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

August 27, 1993

Air Date: August 27, 1993


The Man from SMUD / John Reiger

John Reiger profiles David Freeman, head of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and longtime champion of energy conservation. Back in the Carter Administration, Freeman argued against the conventional wisdom that energy efficiency and economic growth were at odds with one another. Now, he heads a small utility that he has turned into both a profitable institution and a vanguard of alternative energy. (11:32)

Lament of the Landowner / Andrew Schmookler

Commentator Andrew Schmookler reflects from his home in the Virginia mountains on the dilemma of the rural homeowner. How do we resolve our desire for a healthy and active real estate market with a desire to keep the land around us pristine and free from overdevelopment? (03:10)

Dolphin Defenders Care About Old Tires and Old-Growth Forests / Mary Jo Draper

Mary Jo Draper of member station KCUR reports on a group of young environmental activists in urban St. Louis. The Dolphin Defenders devote a lot of time to making the city around them a better place to live, from recycling old tires to turning an empty lot into a wildlife habitat. But the group also demonstrates their larger concern for the earth by donating money to save old growth forests. (06:13)

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: Jan Nunley
NEWSCASTER: Peter Thomson
REPORTERS: Jon Greenberg, Laura Knoy, Lise Alvise, John Rieger, Mary Jo Draper
COMMENTATOR: Andrew Bard Schmookler

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley.

Once, he sat on the sidelines, as a critic of energy policy and utility practices. Now, David Freeman leads the team at a California utility, where he's putting his ideas for saving energy and the environment to work.

FREEMAN: We're in a point in our history where the electric utility industry can start wearing a white hat. We can be the organization that brings cleaner air to our cities and also eliminates this horrible concern about having to go back over in the Middle East to fight a war every few years in order to keep the oil flowing.

NUNLEY: And. . . inner-city kids surprise adults - by cleaning up their urban environment, and using the proceeds to help save forests and wildlife. On Living on Earth, first this news.

Environmental News

THOMSON: I'm Peter Thomson with this week's environmental news.

The buildup of two key ozone-depleting chemicals in the atmosphere is slowing more quickly than expected. So say US government scientists, writing in the journal Nature. The slowdown is apparently due to a phaseout of production of the chemicals ahead of an international timetable. Still, the researchers say the total amount of ozone-depleters in the atmosphere will continue to grow until the year 2000, and it may be another century before the ozone layer returns to normal.

Developers and mining companies have taken the Clinton Administration to court over part of its new wetlands protection policy. And as Jon Greenberg reports from Washington, the plan may face other roadblocks as well.

GREENBERG: The plan is supposed to have something for everyone. For environmentalists, some loopholes that allow development are gone. For farmers, about 53 million acres of cropland will not be subject to wetlands restrictions; for property owners, the appeals process will be easier. Farmers generally like the plan but Don Parrish of the American Farm Bureau says the White House overlooked a bottom line issue for landowners.

PARRISH: They stopped short of making a full commitment to compensate landowners in the case that we have use that is lost by virtue of a wetlands designation.

GREENBERG: Parrish predicts a major debate over compensating landowners when the Clean Water Act comes up for a reauthorization, probably next year. Another battle will be over the basic definition of a wetland. The Administration's plan sidesteps that issue. Jan Goldman-Carter, a lawyer for the National Wildlife Federation, says Congress is under pressure to fill the gap in a way that she labels "dangerous."

GOLDMAN-CARTER: A formalized ranking of wetlands - that will not only be very expensive to conduct but it's also very likely to open those wetlands up to destruction.

GREENBERG: Environmentalists are wary of the Administration's new plan. They warn that the White House may fall far short of meeting its own goal to preserve the amount of wetlands the country has today. For Living on Earth, this is Jon Greenberg in Washington.

THOMSON: Paper companies appear to be winning a battle over a new Federal plan to purchase recycled and chlorine-free paper. The plan could establish a nationwide standard for the industry. Laura Knoy reports.

