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[at-l] Is That A Fork In The Trail? (reprint from Backpacker Magazine)



Is That A Fork In The Trail?
Environmental differences spotted on the campaign trail.

By Thom Hogan, May 2000


This year's presidential election is an important one, as we face the
possibility of a major change in environmental policy set by the executive
branch of our government. Clear differences in environmental thinking exist
between the leading candidates, though finding those differences amid all
the rhetoric a political campaign generates can be difficult. (For an
unbiased listing of the candidates' views on all subjects, check out
www.issues2000.org) One of the best sources for reliable information on a
candidate's environmental views is the League of Conservation Voters (
www.lcv.org).

Every year, the LCV rates each representative's and senator's voting record
in its National Environmental Scorecard (lifetime ratings for backing
conservation-related legislation: Bradley 84 percent, Gore 64 percent, and
McCain 20 percent ; Bush, as a governor, does not have a voting record to
compare). And for each presidential election, the league gathers information
directly from the candidates (in the form of responses to a lengthy
questionnaire) as well as collecting and analyzing statements made in
campaign speeches and written documents.

This year's questionnaire reads like an index of A View From Here topics: It
asks about wilderness designation, road moratoriums, the Endangered Species
Act, mining claims, air pollution, and sprawl, among other topics I've
written about here. Gore's response fills more than 30 single-spaced printed
pages, McCain's more than 20, and Bradley's 16. (As I write this, Bush has
not responded to the questionnaire.) Regardless of whom you decide to vote
for, I strongly encourage you to visit the LCV Web site and read the
candidates' responses. In addition to being highly informative about
environmental positions, the responses also illustrate style differences
(e.g., Bradley's response is shorter than the others because he answers
questions directly and matter-of-factly).

Perhaps the clearest issue where the choice of president may directly affect
hikers is whether or not there should be a moratorium on road building in
our national forests. Many conservation actions can be enacted only by
Congress, but as currently written, one law allows the president wide
latitude to dictate USDA Forest Service policy without oversight. President
Clinton used a little-known, rarely invoked act to change Forest Service
policies directly. In essence, the president simply told the Forest Service
to stop building roads.

Both leading Republican candidates, George Bush and John McCain, have stated
publicly that they will quickly move to overturn the road moratorium.
McCain, in his response to the LCV questionnaire, states: "Road construction
and closure decisions should be made on a case-by-case [basis] according to
the merits." He adds, however, "as a general rule, road construction should
be limited to the minimum necessary...and maintain the natural integrity and
sustainability of the forest."

On the Democratic side, both candidates strongly support the road moratorium
and have stated that they will continue it. Gore writes: "I promise that, as
president, I would protect this important legacy and act to strengthen it
wherever possible." Bradley also points to his Senate votes to end logging
in ancient forests and his record of fighting timber subsidies.

In "Look Up In The Sky..." (A View From Here, April), I wrote about air
pollution and noted how older power plants were not forced to meet the clean
air standards of new plants (the "grandfather" clause). All four of the
leading candidates have made many statements about air quality issues, and
several have directly addressed the grandfathering issue.

Texas Governor George W. Bush has been highly criticized by
environmentalists for the pollution record in his state (four metropolitan
areas in Texas are currently in violation of federal ozone standards, and
Houston has surpassed Los Angeles as the U.S. city with the highest smog
level). Bush defends his record in two ways: (1) "is the air cleaner since I
became governor?...The answer is yes"; and (2) he claims that Texas is only
the third state to require pollution restrictions from older, grandfathered
utilities. While both of these are true, only 120 of the 830 grandfathered
plants in his state have agreed to cut emissions, and Bush is on the record
as being against mandatory requirements to clean up older plants, favoring
modest incentives and voluntary compliance.

McCain talks about cost/benefit analyses when asked about air pollution. He
seems to recognize the problem of the grandfathered plants ("it should be a
top clean air priority," he says, and he talks about it often in conjunction
with the haze problem at the Grand Canyon). He also speaks of "flexible,
cost-beneficial...performance-based" solutions, but without fully specifying
what he means. Gore favors tightening federal vehicle emission standards and
a phaseout of older power plants. He states unequivocally that all power
plants should meet the standards set out by the Clean Air Act, although he
acknowledges that this is not likely to happen without market incentives.

Likewise, Bradley also believes that older plants must meet the modern
standards of the Clean Air Act. Bradley even goes further in his answer to
the LCV's questionnaire: "All sectors, not just power plants, need to get
involved in reducing carbon dioxide emissions."

Many of the positions the candidates have taken are due to fundamental
philosophical differences. Bush and McCain, for example, generally advocate
that state and local control should take precedence on most issues. McCain
while having a good record in support of wilderness designation, especially
in his home state of Arizona, has stated that he would overturn the
Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument declaration, apparently because
he believes that Clinton and the federal government overstepped their
authority and did not involve local or state authorities in the declaration.
He writes: "Every state should go through the arduous, but worthwhile,
process... to craft wilderness legislation." In testimony before the House,
Bush stated "Texans know best how to protect our environment and conserve
our own natural resources." This statement appears to reflect Bush's views
on everything from the Endangered Species Act to air pollution to wilderness
designation to sprawl, and he's repeated variants of it several times.

Gore and Bradley take somewhat more federalist approaches. Even in their
senatorial stints, both Democrats voted numerous times to support
legislation to assert federal authority over local in matters as far ranging
as water quality and property rights. Gore, in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer
op-ed piece, attacked the notion that individual or local rights supersede
federal needs when he condemned a bill that, in his words, "says an
individual has no responsibility to preserve and protect our shared
resources, and that society should pay an individual to do the right thing."
Gore appears to have steadfastly resisted erosion of federal legislation,
such as the Clean Water Act, by fighting against local or private interest
loopholes.

I've read hundreds of pages of speeches, editorials, campaign documents, and
third-party materials outlining the candidates' positions on the
environment. I'll use that knowledge when making my choices for the primary
and November elections. I urge you to do the same. Spend some time at the
League of Conservation Voter's site. Visit the candidates' Web sites. Watch
debates. Whatever you do, make an informed choice.

Backpacker does not endorse any candidate. We strongly encourage you to
consider the environmental records of all the candidates before putting your
support behind one.

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