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Is Bush Bad News for the Environment or Is He Just Being Realistic?

Aired March 27, 2001 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, President Bush under attack from environmentalists for decisions on power plant emissions, arsenic in drinking water and drilling in Alaska. Is Bush bad news for the environment or is he just being realistic?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and former Green Party presidential candidate; and Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, member of the Environment Committee.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. How green is he? Campaigning for president, George Bush bragged, quote: "I'm for clean air and clean water, and have a record in Texas to prove it," end quote.

But environmental organizations complain that once in the White House, he's proving just the opposite. In his first 65 days, Bush overturned Clinton rules on mining on public lands, asked courts to block Clinton rules on logging in national forests, reversed his pledge to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, pulled the plug on new limits on arsenic in drinking water, and began plans for drilling for oil in the Arctic wilderness: Actions which industry leaders cheer as balance, but which environmentalists jeer as war on the planet.

Tonight: How good or how bad is it? Is Bush turning back the clock on environmental protection or is he just balancing economy and environment -- Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Ralph Nader, one of the people I look took for my advice on environmental questions is House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. I think he understands the environment better than most people. So, he understands what the EPA under the Clinton regime did, and he was asked about it on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, and here is what he said about the EPA.


REP. TOM DELAY (R), TEXAS: It had nothing to do with good science and cleaning up the environment, and they imposed many political things on the American people. We're seeing some of it with the energy crisis in California, the result of this environmental extremism. (END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Isn't that the truth? They went too far under Clinton and now it's just a matter of trying to redress the balance?

RALPH NADER, FORMER GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's amazing that you would pose Tom DeLay as your authority.

NOVAK: Well, he is.

NADER: I mean, the man is the most thoughtless, corporate extremist shakedown artist in terms of campaign finance reform I have ever seen, and there's a "Washington Post" page one story to demonstrate that a couple years ago. The Environmental Protection Agency under Clinton-Gore gave the auto companies eight years' holiday, no improved fuel efficiency for motor vehicles.

In fact, they've been declining as they're down to 24 1/2 miles per gallon, the lowest since 1980. They were soft on the pesticide/herbicide industry. They gave the genetic engineering industry a free ride. They didn't do anything about protecting children, who are excessively vulnerable to toxics.

And of course, the Bush administration is just extending that. Now, I would say, that the Bush administration is heading for deep political trouble because it's OK for Bush during the campaign to exert rhetoric about pro-environmentalism. His rhetoric now is going to imperil the Republican Party because if there's one consensus in this country, it's the right to breathe clean air, the right to drink clean water, the right to have safe food.

NOVAK: Mr. Nader, I've known you a long time, and I'm terribly disappointed that you're so far off base on that, but I want to give you something we might be able to agree on. Christie Whitman, the Environmental Protection administrator, sent a memo to the president which was leaked and appeared in "The Washington Post" today, I believe.

And she had just come back from a meeting with some of her European colleagues and said that, in the memo, that this global warming, this notion of global warming was a terrible problem, and that the president had to reach -- had achieved credibility with the Europeans by taking a tough stand.

Now, whatever you think about global warming, and I think it's a ridiculous concept, isn't that worse reason for doing it, to achieve credibility with the Europeans?

NADER: Well, she was using diplomatic language. What she's really saying is the overwhelming scientific consensus is that we're heading into trouble here. The insurance industry in the U.S. and especially in Europe recognizes this. BP, the petroleum company CEO recognizes this. Paul O'Neill, the secretary of the treasury for Mr. Bush recognizes this and we can have the best of both worlds here by improving fuel efficiency and therefore reducing pollution for motor vehicles and power plants. Saving the fuel dollars of the American people and working families, you also reduce greenhouse gases. You should understand that. You should that your President Bush is going to go down in contemporary history as the secondary Marie Antoinette, let them drink arsenic.

NOVAK: Be reasonable, Ralph.

PRESS: Remember, Tom DeLay's his environmental hero. OK, Senator Bond, I want to ask you about this. I don't agree with any of these decisions Bush has made so far.

SEN. KIT BOND (R), MISSOURI: Good, that's a good start. I think that's helpful.

PRESS: Maybe I can understand both sides of them except the arsenic one. Let me just show you what your colleagues, Dick Durbin from Illinois, had to say about reversing the rules on arsenic. Here it is.


SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Ronald Reagan tried to tell us that ketchup was a vegetable. Now George Bush is trying to tell us that arsenic is a flavor enhancer in our drinking water.


PRESS: I mean, please, senator, isn't the least we can do to our kids, for our kids is to get the arsenic out of their drinking water?

BOND: That is exactly what Christie Whitman has pledged to do. There is not going to be any change in the standards in drinking water for five years even under the previous standard. Now, she agrees and the president agrees that the current standard of 50 parts is too high. But what is the right standard?

There's no science on it yet, and like so many other last-minute decisions put out by the Clinton administration, this is the regulatory equivalent of the Marc Rich pardon. It was done without science, without justification. It's about time that somebody took a look at it because I'll tell what happens.