KNOY: A recent draft executive order said government agencies should set goals for buying a certain amount of chlorine-free paper. The draft also said for the first time, Federal paper must contain at least fifteen percent post-consumer waste, not just industry leftovers. But paper companies complained, and now the Administration may back off. Sources say the White House is considering reducing the post-consumer content to ten percent, although there are proposals to raise it back to fifteen in a year or so, and later to twenty percent. The Administration may also take a milder approach on chlorine content. Instead of having agencies set goals for chlorine-free paper purchases, it may simply require them to remove any barriers to buying such paper from their procurement guidelines. For Living on Earth, this is Laura Knoy in Washington.

THOMSON: This is Living on Earth.

Eleven governors want Congress to give them the power to stop trash shipments from other states. The group says state waste management and recycling plans are being undermined by Federal court rulings in favor of interstate trash haulers. Tight landfill space and difficulty siting new disposal facilities have forced many cities and towns to send their trash out of state. The courts say the practice is constitutionally-protected interstate commerce.

A boom in new automobiles could swamp efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. A study by three Austrian researchers says the numbers of cars on the planet will rise by more than 50 percent within thirteen years. The study, released at a climate-change conference in Geneva, found that such an increase would make it impossible to meet emissions goals set at last year's Earth Summit.

Brazil's president has ordered his government to rid an Amazon Indian reserve of invading miners. The action follows the reported massacre of as many as 71 Yanomami Indians by miners earlier this month. But the president's gesture may be a hollow one. As Lise Alvise reports from Rio de Janeiro, the massacre has added to political pressure against the Indian reserves.

ALVISE: The Brazilian armed forces and local Amazon governments have always argued against the creation of a Yanomami reserve. Now some opponents say that the massacre proves that the area is too large to be defended against outsiders. They want the reserve to be reduced in size which would open some Yanomami land to legal mining. Meanwhile the Yanomami Indians and their supporters claim that the government hasn't been doing all it can to keep illegal gold miners out of the reserve. They're also calling on President Itamar Franco not to succumb to pressure to stop demarcation on other areas. So far barely one-third of the 519 indigenous sections scheduled for protection have been approved. Franco is under pressure to resolve the issue of the indigenous lands before the revision of the constitution in October. For Living on Earth, I'm Lise Alvise in Rio de Janeiro.

THOMSON: That's this week's environmental news. I'm Peter Thomson.

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(Music up and under)

The Man from SMUD

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley, in this week for Steve Curwood.

Imagine that you're a fan of a long-suffering baseball team . . . say, Boston, or Chicago, or Cleveland. For years, you've cursed the team's managers and owners for their bone-headed decisions, and mouthed-off to the talk shows about what you would do if you were in charge. Then you wake up one morning - and you are in charge. Your dream is today's gameplan.

Now, let's say you're an environmentalist. Your schtick is conservation and renewable energy. For years you've berated industry and electric utilities for wasteful, polluting and expensive energy policies. Then one morning you wake up - and you're the C-E-O of a big-city electric company. Again, your dream is the company's gameplan.

This, in a nutshell, is the story of David Freeman. Twenty years ago, Freeman wrote a ground-breaking critique of U-S energy policy, challenging the link between economic growth and the need to consume more and more energy. Today, Freeman is the head of the local utility in Sacramento. The company has some of the most aggressive efficiency and renewable energy programs in the country. . . and Freeman is bringing the company back from the brink of bankruptcy in the process. Producer John Rieger recently paid David Freeman a visit, and filed this report.

(Sound of passing automobiles)

RIEGER: On a crisp Sacramento morning that's sure to be another scorcher, the head of the local electric company, wearing blond boots and a Texas cowboy hat, strolls across the driveway and unplugs his truck.

