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Is the President Turning Green?

Aired April 19, 2001 - 19:30   ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The need for action is clear. We must work to eliminate or at least to severely restrict the release of these toxins without delay.


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, the president and the environment, sounding greener by the day, is he acting more like Ralph Nader than George W. Bush?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. In the CROSSFIRE, Fred Smith, president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and in Stamford, Connecticut, Republican Congressman Christopher Shays.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. President Bush went into the rose garden today with Colin Powell and Christie Whitman to announce that he will sign a global treaty to curb toxic chemicals. That's in keeping with the greener look by George W. Bush as Earth day approaches on Sunday.

Yesterday, he said he may not scrap Clinton's arsenic standards. The day before that he backed President Clinton's tightening of regulations against toxic lead. And the day before that he OK'd the Clinton rules prohibiting private development of the wetlands.

Jolly Green Giant! Is this Bush, or is it Nader and Gore? But the president is under attack from the environmentalists for being insincere, and from some free market activists for being a sell-out. It's not easy trying to be green.

Jake Tapper of and CNN's "TAKE 5" is sitting in on the left -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN'S "TAKE FIVE": Well, I'll tell you. This is just a weird dynamic we've got, as exemplified by the fact that on my side tonight, we have Republican Congressman Chris Shays, a Republican from Connecticut. Let's go to a clip from Marshall Wittman of the Hudson Institute, that gets into some of the weirdness of this.


MARSHAL WITTMAN, HUDSON INSTITUTE: What we are seeing is a massive attempt at political damage control. The last few weeks have been to the Bush administration on the environment, what gays in the military was to the Clinton Administration, a public relations debacle.


TAPPER: Mr. Smith, I think Mr. Whitman has something here, don't you? What's your reaction to what he just said?

FRED SMITH, COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Absolutely. Clinton put a lot of mine fields, laid booby-traps throughout the environmental field. The administration rushed in, without his generals in place, and have gone and then tried to defuse them, and they've and blown up, a few, in their hands. The challenge is, though, not to rush in and try to pretend they are not there. The challenge is to find ways of really bringing us to a leadership roll in the environmental field and don't do that by signing Greenpeace in our time.

TAPPER: Well, but you disagree, don't you disagree with everything that President Bush has signed off on: His refusal to rescind a few executive orders. I know the White House trying selling this like it's, you know, like he is, exactly -- Greenpeace in our time -- but the truth is, he has just really just kind of casually endorsed a few things that Clinton had already done.

SMITH: Clinton hadn't already done. Clinton didn't do them for eight years. Clinton left them kicking in the White House for the president to come in and either defer and gradually defuse, and get them on sound science and economic course, that was what the president was talking about. Instead, without anybody in place at EPA, except Administrator Whitman, he's rushed in and said, "If the greens want it, it's Earth day, they got it."

NOVAK: OK, Congressman Shays in Connecticut, this was really a strange -- strangest day following a lot of strange days. The president said this, when said he would sign the toxic treaty. Let's listen to him.


BUSH: Now a Republican administration will continue and complete the work of a Democratic administration. This is the way environmental policy should work.


NOVAK: You know, I was under a delusion, Congressman Shays, that electing a Republican was not to complete the work of a Democratic administration, but go in a different direction. Was I just a naive old fool?

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: Well, this is a president that's just trying to find a little balance in environmental law. He wants sound science, so he going to accept the things where he thinks there is sound science, and he's going to reject it where he thinks there isn't. And that's difficult for both sides of this debate. There are too many extremes in this debate and I think he's trying to find a good center.

SMITH: Congressman, now you are probably aware that the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration Science Advisory Board, in this latest report on dioxin, found no evidence that this material could be classified as a human carcinogen, and yet, there were the -- Secretary Powell and others quoting Greenpeace type literature -- chemicals cause cancer, chemicals threaten the sexuality of western civilization.

Are we going to really have sound science policy, or is this a continuation of, people at EPA believe in sound science they're just now allowed to practice it?

SHAYS: Oh, I think we're going to find a very definitely sound science. I mean, with arsenic the question do you go from 50 parts to 10 parts, or do you go from 50 to 20 or 30? There we need to know where the science tells us to go, but in this case I think it's pretty clear.

