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Will Gore's Environmental Policies or Bush's Environmental Record Come Back to Haunt their Campaigns?

Aired April 21, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, on this Earth Day Eve, politics and the environment. Will Al Gore's environmental policies or George Bush's environmental record come back to haunt their campaigns?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the CROSSFIRE, Robert Kennedy Jr., president of the Water Keeper Alliance and an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Peter Huber, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of "Hard Green: Saving the Environment From the Environmentalists."

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Save the whales, take a hike, hug a tree: tomorrow is Earth Day 2000. Earth Day No. 30, in fact, celebrated around the country, including a giant celebration right here on the Washington Mall, headed by movie heart-throb Leonardo DiCaprio. Mary Matalin will be in the front row.

Al Gore marked Earth Day a day early, meeting in Detroit with business, labor and environmental leaders to trumpet more fuel efficiency. At the same time, publisher Houghton Mifflin reissued his 1992 book "Earth in the Balance" in which Gore originally stated and now reaffirms his goal of getting rid of the internal combustion engine altogether while George Bush is accused of helping give Texas the dirtiest air in the country.

Should make for some interesting debates this year on environmental issues, starting tonight. Is Al Gore the environmental extremist he's portrayed to be? Is George Bush the ecologically disaster? And does anybody really care anymore? -- Mary.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Bill, I do have other plans for Easter, but I'm sorry I'm going to miss you dressed up in your whale suit.

PRESS: This is Earth Day, the day before.

MATALIN: No, I know, but I'm going out of town. But I know you'll be in the front row dressed up in your whale suit.

Mr. Kennedy...

PRESS: Big whale... (LAUGHTER)

MATALIN: ... thanks for joining us. And you will be there, and let me ask you about your candidate and the reissuance of his book. You are supporting, had supported -- and at a much needed time -- the vice president in the primaries. And in the new forward of the old book, he says anew -- quote -- "I believe the environment should be a central issue in the year 2000." This is a reiteration of the old forward in which he said it should be the central organizing principle of civilization.

Yet in the primaries, he was -- well, that's why you came to his rescue. Friends of the Earth endorsed Bradley. They still haven't endorsed the vice president. The conservation groups have given Gore 64 percent approval rating.

Is this because -- is his absence on the central organizing principle of the interplanetary system in this campaign a result of his late political adviser's, Bob Skors (ph), advice, which told him, "This issue will kill you." In other words, is the vice president putting politics above the planet?

REP. ROBERT KENNEDY JR., PRESIDENT, WATER KEEPER ALLIANCE: I don't think so. I think he's, like in Detroit today he made it a central issue of his campaign. I think that during a primary season, that the mainstream environmental community did support Al Gore. Of course, you know, it's a big community, and it's a very diverse movement and there were some people who supported Bill Bradley. But I think all the environmental groups at this point, because of Gore's strong environmental record and just as much because of Bush's disastrous, catastrophic environmental record in Texas.

MATALIN: Well, so you say on both counts -- you say he has a great record and you say Bush doesn't. And we'll let Bill demagogue on that.

But let's talk about the vice president's personal commitment. You would think that if you were -- you would be ecologically correct in your own backyard if you were going to live and die on the environment. And of course, you know at the first publication of this book, "Earth in the Balance" in 1992, it was found that there was an illegal dump on the very farm that he said he learned all of his environmental values. There was pesticide, aerosol cans, old tires, unused oil -- or used oil filters there. He can't even clean up his own backyard.

KENNEDY: Well you know, I have no idea. This is the first I've ever heard of that issue. What I know about Al Gore is that he's been there on every environmental issue since I've been working on the environment. He's been the leader. He literally wrote the book on the environment.

During this -- because of his presence in this administration, environmental activists had more access to this administration. We were shut out during the previous 12 years. And Gore virtually single-handedly turned back the Republican effort to dismantle, to eviscerate 25 years of environmental law that began in 1994.

So I don't think -- I think if you talk to any of the mainstream leaders in the environmental community that Al Gore is regarded as -- as the best, the most knowledgeable politician in our country today on environmental issues, and the most committed as well.