(Sound of truck being unplugged; Freeman: "We symbolically built this thing right where the gas tank would ordinarily be so people would feel comfortable about it, y'know . . ." fade under)

REIGER: David Freeman, the 67-year-old director of the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, may be the California capital's most paradoxical public figure - a flamboyant utilities manager, an environmentalist that business loves, and a political heavy hitter that doesn't mind driving a reporter to work to personally show off one of SMUD's electric trucks.

FREEMAN: The first one that we tried to convert was a piece of you-know-what. I mean, I had some exper - You know there's an old expression that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment? Well . . . (fade under)

RIEGER: Freeman wants that experience, because he wants to lure an electric vehicle manufacturer to Sacramento; so SMUD has converted a small fleet of cars and trucks to electricity, and they take them to parades and lend them to area businesses, trying to drum up that all-important initial market. Electric vehicles are good for electric companies, because they recharge at night, using generating capacity that would otherwise be wasted. But Freeman, characteristically, has a larger vision.

FREEMAN: We're at a point in our history where the electric utility industry can start wearing a white hat. We can be the organization that brings cleaner air to our cities, and also eliminates this horrible concern about having to go back over in the Middle East to fight a war every few years in order to keep the oil flowing.

(Sound of people arriving at SMUD; Freeman: "Good morning . . ." fade under)

REIGER: Arriving at SMUD's modest four-story headquarters, Freeman, in his boots and his hat - doctor's orders explain the hat, he says - mingles democratically with the suits, the secretaries, and the guys he calls "the guys." Freeman rode into town three years ago packing a resume that included service to four Presidents and a stint as the head of the giant Tennessee Valley Authority. That's some pretty heavy artillery for little SMUD, which provides electricity to just over half a million accounts. But little SMUD was in a big crisis in 1990. Angry voters had shut down the Rancho Seco Nuclear Plant, a costly lemon that had driven up rates and driven out a series of failed general managers. Now SMUD was 900 megawatts short of power, its future uncertain.

FREEMAN: It was the greatest opportunity in the country at the time. SMUD was in a kind of a free-fall. It had been raising the rates, the customers were real angry, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company was about to take them over. You were here, weren't you, about three years ago?
CO-WORKER: Yeah, I've been here for 16 years. I've lasted through about 15 general managers.
FREEMAN: What was the challenge when I got here?
CO-WORKER: To get us out of the crapper. We were totally in the toilet when you got here. I used to tell people I was a garbage collector . . . (fade under)

REIGER: Freeman promptly announced budget cuts and a rate freeze. Then he held an "Under New Management" sale, where he auctioned off to the public such choice symbols of the old regime as the company's bulging stock of spiffy blue blazers for the nuclear staff. That helped a bit with the public relations problem. But SMUD needed a new source of power to replace Rancho Seco. And it had to be clean, because Sacramento has some of the nation's dirtiest air. Freeman's plan was to use the power his customers were wasting.

FREEMAN: Our main power plant is our efficiency program. We're gonna do 800 megawatts of efficiency in this decade, and that's cheaper and cleaner than anything that anyone else is doing.

REIGER: SMUD now has the most intensive energy efficiency program in the nation. They've given away 65,000 shade trees to help cut down on air-conditioning demand during the hot Sacramento summer. They've used hefty consumer rebates to replace 42,000 energy-guzzling refrigerators with high-efficiency models. In effect, SMUD is buying electricity from its customers at a bargain price. SMUD is also building new generating capacity, but that too is from unconventional sources - 600 megawatts of clean-burning gas-fired co-generation plants, for instance, and the largest wind farm ever built by a single utility. And in an experiment in "green pricing," they've invited customers willing to pay slightly higher rates to have their own photovoltaic panels installed on their roofs. Some of these technologies are still a bit pricey, but Freeman argues that SMUD's long-term purchases will help bring the price down, and he says local residents understand that cleaner air is worth the cost.

FREEMAN: We have learned to think in terms of externalities, in other words, that there is a cost to generating and using energy that is greater than the price. Remember that our stockholders are the people that breathe the air, and want to see economic progress here.

