October 2000

The “environmental President” he won’t be

It’s an article of faith among the Democrats-for-Gore set that, whatever faults Al may have (his own mother describes him as “a born conformist”), at least they can all feel proud about his commitment to protecting the environment. Just ask anybody — Al’s got a strong environmental record all Americans can feel proud of. Right?

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Indeed, to hear the Limbaugh-breaths of the hard-right media talk, one would think Gore’s secret agenda is to destroy the economy and force everyone to eat tofu, ride bicycles and wear Birkenstocks. I don’t know what kind of wild mushrooms those yelpers are snacking on, but Al’s idea of extremism is to wear a plaid shirt.

Gore has certainly talked a great game of green: “We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization,” he wrote in his thoughtful 1992 book, Earth in the Balance. “The environment is much more than a policy position to me,” he declared in a 1999 speech. “It is a profoundly moral obligation.”

But, as actress Rosalind Russell once said, “politics makes strange bedclothes,” and while Al wears a cloak of green, he has sewn large pockets inside it to store all the campaign funds slipped to him by oil, chemical, developer, timber, mining, agribusiness, and other polluting interests. From the first days of the Clinton- Gore administration, Mr. Environment began sniffing the money and backing off, refusing to throw any hard punches at the polluters. Gore’s own performance as vice president was so feeble that people who had suffered from his inaction took to attending his campaign events, shouting out to him: “Read your book!”

Al sells out

East Liverpool, Ohio, haunts Gore, but not as much as he and Waste Technologies Industries Inc. haunt the people who live there. The town, located on the Ohio River along the state’s eastern border, is home to some 13,000 folks and one humongous toxic waste incinerator. The WTI waste burner, now owned by a Swiss corporation, is one of the largest in the world. Locals and environmental experts say this facility never should have been built there, for it violates five of the eight no-nos that EPA uses to reject a hazardous waste site as “inappropriate.” WTI’s incinerator—located only 320 feet from homes and 1,100 feet from an elementary school, where 400 children attend classes and play in the schoolyard— burns 63,000 tons a year of highly toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and other deadly, cancer-causing materials, emitting toxic gases and particles from its smokestack day in and day out.

Flashback to July 19, 1992: Beleaguered opponents of WTI’s project were overjoyed because Captain Courageous had just arrived in the person of Al Gore, Jr. At the time, the project still had no federal permit to operate or even to conduct a “test burn” that it was required to pass before the company could get an operating permit. Campaigning in the area, Gore spoke up for the people: “I’ll tell you this, a Clinton-Gore administration is going to give you an environmental presidency to deal with these problems. We’ll be on your side for a change.”

To the delight of these good people, Al and Bill were elected that November, and only a month later the incoming veep boosted their hopes again by reiterating his stance for environmental sanity: “Serious questions concerning the safety of an East Liverpool, Ohio, hazardous waste incinerator must be answered before the plant may begin operation,” he declared in a December 7 press statement. “The new Clinton- Gore administration would not issue the plant a test burn permit until . . . all questions concerning the compliance with state and federal law have been answered.” Period.

Hoorah for the Great Goreski, the man who stared down WTI and saved the children! Except that he didn’t. Once he was sworn in, the fearless defender of the folks and the environment turned out to be the one who blinked, suddenly mumbling that there was nothing he could do to stop the permitting process, so sorry, hope no one dies, goodbye. As he retreated, Gore lobbed the blame back to outgoing Bush officials, asserting that in a dastardly last-minute decision, they’d given WTI the go-ahead it needed.

"The issue isn't just jobs. Even slaves had jobs. The issue is wages." --Jim Hightower


WTI eventually conducted its test burn . . . and failed! Wouldn’t this have been a neat time for an environmentally macho vice president to assert himself? This was no minor technical failure, either—the test showed excess emissions of carbon tetrachloride (causes liver cancer), mercury (a neurotoxin that damages people’s central nervous system), and polychlorinated dibenzodoxins (a super-nasty that causes birth defects, cancer, immuno-suppression, and cardiovascular problems).

But Al just stayed real still, and on April 6, WTI received its EPA operating permit. Meanwhile, Greenpeace and others filed suit to stop the incinerator from firing up. This time, at long last, the Clinton?Gore team sprang into action—on the wrong side. Administration lawyers were dispatched to help WTI and the EPA battle the citizen groups, and Janet Reno’s Justice Department even testified in court on WTI’s behalf!

In the seven years since Gore took a dive, WTI has been incinerating away, even though it has recorded 34 fires, had five explosions, experienced 27 other “release incidents,” and incurred state fines for what the New York Times referred to as “violations of air monitoring requirements.” How bureaucratically genteel that phrase is.

