Clinton's Environmental Flip-Flops

If Bill Clinton maintains his current lead in the polls and wins the November presidential election, no issue will have been more central to his victory than the environment. Armed with a strategy devised by Dick Morris--crafted before the campaign consultant's toe fetish led to his downfall--the Clinton/Gore team has scored huge political points by portraying Bob Dole and the Republicans as practitioners of ecological rape-and-pillage, versus the mature environmentalism espoused by the Democratic Party.Deploying rhetoric sure to be liberally utilized during the upcoming presidential debate in Hartford now scheduled for Oct. 6, Clinton told the New York Times, "We spent '93 and '94 working on how to make the environment an integral part of our long-term economic strategy but still keep high standards. I do not believe the public supports a government walking away from the environment. I just don't believe they do."Likewise, Vice President Al Gore had told the Democratic convention in Chicago that the GOP wants to "give free rein to lobbyists for the biggest polluters in America to rewrite our environmental laws allowing more poison in our air and water, and then auction off our natural wonders piece by piece."The image of the Democrats as protectors of flora and fauna has been echoed by the media as well. Yet the Clinton administration's environmental record is almost indistinguishable from that of Republican George Bush. As Jeff St. Clair, editor of the Oregon-based Wild Forest Review, notes, the Clinton administration has been the No. 1 cheerleader for a business-friendly environmentalism that has forsaken pollution prevention in favor of pollution control. "Clinton's policies are similar to Bush's, but Bush was checked by Congress. ...Clinton has been able to implement the type of policies that Bush could only propose."Gore, perhaps even more than Clinton, has heavily cultivated his image as an eco-guru, most successfully with his torpor-inducing 1991 book, Earth in the Balance. Gore's status as a poster boy of modern environmentalism was one of the prime reasons that Clinton--whose green record as governor of Arkansas was woeful, particularly his reluctance to regulate the highly polluting poultry industry--picked him as his vice presidential running mate. As the final month of the campaign season approaches, Clinton is increasingly staking out his turf as more green than Bob Dole.A close examination of some of the less publicized actions of the Clinton/Gore administration suggests that even where the environment is concerned, Bill Clinton is President Flip-Flop.On the campaign trail, the Clinton/Gore team promotes a seeming strong environmental stance. Last week, Bill Clinton, speaking on the precipice of the Grand Canyon, announced the protection of 1.7 million acres of Utah wilderness, blocking the development of the largest known coal reserves in the nation. And the Clinton/Gore administration has had its share of environmental successes: It has stalled oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, provided more funding for renewable energy sources and required federal agencies to use recycled paper.But much of the Clinton/Gore environmental posturing stops after election day.As vice president, Gore has been the team leader on environmental issues. Since being elected, he has displayed a very different stand on Mother Nature than he did when a tough-talking candidate on the campaign hustings back in 1992. Then Gore relentlessly bashed Bush for approving operations of WTI's hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, a plant that sits one-quarter of a mile from an elementary school and that spews out dioxin and other toxic chemicals. "If you had seen a Clinton-Gore administration in the past four years you would not have seen this," Gore assured crowds along the campaign trail.By early March of 1993, just two months after the inauguration, Clinton had approved a test burn at WTI and announced that he would not oppose the plant's commercial operations. Gore and Carol Browner, the veep's long-time associate who he picked to head the Environmental Protection Agency, lobbied most forcefully for the reversal on WTI, arguing that once in office they had discovered there was no way to stop the project and that it wasn't as bad as they'd initially feared.Gore also played a vital role in drumming up support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying that the treaty would provide environmental as well as economic benefits. Pressed by Gore, a number of conservative environmental groups--including the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council--endorsed NAFTA, allowing the Clinton administration to claim that the eco movement was solidly backed the trade agreement (this was a flagrant lie as just two of the anti-NAFTA eco groups--Greenpeace and the Sierra Club--have memberships that dwarf those of all of the administration's allies).The fabled environmental "side agreements" to NAFTA, which the Clinton administration pointed to as evidence of the trade treaty's green character, have proved worthless. As of September, a special bank set up by NAFTA to finance pollution clean up along Mexico's border, where U.S. companies operate dozens of maquiladora export plants, had not made a single loan. Meanwhile, a recent study by the General Accounting Office found that environmental conditions along the border have worsened dramatically since NAFTA was passed, partly because the Mexican government has sought to make the country more attractive to foreign investors by failing to enforce the environmental laws and regulations called for by the trade pact.Another notable eco-disaster implemented by the Clinton/Gore team, this one barely noted by the mainstream media, was the lifting of a 15-year ban on the production and importation of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, an industrial lubricant which causes cancer, liver problems and other health disorders.The ban has been bitterly opposed by big U.S. companies specializing in hazardous waste incineration because the falling supply of PCBs had the industry headed for what looked like certain extinction. No more. Back in November of 1995, the Clinton administration pressured the Canadian government into allowing its national firms to begin trucking contaminated materials to a plant owned by the S.D. Myers Company in Tallmadge, Ohio. There the PCBs are extracted from electrical capacitors, placed in tankards, and shipped to an incinerator for burning.Thanks to an EPA-granted waiver from the Toxic Substances Control Act--which bans international trade in hazardous materials--the Tallmadge plant was also authorized to import PCBs from Mexico, where an estimated 20,000 tons of PCBs are already available and where their production is still lawful.The Clinton/Gore team came into office promising to reform the use of