(Sound of telephone ringing, Freeman on phone: "Well, aw, I'm not going to Washington with this crowd, they're not interested in my kind of diversity, I'm over 40 and got experience . . . " (fade laugh under)

REIGER: Freeman is on the phone before lunch, joking with a county supervisor who once opposed his hiring. These days, on-the-record criticism of SMUD's general manager is hard to come by in Sacramento - not from environmentalists, who like his emphasis on efficiency and renewables; not from the business community - they want solutions to Sacramento's frustrating air-pollution problems, and they like the fact that SMUD's bond rating has gone up. Freeman shows no surprise that environmentalism can be good for business. He's been arguing for programs like these since the early 70's, when he directed a pioneering study of US energy policy for the Ford Foundation. The final report, A Time to Choose, warned that the prevailing rate of energy growth would have serious environmental and economic costs, and recommended major efficiency programs instead of new power plants. At the time, Freeman recalls, the energy establishment reacted with anger and disbelief.

FREEMAN: We were called socialists in the early 70's. The Mobil Oil Company took out ads all over the country and made our report famous. Back in the early 70's, the idea that use of energy and economic progress were anything less than Siamese twins was anathema. It was considered anti-growth, which is kind of a dumb connection if you think about it for more than thirty seconds, because efficiency has been the hallmark of growth.

REIGER: Jimmy Carter embraced the report, and made Freeman director of the nation's premier public power agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority, with a mandate to put his ideas into practice. He did, closing eight budget-busting nuclear power plants, spending a billion dollars to reduce coal emissions, and instituting an efficiency program that reached a million homes, for which the National Wildlife Federation named him Conservationist of the Year.

(Sound of Freeman in phone conversation: "I don't know if you've been through any of those buildings, there's some marvelous buildings there . . ." fade under)

REIGER: It's early afternoon, and Freeman is back on the phone, trying to woo an electric-car manufacturer with images of terrazo-floored headquarters buildings and Sacramento's highly-trained workforce. This deal-making illustrates Freeman's expansive idea of a public agency's bottom line. SMUD would help the new manufacturer by promising to buy the first several dozen vehicles. The payoff would come in the form of cleaner air, new jobs, and customers who would fuel their vehicles with SMUD electricity rather than gasoline. Ultimately, Freeman believes that this is the next great task beckoning to companies like SMUD - to convert the nation's entire transportation system to cleanly-generated electricity.

FREEMAN: This is the contribution that the electric power industry can make that will be second only to bringing electricity to rural America - a solution to the very most vexing problem that this high-energy civilization of ours faces, namely, the fact that we are bringing $50 billion dollars' worth of oil in from overseas every year and burning it in cars in the city streets and contaminating our lungs and contaminating the air to the point where economic growth in Sacramento County cannot take place unless we can find some space in the sky to fit it in.

REIGER: If this vision seems at all quixotic, think back twenty years to an earlier vision. A Time to Choose had an appendix, filled with angry comments from the energy industry, predicting that reduced energy growth would plunge American into a new Dark Age. And yet, energy growth has declined, farther than even the most extreme recommendations in the 1974 report. There has been no Dark Age. Efficiency is being recognized as a major, untapped energy resource. And in California, it's the single largest source of new electricity among utilities.

FREEMAN: I feel a great sense of satisfaction. When I think back 20 years ago, there were maybe 30 or 40 of us in the whole world that were pursuing this, and now there's 30 or 40 in every utility. If you think of the fact that all through the 80's the American government was opposed to efficiency - the Reagan-Bush policy was nuclear power - the efficiency option has survived because it saves money.

REIGER: In 35 years, David Freeman's career has spanned the gulf between two eras of US energy policy - one, just ending, an age of heedless growth; the other, just beginning, an age of growing efficiency and environmental cost-accounting. He's recognized as one of that small handful of energy professionals who first described the new era 20 years ago. Now, at a small municipal utility, he's proving that energy efficiency, environmental sensitivity, and community prosperity are one and the same. For Living on Earth, I'm John Reiger in Sacramento.