NOVAK: Chris Shays, you talk about sound science, but when the president approved the Clinton regulation requirement -- a reporting requirement for business -- on lead content, which is going to cost American business millions of millions of dollars, I don't think -- you might know that he was disregarding the advice from the Small Business Administration that was given him April 9th. Let me just read to you, in part, from that report. We'll put it up on the screen.

"This rule" -- that's the Clinton rule that Bush has approved -- "This rule would impose substantial compliance costs on thousands of small business and other entities." Now get this: "We can not recall in more than decades of reviewing environmental regulations a more egregious example of a total disregard of the science." What an indictment.

SHAYS: Well now that's just by the Small Business...

NOVAK: That's the SBA.

SHAYS: Yes, that's the S.B.A., exactly. That's where it's from, and he's going to be a president who's going to have to resolve issues between the environmental movement and the business movement, between energy and the environment. And he's going to try to have a balance between these different groups, and sometimes they're simply not going to like it, and that's the breaks.

TAPPER: Let me say, let's get to exactly what this lead ruling is this. This requirement would affect 3,600 more businesses, and all it asks is that it requires plants to report emissions of lead compounds if they total more than 100 pounds a year. The standard before that was 10,000. All they are saying is, just let the communities know.

SMITH: Oh, isn't that a wonderful statement? That like the labels that occur on your pharmaceutical products you've got, where you've got a label this long that does nothing to inform the community. It provides lazy environmental journalists and the environmental elite some chance to frighten people in the community.

100 pounds of lead is what -- seven batteries? Every filling station in America is going to have to rush out and fill in EPA paperwork.

TAPPER: So the American people should have no right to know if a company right next door to them, or next door to their playground or their children's school, is putting out lead, which Bush himself called a persistent and highly toxic substance.

SMITH: It's interesting, isn't it? If the things wear out we call them wasteful. If they are persistent, we call them persistent. The point is, there are risks of any materials: chemicals, lead, and so forth. There are risks of also not having those materials to be used. What we are seeing again, is an adoption without thought, of the precautionary principle which basically says if anything can go wrong with technology, with a chemical, with substance -- ban it. There are no considerations.

TAPPER: Come on.

SMITH: There is nothing being considered here on the risk associated with the small businesses or let's look at the POP's treaty. We are talking about...

NOVAK: This is the...

SMITH: Persistent Organic Pollutant thing which we probably announce America's going to support. This is going to make it harder to use DTT, the only form of reasonable protection against malaria, in a world where a half billion people, 500 million people, are catching that disease every year. One million are dying.


TAPPER: Fred, there is a clause in the treaty saying that in Africa DTT can be used to fight malaria.

SMITH: And where will they get it from in a world where we're inhibiting its, prevents its production. We are going to make it harder to save lives around the world with this treaty.

NOVAK: Chris Shays, you are the only person on the program tonight that gets elected for a living. Not only that, you are one of the top most effective politicians in the entire state of Connecticut, or so I'm told anyway. Now, since you are a politician, let's really dope out what happened on this.

What has happened is, is the president, following the good advice of business interests, of free market people like Fred Smith, said that these midnight regulations by Bill Clinton weren't any good. We weren't going to use them, and what happened was he hadn't done much of a preparation for preparing the country, the polls went south and he panicked. And so they get around and they say, "My goodness, it's like gays in the military. We've got to bailout." This is bailout isn't it?

SHAYS: No, Bob. You know what I think it is? I think it is a president trying to being rational, and sometimes I might not like it because I want strong environmental law, and sometimes you might like it because you want weaker one, and he's just trying to find some sensible balance and rational approach to this.

Not everything that President Clinton proposed was wrong. And in the areas where was right he accepted it. And where he was wrong he simply said no. Kyoto was an agreement that we all -- 95 members of the Senate said was wrong. Europe didn't like the fact he said we're not going with Kyoto, but the bottom line was they even told us they weren't going to abide by it, but they said for economy we should accept the treaty. The president says we are not going to accept the treaty if we were not going live by it.

SMITH: But congressman, the problem in a lot of these areas -- and I think a lot of what you just said -- that the real challenge is, there are risks associated with making energy less affordable, and the president recognized that, and I think moved in a rational direction, saying we will move toward energy efficiency, but we are not going to make energy less affordable in America and around the world.