federal lands by ranching and mining interests, which pay very low fees to gain access to the taxpayer's property. This is a particularly destructive form of corporate welfare because it allows companies to rape and pillage at bargain basement prices, leading to environmentally harmful overgrazing of lands and making almost any type of mining operation hugely profitable.Clinton's original budget proposal in 1993 contained plans to charge royalties on the mining of gold and other hard rock minerals, thereby closing a century-old loophole that means billions to big mining firms, and to dramatically raise grazing fees, which are set at roughly one-fifth of market rates. Most beneficiaries of low grazing rates are not hard-working cowboys struggling for survival but big ranchers such as Idaho billionaire J.D. Simplot, who holds grazing permits for nearly 1 million acres of land in three states. Other permit holders include Texaco and Metropolitan Life.The administration's proposals met fierce resistance from business groups, as well as from Western Democrats such as Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Max Baucus of Montana. This prompted a swift retreat by the administration, with officials such as Mack McLarty and David Gergen announcing that Clinton would re-evaluate his position. Meanwhile, Gore, who had ardently championed the need to reform land-use policy, went AWOL. The result: The royalty plan was dropped and grazing fees were not increased but reduced, now being at an all-time low.Few issues have aroused as much passion as the protection of the world's dwindling population of whales. In Earth in the Balance, Gore emotionally recalled the tale of three whales trapped under the ice of the Beaufort Sea."Television networks from four continents came to capture their poignant struggle for air," wrote Gore. "After several elaborate schemes failed, a huge icebreaker from the Soviet Union cut a path through the ice for the two surviving whales. Along with millions of others, I [was] delighted to see them go free."Gore's ardor for the whales appears to have cooled considerably since he wrote those words. During a discreet 1993 White House meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland, whose nation supports resumed whaling, the vice president pledged to support a Norwegian plan that called for limited commercial whaling and the setting of kill quotas for certain species. Enforcing quotas is an impossible task, as whaling takes place at sea. Russian officials have admitted that Soviet fleets violated quotas for three decades, saying that the "hunting of protected species, whaling at prohibited times in prohibited areas, extermination of entire herds and even populations... all were commonplace."This being an election year, the Clinton/Gore team has adapted a more cautious approach to the whaling issue. At the International Whaling Commission's recent meeting in Scotland, the American delegation backed away from open support of the Norwegians but refused to join with those nations seeking to maintain a ban on all commercial whaling.Another marine mammal that has fared badly during the Clinton/Gore years is the beloved dolphin, some seven million of which were killed by tuna fisherman in the eastern Pacific between 1970 and 1992. A big green victory of the 1980s was passage of a law mandating dolphin-free tuna, banning the sale of tuna caught using methods of fishing that snag dolphins as part of the catch.That law resulted in the barring of Mexican tuna from American markets, which the Mexican government has denounced for the past eight years as a violation of free trade. In 1994, the Mexicans finally hit pay dirt. During a White House meeting in July of that year, Mexican and U.S. government officials, assisted by representatives of the Environmental Defense Fund, struck a deal that would allow dolphin-lethal tuna into American supermarkets. The White House called upon Senators John Breaux and Ted Stevens to push the tuna bill through Congress, but their legislation has thus far been blocked by dolphin defenders led by California Senator Barbara Boxer.So thorough is the image of the "green" Clinton-Gore team, that the administration has rarely been required to defend its environmental record. There is little public response from the White House defending its environmental policies. In a typically upbeat proclamation, Clinton/Gore EPA chief Carol Browner told the St. Petersburg Times that among the Clinton administration's top achievements is that it has stopped an effort to "roll back 25 years of environmental progress. Unfortunately, that is our greatest legislative accomplishment."The Clinton/Gore administration tirelessly calls for environmental protection, but when pushed invariably sides with the corporations who so generously fill the Democratic Party's campaign coffers. Even The Wall Street Journal, which normally paints Clinton and Gore as eco-extremists, said in a Sept. 9 news story that the Democrats as well as the Republicans have pursued policies of "more flexible environmental regulation that is less intrusive for business."The approach is best seen in the Council on Sustainable Development, Gore's brainchild and a group he chairs. Its motto is "What's good for business is good for the environment." One of the first proposals to come out of the Council, which musters conservative greens along with CEOs from corporations such as Chevron, Dow Chemical, and Georgia-Pacific, was to do away with the Delaney Clause, a 1958 law that bans carcinogenic food additives in processed foods. Spurred on by the Council, Congress duly eliminated the Delaney Clause in mid-1996.Though Al Gore is viewed as the Green in the Clinton administration, his environmental record in office is all the more shameful because he is especially close to Clinton and has real input into policy decisions. Yet the veep has cheerfully flacked for the administration in promoting policies that Senator Gore would have fiercely denounced if they had been proposed by George Bush. These include the administration's re-authorizing of logging in the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest for the first time in three years (a decision Clinton has since called a mistake); its ending of a ban on the export of Alaskan crude, something the big oil companies had fought for unsuccessfully for three decades; and its granting of exemptions from the Endangered Species Act that jeopardize the grizzly bear, the spotted owl and the California gnatcatcher.This sort of record is what prompted David Brower, founder of the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth, to abandon the Democrats and throw his support to Ralph Nader's Green Party candidacy. "They've caused more damage the past three years," Brower has said of the Clinton/Gore environmental record, "than Reagan and Bush caused in 12."

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