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(Music up and under)

Lament of the Landowner

NUNLEY: Writer Andy Schmookler recently pulled up stakes from Washington, DC and headed for the hills. In his head, he hopes others will soon follow . . . in his heart, he hopes they won't.

SCHMOOKLER: I find that I am of two minds when I think of my new house in the mountains. One mind thinks in the way of the marketplace - it wants the value of this place to go up. The other mind thinks in terms of the values that brought us out here in the first place - it wants all of this beauty to remain unspoiled. In a world where price is determined by supply and demand, and where more demand for real estate means not only higher prices but also more congestion, my two minds are inevitably in conflict. We moved out to the mountains to replenish the springs of our spirit. After a decade inside the Washington Beltway, we wanted to look out on a landscape shaped more by the hand of nature than by our own kind. Boy, did we find it - a little chalet house with lots of glass, sitting on a ridge, surrounded by garden and orchard, overlooking a valley and the next ridge, all covered with forest. Each day we drink in the glories of the Creation. When I think of the place as an investment, I want above all to be smart. I hope for a rebounding real estate market, where prices go up and "For Sale" signs disappear from the sides of the roads hereabouts. I want to know that if I want out I can get out quick, and with a profit. Real estate is a high-stakes game, and I want to win. But then I realize the conditions that will make this a good investment are the opposite of those that make the place so nourishing. I've seen it happen before, in places like California and Arizona - people stampeding into beautiful areas, driving up the prices but destroying the values that brought them out there in the first place. One's "net worth" goes up, while the quality of life goes down. This dilemma of the homeowner is a microcosm of a more general economic quandary we're in. We are fixated on the idea that economic growth is the key to human progress, but we are troubled that the more things "develop," the more they also seem to fall apart. Well, in my case, neither of my two minds has won the argument yet. Like most Americans, I'm attached to riches of both kinds. But the more I fall in love with this place, the more I think in terms of staying, and if I'm here to stay it wouldn't matter how fast I could get out or at what price. I'll let you know how my internal argument turns out. In the meanwhile, this is Andy Schmookler in the mountains of Virginia - but I'm not going to tell you just where.

NUNLEY: Andrew Bard Schmookler is the author of Fool's Gold: The Fate of Values in a World of Goods. He comes to us from member station WMRA in - well, let's just say somewhere west of the Potomac.

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(Music up and under)

Dolphin Defenders Care About Old Tires and Old-Growth Forests

NUNLEY: Asphalt and concrete . . . steel bars and vacant lots . . . the inner city is hardly a place for young kids to get in touch with nature. That's why the staff at one big environmental group in Washington is continually astonished when, every six months or so, an envelope arrives postmarked "St. Louis," containing a check for a couple of hundred dollars for its campaign to save old-growth forests. The check comes from a group of kids, all between nine and twelve years old, which calls itself the "Dolphin Defenders. " Mary Jo Draper of member station KCUR has this report on a group which is confounding the assumptions of everyone - from their state's governor to their own parents.

DRAPER: The Dolphin Defenders meet on a busy street in a St. Louis neighborhood, where older houses are nestled among gas stations, vacant lots, and stores protected by security screens. In their one-room headquarters in a church building, relics of local wildlife, such as a snakeskin and a bird's wing, are on display. The pegboard walls are jam-packed with framed newspaper clippings, posters and plaques.

MONTGOMERY: This is where all of our awards that we've got through the years, citations and different things like that.

DRAPER: Since they were nine, teenagers Barbara Montgomery and Nakia Jones have come to this room for meetings of the Dolphin Defenders.

JONES: We've achieved a lot, like we went to Jefferson City for, um, what was that? We got a plaque from Governor Ashcroft.