MATALIN: But you know what? Saying doesn't make it so. What he's done in his own backyard and what he's done in his campaigns is the reality. In the 1988 campaign, the last time he ran for president, he supported a North Carolina paper mill that polluted rivers in Tennessee. I mean, come on...

KENNEDY: But come on, Mary. I mean, you can't be serious. Are you saying...

MATALIN: But here's what I'm saying: He says one thing and he does another.

KENNEDY: This is like ridiculous.

MATALIN: How about the Meadowlands Mall, which you yourself called him a mercenary...

KENNEDY: He's been...

MATALIN: ... for supporting filling in the wetlands with a mall, an autocentric wetlands-filling mall in the New Jersey Meadowlands.

KENNEDY: Mary, you're nitpicking, OK? You're nitpicking.

If you look at any of the major even environmental issues that we've dealt with in this country, he has been on a leadership role. He risked his political neck to go over Kyoto -- to Kyoto and make sure that that agreement was signed and that it went through. Without Al Gore visiting there, it would have never happened. He did the same thing in the Earth Summit in Rio.

On every issue, whether it's ozone, whether it's global warming, whether it's clean water, clean air, endangered species, he's been at the forefront. And you can try to go into his private life or something, and...

MATALIN: It's not a private life...

KENNEDY: ... and do this nitpicking.

MATALIN: I want to read your quote.

KENNEDY: But let's...

MATALIN: Mr. Kennedy, your quote.

KENNEDY: But let's talk about...

MATALIN: "It's disappointing to see Al Gore, whom I admire, succumb to this kind of mercenary approach." You have called him a mercenary, putting politics above the environment.

KENNEDY: No, no, no. No, look, I'm an advocate...

MATALIN: You didn't say that?

KENNEDY: My job is to tell the truth and call things as I see it. And I'm not saying that Al Gore has done everything right every time in his career. When he does something wrong, I call him on it. But I can also tell you this: that he is the best environmental candidate that we've ever had running for president. He's given us access. He's stayed true to his values.

And that's why the environmental community, a hundred percent -- you will not see a single environmental leader or a single environmental group supporting George Bush in this campaign, and the reason for that is, No. 1, because of Al Gore's long commitment, and No. 2, because of a disastrous, catastrophic record of George W. Bush as governor of Texas where he has made this the most polluted state in the country: the dirtiest air, the dirtiest water, the most toxic releases in the country, the lowest expenditure in 50 states -- in 49 states -- 49th for environmental expenditures. And those are the issues people are going to look at.

PRESS: Let's get to some of those issues, Peter Huber. And by the way, welcome to the show, and I want to congratulate you for being only one of the four of us who looks like an environmentalist tonight.


PRESS: Talking about George W. Bush's environmental record, because Mary wanted to start talking about candidates' records. In May of 1999, Governor Bush said -- quote -- "You've got to ask the question: Is the air cleaner since I became governor? And the answer is yes."

Now, I'm not going to demagogue. I'm going to let you listen to the facts as reported in an ad the Sierra Club paid for during the primary campaign. Just listen quickly.


NARRATOR: Houston is the city with America's dirtiest air. Texas leads the nation in air and toxic pollution. And in the four years, George W. Bush has been governor, the number of smog alert days increased dramatically. The health of more kids have been put at risk.


PRESS: So the governor really wasn't telling the truth, was he, Peter?

HUBER: You know, you can take pollution from two ends. You can say Texas isn't as clean as Montana, and it's certainly not, or you can recognize this fact. The heartland states of this country -- Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Western Pennsylvania, and down South through Texas, do all the heavy lifting for this country. If you simply took Houston's oil refineries and moved them to the states that are using all that gas, Houston's air would be meeting every requirement here.

The fact is these are the producing states, right through the heartland of the country, and they have actually reduced pollution way more than Montana has because Montana had no pollution to begin with.

They have made extraordinary progress, but they're doing the heavy lifting for the whole nation. If you want to charge them with the whole nation's pollution, that's fine. But the pollution belongs to the people who consume the goods, all right? And they're spread across the country.

PRESS: No, you're just flat wrong. I mean, the trend, the movement has been in the other direction.

