An Environmental President
By Guy Saperstein
This year some people with "green" politics are considering whether to forgo Al Gore and vote for Ralph Nader. If many do so, they will guarantee both the election of George W. Bush and enormous damage to the environment. One can always pick out issues where elected leaders have fallen short, but Gore has been the best friend the environment has had in the Clinton administration. Consider the following:
Oil Drilling. In 1995, President Clinton vetoed three Republican budget bills and allowed the government to shut down because of unacceptable provisions in those bills. One of those vetoes was based on a Republican rider that would have permitted oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - drilling that Gore long has opposed. By contrast, Bush has said he would permit drilling, effectively destroying the largest wildlife refuge in the United States for a few months' worth of oil.
Clean Air. Gore supported EPA Director Carol Browner's improved clean air regulations, over the objections of conservatives in the administration such as former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. In Texas, Bush has deregulated environmental law enforcement in favor of voluntary compliance - a polluter's dream. According to EPA records, Texas leads the nation in toxic emissions, suspected carcinogens in the air, developmental toxins in the air (chemicals affecting brain and nervous system development in children), overall cancer risk and 10 other categories of dangerous air pollutants.
Clean Water. With Gore's support, the Clinton administration got rid of the biggest loophole in federal regulations protecting wetlands and now is drawing up regulations to restrict pollution caused by confined animal feeding operations. Bush opposes federal action on this issue, and Texas has more polluting factory farms than any other state.
Forest Protection. Clinton and Gore have changed the direction of the National Forest Service away from commercial exploitation and toward wildlands protection. Logging on public lands has been reduced 80 percent from 1990 levels, and the Forest Service is now taking public comment on plans to keep 60 million acres of roadless national forests wild and undeveloped. This is a larger amount of wilderness protection than all the areas protected in the lower 48 states since the Wilderness Act was passed 35 years ago. "If I am entrusted with the presidency," Gore said, "it will be a national priority to preserve roadless areas as they are, no ifs, ands or buts about it. No more destructive development and exploitation." In contrast, Bush is on record that he would make wildlands available for increased logging, roadbuilding, mining and off-road vehicle use.
National Monuments. With strong support from Gore, Clinton has created nine new national monuments, including the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the largest national monument outside of Alaska, and the 328,000-acre Giant Sequoia National Monument. Bush opposed creation of these monuments and indicated that he would reverse these designations if elected president. Gore favors the expansion of national parks and wilderness areas; Bush has begun to privatize state parks in Texas, and his environmental adviser says Bush would sell off national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and national monuments.
Global Warming. Gore negotiated the Kyoto Accords, the toughest global-warming agreement signed by an American administration, and he strongly supports energy conservation and curbing emissions that cause global warming. Bush says he thinks global warming is real, but opposes the Kyoto Accords, opposes energy conservation regulations and favors more domestic drilling and increased reliance on oil.
Supreme Court. In the past five years, Republican appointees, most notably Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, have taken the lead in overturning federal protective statutes in favor of "states' rights," thereby threatening all forms of citizen enforcement of environmental laws. They currently have a tenuous 5-to-4 majority, but the next president likely will appoint three new justices. Bush has stated that his model of the perfect justice is Scalia. To those supporters of Nader who contend that Gore has not done enough to protect the environment, it is fair to ask, "What are Nader's environmental accomplishments?" Nader has a commendable track record of consumer advocacy, but what has he done to reduce global warming, clean the air and water, protect wildlands, reduce logging and oil drilling on public lands, and regulate pollution from factory farms? Environmentalists need to act not only righteously, but responsibly. Failing to support Gore and thereby helping elect Bush would wreak havoc on the environment. Much of the damage would be irreversible and irreparable.
Guy Saperstein, a civil rights attorney in Oakland, California, is a trustee of the Sierra Club Foundation.
Election 2000 Coverage
Mind the Bollocks
Battle of Philadelphia
I'm Voting for Nader ...
And Why I'm Not
to Deal with Gore
Labor, Old Politics
Courts the Black Vote
Great Right Hope