherine Reeser of New Berlin, New York, Thomas Murphy of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, and Paul Meckes, of Orlando, Florida.

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(Contest theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: Let us know what you think about our program. Give us a call on our listener comment line, at 617-868-7454. That's 617-868-7454. Or you can write to us, at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Mass., 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Mass., 02238. Transcripts and tapes are ten dollars.

Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. The coordinating producer is George Homsy. Our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team includes Kim Motylewski, Lucia Small, Chris Page, Colleen Singer Coxe, Reyna Lounsbury, Jessika Bella Mera and engineers Laurie Azaria, Monica Spain and Gary Waleik. 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: Major support for Living on Earth comes from all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt. Stonyfield Farm Yogurt is made with milk from family farms to feed the local economy. Major support also comes from the W. Alton Jones Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the National Science Foundation. Additional contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Joyce Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid distribution and transmission deadlines, it has not yet been proofread against tape.


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