Let me tell you something. I come from California. I've come from L.A. I never thought I would see a city in this country that had dirtier air than L.A. Since...

HUBER: Californians refine its own oil and imports it from other refineries elsewhere. Beg you pardon.

PRESS: Let me finish, OK? Since George Bush has been governor, Texas has gone to being No. 1 in the nation -- it wasn't before -- Houston has surpassed Los Angeles. And I want to quote to you...

HUBER: The heartland states will stay high forever because they are producing the goods for the rest of the country. And if you want to write off Pennsylvania and Ohio and Illinois and Michigan and Texas, then you can do that, all right? But these are the countries that do the heavy lifting -- the states that do the manufacturing, that give us our cement, our cars and our gasoline. And Al Gore's proposal is to put a tax on that gasoline...

PRESS: We're going to...

HUBER: ... and he says so on page 173 of his book.

PRESS: We're going to get a chance to talk about Al Gore later. I still want to talk about George W. Bush. I want to quote to you the head -- the head of the Texas Air Crisis Campaign, Meg Haenn, who is saying -- who said here, "Make no mistake: We are in an air quality crisis in Texas, and it isn't because of heat or growth. Our bad air is the direct result of actions and conscious omissions by Governor George Bush." She adds, by the way, the Texas Natural Resource Commission, that she appoints...

HUBER: Bill, is this the best you can do? To read paid political ads? I mean, you know...

PRESS: This is not a paid political ad.

HUBER: Any of us -- the last one you ran was -- either of us can buy paid political ads. How about actually discussing the facts?

KENNEDY: Let me discuss the facts.

PRESS: All right.

KENNEDY: It's not just Houston that's dirty.

PRESS: Correct.

KENNEDY: You know, I was around in 1987, when we were rewriting the clean air act. And nobody believed at that time that anybody would ever surpasses Los Angeles for filthy air.

PRESS: Right.

KENNEDY: Houston did, and it's not just because of the refineries. Seven out of the 10 most contaminated -- air-contaminated cities in the country are in the state of Texas. And it's not the result of oil refining, it's a direct result of choices that were made by the Bush administration.

HUBER: What choices would those be?

KENNEDY: Well let me give you -- OK, I'll give you -- let me tell you this. When the head of the state EPA, the Texas resource conservation agency -- George Bush -- the person that George Bush, when he came into office, appointed as head of that agency to monitor all the environment in the state, was the former executive of Monsanto. He'd been at Monsanto for 30 years, and he was also the head of the Texas Chemical Manufacturing Association.

HUBER: This is a nice ad hominum attack. Now let's get a fact on the choice that was made...

KENNEDY: Oh, all right, here...

HUBER: ... that might lead to this sudden escalation of problems. Or are we just going to name names...

KENNEDY: The state of Texas...

HUBER: ... and say what mean, bad people each of these individuals is?

KENNEDY: OK, calm down. The state of Texas...

HUBER: No, I'm perfectly calm...

KENNEDY: The state of Texas...

HUBER: ... but all you're telling me is these are nasty people.

PRESS: One at a time, gentlemen. Quickly, Bob.

KENNEDY: The state of Texas was in non-compliance for air quality and was under an order from EPA to do vehicle emissions standards -- to do vehicle emissions testing to make sure catalytic converters were working. They erected around the state -- a private company erected 100 testing facilities around the state. The first decision that George Bush made, the first bill when he came into office, was to abandon that commitment. And as a result of that...

HUBER: And...

KENNEDY: ... there was a lawsuit. The lawsuit was won.

PRESS: Peter, you can respond.

HUBER: And there was a terribly difficult problem with clunkers. Clunkers are by far the largest polluters, and they're overwhelmingly owned by poor people, largely Hispanic people in Texas. And you clamp down on them and you are clamping down on the people who have the least political power and the least money. And there's a reasonable political call to be made as to whether you want to soak these people or whether you actually want to try and spread -- spend burden here. And, I mean...

KENNEDY: Well there's plenty...

MATALIN: OK, let's hold the debate right there. There clearly is a philosophical difference between these two candidates, these two philosophies. We'll examine that more when we come back.