DRAPER: Many of the awards are for projects like removing trash from a vacant lot, cleaning up a lake, and planting trees. Some of these projects help the group earn money. In the last year, the Dolphin Defenders have collected several thousand pounds of aluminum and glass, which they sold to recycling centers. The kids also make money by selling what they call Dolphin Defender Stock. Stockholders become lifetime members of the Dolphin Defenders, and can vote once a year on what projects the group should support. Barbara Montgomery says the group sometimes uses the money it has made from cleaning up the environment to pay for other projects, like hauling away old tires that can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

MONTGOMERY: We have to pay to recycle the tires. They don't pay us to recycle the tires. It costs a dollar per tire, and once we recycled 250 tires, so we had to give them $250 just to recycle those tires.

DRAPER: The group also gives money to causes outside its St. Louis neighborhood. For instance, members say as they've learned about the environment, they've begun to feel that old-growth forests in the northwest United States are just as important as vacant lots in St. Louis. And they've sent money to the Wilderness Society in Washington to help with its forest project.

MONTGOMERY: We helped out the ancient forests, we are trying to help the ancient forests, trying to help them not cut it down, 'cause it gives us things that we need like medicine and different things like that.

DRAPER: It might seem strange that an environmental group in St. Louis calls itself the Dolphin Defenders. The nine-to-twelve-year-old members chose the name themselves, in part because they care about dolphins, but also because they think dolphins have admirable qualities like loyalty, intelligence, and non-violence, which the kids hope to emulate.

(Sound of Defenders planting trees: "Don't kill the plant, did you loosen up the roots?" "Uh-huh . . ." fade under)

DRAPER: This summer, the Dolphin Defenders are building a wildlife habitat in a vacant lot behind their headquarters. They've planted yellow marigolds and purple pansies in the hard clay where an abandoned house stood for years. The group put in trash cans a few years ago. Their leader, Neil Andre, considers it a big success that the people who spend the night drinking here now throw their bottles in the can instead of on the ground. Andre has worked with kids at a neighborhood center of the United Church for 17 years. The center programs focus on the needs of the neighborhood, fighting poverty and drugs. But Andre also has a personal passion - the environment, in both the St. Louis neighborhood and across the country.

ANDRE: Before I started the Dolphin Defenders, I was a member of, well, at least over 20 different national environmental organizations. But I kept looking for some kind of change and I didn't see the changes coming, you know.

DRAPER: Andre began to think there might be a new way to address environmental problems, by passing on his love for the earth to the kids he worked with. He also wanted to give the children some concrete ways to address problems.

ANDRE: A lot of people were skeptical in the beginning. A lot of people said inner-city kids couldn't give because they hadn't been given to enough.

DRAPER: Many of those skeptics have been amazed to see the kids donate their energy, their Saturdays, and sometimes even their birthday money to environmental causes. Barbara Montgomery's mother, Denise Bloodsole, says her daughter changed when she joined the group.

BLOODSOLE: When she first started going out picking up cans, I said, is that fun? And she goes, oh, but you don't know the purpose of it. And so each Saturday she got, you know, just fired up looking for, each Friday she looked forward to Saturdays and I realized that it made a great difference to her.

DRAPER: Bloodsole says being the mother of a Dolphin Defender has made her more aware of issues like recycling. As Dolphin Defenders outgrow the program, they take its messages with them. 21-year-old Lester Thomas was an original member of the program. He's in college now. When he finishes, he hopes to start a group of his own like the Dolphin Defenders. Thomas believes that learning to care about the earth can help kids in countless ways.

THOMAS: We want them just to learn, learn about something different other than guns and drugs and everything. There's more to the world than that. All of them, they have come, stayed and they've learned and they've come out better. I feel I've come out a better person.

DRAPER: The Dolphin Defenders now have grown from one chapter to two, with about 55 members. They'll probably keep growing. Already, Barbara Montgomery's five-year-old brother is asking when he can join. For Living on Earth, I'm Mary Jo Draper in St. Louis.

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Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR, Boston. The executive producer is Steve Curwood. I'm Jan Nunley.

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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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