This new treaty, this POP's treaty does very little in the United States or Europe. We're not using these chemicals anymore. Those chemicals costs are going to bear on the poorer parts of world, where they can't afford some of the higher-cost substances we have. We didn't do a risk-risk analysis, people dying versus environmental elites wanting to feel good about not using chemicals that we're not using anyway.

TAPPER: People dying versus your friends in corporate America saving money...


SMITH: Nobody's making any money on producing these chemicals. None of these chemicals are economically produced anywhere in the world.

NOVAK: Congressman Shays, I just want to make one more try to get you to be candid with me now on this political outcome of this. You know, there's an old political rule that you dance with the girl that you brought to the dance. And there is no question that the president is not dancing with the people who supported him.

The interesting thing to me politically, is the Sierra Club all the left-wing environmentalist groups are attacking him! Attacking him for bailing out on his constituency, so he's losing it both ways, isn't he?

SHAYS: You know, the thing I like about this president, he don't dance with anybody. He just does what he thinks is right and lives with the consequences. And it's going to be interesting for both sides to begin to recognize that.

NOVAK: OK, we are going to have to take a break. And when we come back, we will explore: is that really that bad to drink a little arsenic?


TAPPER: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Jake Tapper from and CNN's "TAKE 5," sitting in for Bill Press.

A presidential ticket consisting of two Texas oil men is being trashed for -- big shocker -- not giving a lick about the environment. But this week, President Bush trotted out several environmental measures from the past administration that he announced he wouldn't rescind. Change of heart, or Earth Day window dressing? With us are Congressman Chris Shays, Republican of Connecticut, and Fred Smith, president and founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute -- Bob.

NOVAK: Thank you, Jake. Congressman Shays, I am going to quote something to you from a very distinguished Republican senator who I think you will agree has a good environmental record, and that is Pete Domenici of New Mexico. And this in connection with the Clinton regulation at the last minute to further regulate the arsenic content in water, in the last hour of eight years.

This is what Senator Pete Domenici said: "The cost of complying with this new standard could well put small rural systems out of business. There is no proof it will increase health benefits," end quote. Why then, except for political fear, is the president -- is the White House announce this week that it reconsidering whether it will abandon the Clinton standards on arsenic content?

SHAYS: Well, the bottom line is, the 50 parts per billion may not make sense. Going down do 10 may not make sense, and president is saying maybe it should be 20 or 30. He's going to look at the issue, look at sound science. He rejected 10 because there is not scientific proof for that, but if there is scientific proof for 20 or 30, he should do it.

NOVAK: This has nothing to do with science, congressman. This has a lot to do with Jay Leno making fun of -- gee, I'll have a little shot of arsenic if I'm the president of the United States. It is fear!

The AEI Brookings joint regulatory group -- can't accuse that of being anything but non-ideological -- says that statistically, the Clinton standards could save 10 peoples -- the life of 10 persons over the whole time. That would be cost of $65 million dollars a life. Now...


SHAYS: And it would be pretty stupid.

NOVAK: It would be stupid, wouldn't it? Then why are they reconsidering it? SHAYS: And he rejected it.

NOVAK: He says he's reconsidering it.

SHAYS: No, he's not reconsidering 10. No, he is looking at what level it should be. He is looking at what level it should be. And if it's 10, or 20, or 30, it is going to be based on sound science that is not there now.

SMITH: But congressman, wouldn't it have been possible another approach, and very compatible with what Bush came and ran on, was to allow -- recognize that a one-size-fits-everyone policy doesn't work very well.

There is lots of arsenic naturally in the waters of New Mexico, where Senator Domenici is from. To require that those communities meet the same arsenic removal levels that Connecticut has, where there is no natural, or very little natural arsenic, is to impose cost on small communities that could be used to fund ambulance services, health care, schools. Those things are the risk we do when we impose costly regulations from Washington on small communities in New Mexico.

That I think we were hoping, a devolution strategy. Move power back where the people are so they can make the decisions on what's safer for their communities.

SHAYS: Is that Fred that was speaking?

SMITH: I'm sorry, congressman...

TAPPER: Indeed it was.