But today, Al Gore was in Detroit. And he gave, in his assemblage of truckers and labor leaders and environmentalists -- an unlikely assemblage -- a hint into his TV viewing habits.

Take a listen.


GORE: Ten years ago, if you told me we were assembling this crowd all in the same place, I would have said that it was impossible. Maybe it was some giant episode of CROSSFIRE or something.



MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

As Leonardo DiCaprio leads the Earth Day celebration here in our nation's capital, Al Gore leads with his chin, re-issuing his 1992 book "Earth in the Balance." Is the reemergence of Gore's environmental manifesto good news for George W. Bush? Two environmental experts analyze Gore the greedy and the environmental issue itself for campaign 2000, Peter Huber, author of "Hard Green: Saving the Environment from the Environmentalists," and Robert Kennedy Jr., president of the Water Keeper Alliance.

PRESS: Peter, I want to start with a quote from "Earth in the Balance," the one that you're hearing most about and the Republicans are quick to ridicule, the one about cars. After the vice president says that we certainly can create or produce more fuel-efficient cars than we have now in this country, he goes on to say -- here's the quote, "It ought to be possible to establish a coordinated global program to accomplish the strategic goal of completely eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a 25-year period."

I ask you, what's wrong with that goal?

HUBER: He's got 17 years left since that was written eight years ago. He really needs that goal. It's essential, because on page 173 of his book he says the first logical step is to raise the taxes on gasoline and fossil fuels. This will not go over well with people who are actually driving, unless they're using some fuel other than gasoline...

PRESS: What...

HUBER: He really has to hope they're not using gasoline when he raises the tax on that.

PRESS: I would defend our gasoline prices, too -- and have. But I'm asking you, what's wrong, if we could -- if we could replace the internal combustion engine, which has been around since Henry Ford and Model A and you can't tell me we can't do any better, if we could replace it in the next, say, 25, which could be 30, 35 years, I'm saying, what's wrong with the goal of replacing it with a clean form of transportation?

HUBER: If you replace it with something cleaner and it's equally economically, there's nothing wrong with it whatsoever.

PRESS: Nothing wrong with the goal.

HUBER: If it's as cheap and cleaner, absolutely nothing.

PRESS: And in Europe...

HUBER: But he's not going to invent it for us. I know he's given us the Internet and "Love Story," but this is beyond his immediate ability.

PRESS: No, but the point is, I just want you to say -- and I thank you for your candor -- that the goal that other people ridicule, you salute as a worthwhile goal.

HUBER: No, I salute it if he's got something up his sleeve that he's going to produce. I very much doubt he will.

PRESS: No, no, no, no, no. No, he's issuing a challenge to the auto makers and to scientists and to engineers around the country. You've endorsed the challenge.

HUBER: I would like them to invent a whole bunch of other things, too. I mean, you know, if I can just make a list -- a wish list for technologies I'd like to have, I can add a whole lot more to that.

PRESS: But this would be on the list.

HUBER: I mean, I'd like a pill that would extend my life 20 or 30 years.

PRESS: This would be on the list?

HUBER: Well, I have hundreds of things I could wish for, but is that serious politics? The serious political proposal in his book has nothing do with inventing technology, which he doesn't do despite his claims, it has to do with raising the tax on gasoline -- page 173, read it and weep, because he's going to be hearing a lot about that proposal. He will raise your gasoline taxes. He said he's going to. It's on page 173. And that a president can do, I might add.

PRESS: You know, Mr. Huber, you do not speak for Al Gore. You can't say that. You cannot...

HUBER: I can read his book. I can read his book. Anybody who wants to, page 173.

PRESS: Let the reporters ask Gore about that.

MATALIN: You know what? I urge that everybody does read this book because this is the quote that's become...

PRESS: I do, too.

MATALIN: ... sort of the whipping boy. And why practical conservationists and environmentalists point to it is not because of the goal -- we all agree with that goal. It's the center philosophy which is demonstrated by other quotes. And I share one with you now, Mr. Kennedy -- also from "Earth in the Balance":

"Any child born into the huge consumptionist way of life so common in the industrial world will have an impact on the environment that is, on average, many times more destructive than that of a child born into the developing world."