Less genteel is the stark picture of the townspeople’s health. A 1997 state study found that the people of East Liverpool have “strikingly higher” rates of cancer death than elsewhere in the state and nation (40.25% higher than the national average).

Yes, this is an old industrial town with more than one source of pollution, but the very best you can say about adding a cancer-machine to the mix is that it was less than helpful. Notice that no WTI executives or board members live anywhere near it. As for the health of those who do live there, more studies are needed, say the authorities. But the incinerator doesn’t wait on studies—it keeps on chugging. It’s an article of faith among the Democrats-for-Gore set that, whatever faults Al may have (his own mother describes him as “a born conformist”), at least they can all feel proud about his commitment to protecting the environment. Just ask anybody — Al’s got a strong environmental record all Americans can feel proud of. Right?

Indeed, to hear the Limbaugh-breaths of the hard-right media talk, one would think Gore’s secret agenda is to destroy the economy and force everyone to eat tofu, ride bicycles and wear Birkenstocks. I don’t know what kind of wild mushrooms those yelpers are snacking on, but Al’s idea of extremism is to wear a plaid shirt.

Gore has certainly talked a great game of green: “We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization,” he wrote in his thoughtful 1992 book, Earth in the Balance. “The environment is much more than a policy position to me,” he declared in a 1999 speech. “It is a profoundly moral obligation.”

But, as actress Rosalind Russell once said, “politics makes strange bedclothes,” and while Al wears a cloak of green, he has sewn large pockets inside it to store all the campaign funds slipped to him by oil, chemical, developer, timber, mining, agribusiness, and other polluting interests. From the first days of the Clinton- Gore administration, Mr. Environment began sniffing the money and backing off, refusing to throw any hard punches at the polluters. Gore’s own performance as vice president was so feeble that people who had suffered from his inaction took to attending his campaign events, shouting out to him: “Read your book!”
Al sells out

East Liverpool, Ohio, haunts Gore, but not as much as he and Waste Technologies Industries Inc. haunt the people who live there. The town, located on the Ohio River along the state’s eastern border, is home to some 13,000 folks and one humongous toxic waste incinerator. The WTI waste burner, now owned by a Swiss corporation, is one of the largest in the world. Locals and environmental experts say this facility never should have been built there, for it violates five of the eight no-nos that EPA uses to reject a hazardous waste site as “inappropriate.” WTI’s incinerator—located only 320 feet from homes and 1,100 feet from an elementary school, where 400 children attend classes and play in the schoolyard— burns 63,000 tons a year of highly toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and other deadly, cancer-causing materials, emitting toxic gases and particles from its smokestack day in and day out.

Flashback to July 19, 1992: Beleaguered opponents of WTI’s project were overjoyed because Captain Courageous had just arrived in the person of Al Gore, Jr. At the time, the project still had no federal permit to operate or even to conduct a “test burn” that it was required to pass before the company could get an operating permit. Campaigning in the area, Gore spoke up for the people: “I’ll tell you this, a Clinton-Gore administration is going to give you an environmental presidency to deal with these problems. We’ll be on your side for a change.”

To the delight of these good people, Al and Bill were elected that November, and only a month later the incoming veep boosted their hopes again by reiterating his stance for environmental sanity: “Serious questions concerning the safety of an East Liverpool, Ohio, hazardous waste incinerator must be answered before the plant may begin operation,” he declared in a December 7 press statement. “The new Clinton- Gore administration would not issue the plant a test burn permit until . . . all questions concerning the compliance with state and federal law have been answered.” Period.

Hoorah for the Great Goreski, the man who stared down WTI and saved the children! Except that he didn’t. Once he was sworn in, the fearless defender of the folks and the environment turned out to be the one who blinked, suddenly mumbling that there was nothing he could do to stop the permitting process, so sorry, hope no one dies, goodbye. As he retreated, Gore lobbed the blame back to outgoing Bush officials, asserting that in a dastardly last-minute decision, they’d given WTI the go-ahead it needed.

WTI eventually conducted its test burn . . . and failed! Wouldn’t this have been a neat time for an environmentally macho vice president to assert himself? This was no minor technical failure, either—the test showed excess emissions of carbon tetrachloride (causes liver cancer), mercury (a neurotoxin that damages people’s central nervous system), and polychlorinated dibenzodoxins (a super-nasty that causes birth defects, cancer, immuno-suppression, and cardiovascular problems).

But Al just stayed real still, and on April 6, WTI received its EPA operating permit. Meanwhile, Greenpeace and others filed suit to stop the incinerator from firing up. This time, at long last, the Clinton?Gore team sprang into action—on the wrong side. Administration lawyers were dispatched to help WTI and the EPA battle the citizen groups, and Janet Reno’s Justice Department even testified in court on WTI’s behalf!