SHAYS: Yeah, and you know, Fred, I don't disagree with the fact that we should have different standards in different places sometimes. And I think that's some of the ways that this administration should approach it. All I'm saying to you is, he rejected the 10 parts per billion, and he's leaving open for higher level, or levels that may differ from one part of the country to the other. And I think we should just see what happens. Not panic.

TAPPER: Fred, I think you are a lovely gentlemen, but I have to say, you oppose and you have opposed every environmental regulation that comes down the pike, and you just seem like the kind of guy that would tell Erin Brockovich to get lost and to mind her own business!

The thing is, I looked, in 1992, you were on this very show, and you said that "global warming was a good thing, warmer winters, warmer nights, no effects during the day because of clouding. Sounds to me like we are moving to a more benign planet, more rain, richer, easier productivity to agriculture, a world now that's a lot closer to heaven than hell."

But you know what? On the EPA Web site, the Bush administration, they talk about the fact that global warming is real and temperatures are going up and could have tremendously disastrous effect on the United States. So, when you talk about sound science -- because the arsenic rules came from the National Academy of Sciences -- when you talk about sound science, don't you mean, your scientists?

SMITH: No. It's not science alone or economics alone. It's recognizing that there are risks associated with using any substance or technology, and the risk of not having those substances to use. Whether we are talking about in the global warming debate, the things I said, incidentally, more or less, echoed by President Bush more recently, and the fact that the EPA Web site hasn't been updated.

When there's nobody at EPA to run anything except administrator Whitman, it's not surprising. We are moving into era where, hopefully, we will think about whether things have to happen in the beltway, or out in the field, and what are the risks of EPA regulations that are offset by whatever gains we get from EPA regulations. We are not getting much green value from the green regulations we're spending now and we should.


I just want to say, we have a lot of environmental laws that may not make sense. You can take care of 90 percent of the problem for 10 percent of the cost. You can take care of 10 percent of the problem with 90 percent of the cost. There has to be balance; I think this president is searching for that.

SMITH: I think that is right, but there's always a risk in these poll-driven situations before all of the team is in place or before the science has really been down adequately on some of these things, that we rush in and lock ourselves into a situation that we may have time to regret.

Secretary Powell and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld basically decided they weren't going to rush in and spending more money on the military and until they have done a full evaluation. I think they also should do that in the environmental regulatory area.

TAPPER: I wish Secretary O'Neill takes carbon dioxide emissions very seriously.

SMITH: I wish he took tax policy serious.

TAPPER: Isn't the bottom line, is that you guys disagree with the vast majority of American people?


TAPPER: For the last two decades, the -- I got this from the Heritage Institute, not --

SMITH: Foundation.

TAPPER: Heritage Foundation. In the last two decades, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) polls say that environment -- when Americans are asked this question, environmental standards cannot be too high and continuing improvements must be made, regardless of cost. In the last 20 years, they have agreed with that statement every year except for one, including -- at the worst time of the 1992 -- the last Bush recession, 80 percent agree.

SMITH: The argument that we want our cake and eat it too in politics is not surprising. The point is, Americans really are looking to have a clean environment. They are looking for more creative ways to do it. And out of Washington is not where they are looking for friends from.

NOVAK: That'll have to be the last word. Thank you very much, Fred Smith. In Connecticut, thank you very much, Congressman Christopher Shays. Jake Tapper and I will talk about whether or not George W. Bush is imitating his father.


NOVAK: Politically, Jake, George W. Bush for the first time is looking like his father. And that is a formula for a one-term presidency. He could never get the garden clubs from Connecticut, he better start playing again to the people in the South and the West, who don't like all this environmental regulation.

TAPPER: Well, I think he wants to win Pennsylvania and Illinois and Michigan and all the states -- he lost the Popular Vote by 537,000 votes, you might remember. Looking at 2004, there are a lot of women, a lot of independents, moderates, they want those votes and those people do care about the environment.

NOVAK: Well, what he has to go for, is the middle class people have jobs and not the rich elites in the garden clubs that are causing all this fuss. And give money to the Sierra Club.

TAPPER: But I wouldn't worry about it; there are a bunch of other environmental rulings that he's going to have to issue. I'm sure he will come down square against the environment on all of them. After Earth Day, you won't have to worry about it.

NOVAK: Let's hope.

TAPPER: From the left, I'm Jake Tapper, good night from CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: I'm Robert Novak, join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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