Mr. Kennedy, it's the children of the developing world that are creating the technologies that are conserving this planet. This is central to Al Gore's misunderstanding of the global economy if he thinks that developing worlds are easier on the environment than the industrial world -- that's the quote I'm not making it up, OK.

KENNEDY: What you're saying, your interpretation of the quote is -- he's not saying we should all go back and be -- you undeveloped economies.

MATALIN: He's saying our consumption is our polluters and it's the industrial nations that are cleaning up the environment. The more prosperous nations are the cleanest nations.

KENNEDY: What he's saying, Mary, is that we should all try our best to integrate an environmental ethic into our life, and that we should take responsibility and accountability for the way that we behave and try to -- and that we live in a community, and that living in a community is sometimes painful, and that you can't make decisions simply based upon self interest, that you have to account for the impact of your decision on other members of your community and on future generations, and that's what he's saying.

And let me say something about the elimination of the internal combustion engine, because Al Gore was in Detroit today and reiterated this statement, but said we're going to do it 17 years instead of 25 years, and he was talking to the automobile industry and labor unions when he made that statement. And I as out giving a speech to the technical people at Ford Motor Company about three weeks ago -- two months ago and I -- out there, I heard that from them. I heard them say, we can do this, this is something we're excited about doing, this is something we're committed to doing. And we may even beat that time scale. So, and they're excited about it because they want to take responsibility and do just what Al Gore says in that quote that you read, is recognize that just because we live in a developed country and we can control these resources, we don't have to use them in a way that's irresponsible.

MATALIN: He also says that that engine in automobiles are more deadly than that of any military enemy we are ever again likely to confront. Do you find him prudent politically?

KENNEDY: I have a child with asthma. And on ozone days which are created by low-level carbon dioxide covered by carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide emissions, I see my son gasping for air. If a military government did that to my child, it would be an act of war, and there are -- hundreds of thousands of kids in our city today who are gasping for air and struggling for every breath, because of carbon monoxide that is discharged by these engines.

If we can do better, if we can develop an engine -- gin which we now have these hybridized engines that don't put out that gas, we're going to bring comfort to a lot of people.

HUBER: Hybridized engines are still internal combustion engines. Let's not make up what they are. They're hybrid gas, electric...


HUBER: They're an internal combustion engine with a battery, so don't tell me they don't put those out. They're still burning gas in them. How can you say they're not. They're still internal combustion.

PRESS: They're not 100 percent internal, that's the point.

HUBER: They're a 100 percent internal combustion with an electrical drive.

KENNEDY: That's right, they have an electrical drive.

PRESS: We haven't achieved a goal yet. All we have done is run out of time on this show. Gentlemen, I want to wish you a happy Earth Day. And thank you for coming in to CROSSFIRE, Peter Huber, Bobby Kennedy. Good to have you here.

KENNEDY: Thanks or being me.

PRESS: Mary Matalin and I, we will hug a tree. When we come back our closing comments on Earth Day, coming up.


PRESS: Mary, according to the "Wall Street Journal" in his first campaign, Governor Bush took reporters dove hunting, and he shot a killdeer, which is a protected bird in Texas. I've got to tell you, this guy has got a long way to go to prove that he's, an environmentalist, not to mention the dirtiest air in the nation.

MATALIN: Well, he doesn't have an illegal toxic dump in his backyard.

PRESS: Yes -- old paint cans on a farm.

MATALIN: Gore has an illegal -- a federal and state illegal dump in his farm.

I'm giving you for your Earth Day a present from me to you, a correction of all the lies you just made about Bush's record, including the fact that he removed more toxic chemicals from the ozone. All the other 49 states combined...

PRESS: Texas, number one dirty air.

MATALIN: Just listen to the truth.

PRESS: Houston, number one dirty air. You can not deny it.

PRESS: Happy Earth Day. Good night for CROSSFIRE. I'm Bill Press, from the left.

MATALIN: From the way left, you Earth Day-ers.

From the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again for more editions of CROSSFIRE.



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