In the seven years since Gore took a dive, WTI has been incinerating away, even though it has recorded 34 fires, had five explosions, experienced 27 other “release incidents,” and incurred state fines for what the New York Times referred to as “violations of air monitoring requirements.” How bureaucratically genteel that phrase is.

Less genteel is the stark picture of the townspeople’s health. A 1997 state study found that the people of East Liverpool have “strikingly higher” rates of cancer death than elsewhere in the state and nation (40.25% higher than the national average).

Yes, this is an old industrial town with more than one source of pollution, but the very best you can say about adding a cancer-machine to the mix is that it was less than helpful. Notice that no WTI executives or board members live anywhere near it. As for the health of those who do live there, more studies are needed, say the authorities. But the incinerator doesn’t wait on studies—it keeps on chugging.

Follow the money

Why did Al disappear? The money boys got to him. Coming into office in January of ’93, both Clinton and Gore were engulfed by Wall Street insiders, corporate chieftains, lobbyists, and their own “wise advisors” inside the White House—the latter comprising such corporate stalwarts as Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Robert Rubin of Goldman Sachs (later to become Treasury Secretary), and Robert Altman, also of Goldman Sachs (a firm that now ranks in the top five of Gore’s presidential donors).

Al was seen by this triumvirate of elders as too green, and they did not think it helpful to have him running with the rabble in places like East Liverpool, making noises about yanking corporate operating permits.

Besides, the Street had some money in play in East Liverpool. Morgan Guaranty Trust was getting nice fees for handling $128 million in construction financing for WTI’s waste burner. The financing was being provided by Stephens Inc., an Arkansas-based financial conglomerate owned by Jackson T. Stephens, who happened to have close ties to Clinton. Stephens raised more than $100,000 for Bill’s presidential run and provided a $3.5 million line of credit for the ’92 campaign. With this new information provided to the always obedient son, Gore turned a different shade of green, and he was no longer in touch with those trusting souls back in Ohio.

The list goes on

East Liverpool is hardly the only dark stain on Gore’s green cloak:

l On October 21, 1999, gearing up his campaign, Al made a flat-out, scouts-honor, 100%-guaranteed, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die pledge to end oil drilling off the California coast: “I will take the most sweeping steps in our history to protect our oceans and coastal waters from offshore oil drilling. I will make sure that there is no new oil leasing off the coasts of California and Florida.”

The very next month, the Clinton-Gore administration granted oil company requests to extend 36 drilling leases in California coastal waters. Oil companies were $2 million donors to Gore and the Democratic Party for the 2000 election.

"Two wrongs don't make a right, but three left turns do." --Jim Hightower


l In 1992, candidate Gore pledged that the new administration would be a ferocious defender of America’s vanishing wetlands. Yet with direct subsidies and lax EPA enforcement, the administration has encouraged the sugar industry to continue destroying the Everglades. Among the sugar daddies, Alfonso Fanjul and his Flo-Sun sugar empire in the Everglades have sweetened Clinton and Gore’s various money pockets with more than $300,000 in contributions.

Also, despite Al’s pledge, another 500 acres of sensitive New Jersey wetlands are set to be destroyed by an upscale shopping center and entertainment complex being built by the Mills Corporation. Various federal agencies opposed the construction, but the Council on Environmental Quality, which was closely affiliateded with Vice President Gore, brokered the dirty deal for Mills Corp. Less than a week later, contributions totalling $43,000 came to the Gore 2000 campaign fund from the grateful folks at Mills.

l In 1996, as part of his “reinventing government” flim-flam, Gore achieved what Nixon and Reagan could not get Congress to sit still for: privatizing the Navy’s strategic oil reserve, known as Elk Hills. This huge oil field near Bakersfield, California, is big-time black gold, and the industry has drooled over it for decades, just as environmentalists had fought to prevent its development. It was the largest privatization of federal property in U.S. history.

The winning bidder in the sell-off was Occidental Petroleum Corp. Just coincidentally, Al and Occidental go waaaay back. Indeed, the major source of the wealth amassed by Gore’s father came from his long relationship with Occidental and its legendary chairman, Armand Hammer. Gore has extended the familial ties to the company; he currently owns about a million dollars worth of Occidental stock, and also enjoys a unique neighborly relationship to the corporation.

Adjacent to the Gores’ bucolic, old family farm back home in Tennessee, right along the Caney Fork River that Al talks of so wistfully, he owns another farm—less bucolic but far more profitable—that he prefers not to talk of at all. This chunk of farmland is rich in zinc, and it was sold to Al in 1973 in a sweetheart transaction by Armand Hammer. “Mr. Green” turns out to be a zinc miner! As a by- product, he also turns out to be a polluter—some environmentalists say that run-off from the mine is getting into his beloved Caney Fork.

Gore draws annual zinc royalties that have totalled some $500,000 since he acquired the land from Occidental, and he has also mined more than half a million dollars in campaign funds from Occidental since he became vice president—including $50,000 that came after one of Al’s infamous telephone solicitations from the White House, and another $100,000 wad that rolled in after Occidental’s CEO had enjoyed two nights in the Lincoln Bedroom.

These cozy connections caused industry eyes to roll when it was announced that Occidental had won the bidding on Elk Hills. Writing in The Nation, Alexander Cockburn reports that the company was viewed as a bankruptcy waiting to happen until it got its hands on this sensationally profitable oil reserve.

Normally, the Department of Energy would decide whether a national asset like Elk Hills, the military’s largest strategic fuel reserve, should be sold off. Instead, Gore arranged for a private consulting firm named ICF Kaiser International to make this assessment. Guess who was chairman of ICF Kaiser? Al’s old pal, Tony Coelho. “Oh, ye cynics,” wail Gore staffers, asserting that Occidential’s good fortune on Elk Hills was all on the up-and-up. Nevertheless, the Energy Department has refused to release documents pertaining to the deal.

Again and again on environmental issues, Gore has deferred to money—to Appalachian coal companies, to Florida developers, to oil drillers in Alaska, to timber giants in national forests, to Occidental Petroleum (yet again) in Colombia (see the Lowdown, July 2000).

He also deferred to money in his campaign, relegating pollution issues to the back burner. Here’s a cause that has his name on it, that the broad public actually cares about. Never mind that he doesn’t really walk the walk, he could still talk the talk and hammer Bush, who is as defenseless on environmental issues as an armadillo wandering out on the Interstate. But Gore won’t even be a rhetorical advocate, fearing that he might give a case of those bad ol’ jitters to his contributors.

Gore means well, but that by itself doesn’t mean squat. Whenever his good intentions clash with the moneyed interests, as they must at a presidential level, he’s a money man. Remember, the opposite of courage is not cowardice—it’s conformity.

Behind the Shrub

BUSH’S BOGUS EDUCATION RECORD

Education is the one issue that George W. Bush wants to be identified with in public opinion as closely (and undeservedly) as Al Gore is identified with the environment. With all the campaign-related wind that the Shrub generates on the subject of education, you have to wonder whether he thinks he’s running for the presidency or the school board.

Hardly a day goes by without a touching photo opportunity of this grown man sitting in some fourth-grade classroom with his broad bottom squished into a tiny chair, reading a story to the kids. Apparently, these performances are supposed to make us believe that George loves children and is deeply committed to quality education.

In his pose as a sort of national school marm, Bush insists that he’s the man to fix your local education system. This is somewhat strange coming from a man who’s education mantra has always been “local control.” Local control means that Washington stays out of it, right? Hello, George, you’re running for a federal office.

But Bush brags endlessly about his educational reforms in Texas, citing a recent Rand Corporation study that hailed gains in the state’s test scores. There are at least three problems with Bush’s braggadocio:

First, the reforms he’s citing were not his. Ross Perot, with the backing of former Texas governors Mark White and Ann Richards, was the initiator of the changes that George now claims as his own.

Second, the Rand study covers achievements from 1990-1996; Bush didn’t even get to the governorship until 1995.

Third, Bush and his fellow Republicans actually oppose the governmental policies that led to the improved educational performance in Texas public schools!
Behind the Shrub

The Rand study noted that the three major reasons that students did better were: (1) having fewer students in each class in the early grades so each student got more attention; (2) making sure that children had access to preschool classes; and (3) providing better working conditions and classroom tools for teachers.

Since all three of these steps require an influx of new government funding, George and the GOP are against them. Indeed, as governor, Bush opposed extending kindergarten classes to all Texas children, because he wanted to use that money to give tax breaks to his wealthy campaign contributors.

(Maybe that kid who explained to Dan Quayle how to spell “potato” could talk to George about telling lies.)

Texans will recall that it took decades of litigation—not a bunch of cute nostrums from Bush—to bring about the progress reflected in the Rand report. Test scores of minority kids have been particularly improved, because the courts finally forced Texas to spend as much on minority and other poor kids as our great state does on middle-class kids. Once Texas more or less equalized spending among districts, minority kids’ test scores went way up.

Research has shown again and again what the effective strategies for change are— above all, more teachers and smaller class size—but Bush cites the same studies to back up his droning about “strong focus on basic subjects, on early reading instruction, on clear standards, strong accountability and local control.”

What a waste. He’s dumbing down what could have been a useful national discussion about how to fix the public schools.

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