When you have unrealistically low standards, small water supply systems shut down and subject their consumers to much greater dangers and she is going to publish a standard below 50 parts, but it is going to be one based on science and there's not going to be any delay in implementation.

PRESS: Senator, that's just not so.

BOND: Oh, it is so. It is.

PRESS: Wait a minute, wait a minute. The National Academy of Scientists has looked at this. They pointed out that arsenic in the drinking water at the present levels causes bladder cancer and lung cancer. They showed that the rules haven't been changed since 1942, and they called for immediately, immediately reducing those levels. How can you go up against the greatest, probably the most, you know, known, well-known scientific academy in this country and say there is no science?

BOND: I'm not going against them, you're going up against the facts. Let me straighten you out. Number one: Everybody agrees that the 50 parts is too high.

PRESS: Well, why wait?

BOND: Because the actual level has not been determined. What is the right level? The right level -- the Clinton administration said five years from now we will implement this new standard. They're still going to make that time frame. But they're going to do so based on science as to what the proper standard is. It may well be that 10 parts is too small and we may harm more people by putting small water supply systems out of business.

NOVAK: Of course, people who may not understand this, it isn't people coming along and poising the wells with arsenic. These are natural...

BOND: They're natural. Arsenic occurs in natural occurrences.

NOVAK: Exactly. Now, the 10 parts is...


NADER: The 10 parts per billion is European standard.

NOVAK: Well, the Europeans do everything wrong.


NOVAK: But let me just tell you, Mr. Nader, the American Water Works Association, I think they know what to do, they've been frantic until they were saved by President Bush. It was going to cost them 1.4 billion, 1.4 billion, to convert their -- to take care of this Clinton standard and 600 million a year. Is the whole green, Nader plan just to put American business out of work so the people are on the bread lines.

NADER: Where do you get those figures, Bob?

NOVAK: The American Water Works Association.

NADER: Did you examine them or do you think they're a little exaggerated?

NOVAK: I think they're totally accurate.

NADER: How much do think thousands of cancer victims and bladder victims and all kinds of other consequence of arsenic for 15 million Americans who are exposed and that standard is supposed to protect...

NOVAK: What's your evidence of that?

NADER: That's the studies that were made on it, National Academy of Sciences, as Bill mentioned. Here's the point: Don't get on the side, Bob, of defending arsenic. It's a loser. Believe me.

NOVAK: Let me defend CO2, which is carbon dioxide which something we breathe out every day, and the president was asked March 14th in New Jersey if he was responding to pressure when he reversed a very foolish campaign statement he made.

Let's hear what the president said.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was responding to reality, and the reality is the nation has got a real problem when it comes to energy. I am concerned that if we don't act in a common sense way, that our people will not be able to heat and cool their homes.


NOVAK: And about the same time, Senator Larry Craig of Idaho said, and let me quote: "If you attempt to regulate carbon dioxide, you will regulate us into a permanent energy crisis in this country." Now, is that what want to do, have a permanent energy crisis because you're trying to go with this eco-extremism on carbon dioxide?

NADER: Do you know anything about industrial efficiency? Have you ever read the book "Natural Capitalism" by a businessman and the Lovins? The point is...


NOVAK: Oh, Amory Lovins. That nut?

NADER: Nut? He has persuaded more utilities...

NOVAK: I was reading about him in the Carter administration.

NADER: He's persuaded more top-flight utility executives to move toward conservation than anybody in the country. Let me put it this way: one thing I hope I'll get through to you in the next 10 years, Bob, is that when you make power plants more efficient, when you make motor vehicles more efficient, you are reducing carbon dioxide, you are reducing global warming gases, you are reducing the greatest threats to the environment...

NOVAK: Just won't have an economy, right?

NADER: Oh, no! Efficiency is good for the economy. Waste is bad. A wasteful economy is a weak economy.

PRESS: Yeah, I want to pick up on that. I want to pick up on that. I mean, this baloney we're hearing here that there's the environment on one side and the economy on the other is just absolute crap!

Senator, you know that Ralph pointed out: Shell Oil, Dow Chemical, Ford Motor, DaimlerChrysler, General Motors and British Petroleum have all said they drop their opposition to the Kyoto accords. They've all said global warming is real, they've also said we got to do something, and the place to start is carbon dioxide emissions!

So, wouldn't you agree that Bush is not only out of step with the environmentalists, he's out of step with the leaders of American industry?

BOND: No, he's absolutely right. One thing that I would agree with is we can reduce CO2 emissions, that's by going to nuclear energy, but so many of you radical left-wing Democrats have opposed nuclear energy -- that is the one source of energy that does not generate CO2. Fossil fuels generate CO2, and we are getting much more efficient because we are generating three times the energy from coal with one-third the pollutants, and we should emphasize conservation, emphasize better environmental standards, but to try to regulate CO2 now would cause an even greater problem.

What you Democrats have done to California would happen to the rest of the country, pricing energy out of the ceiling.

PRESS: Wait, wait, may I point out that Pete Wilson signed that bill. No Democrat signed that bill. That was a Republican plan, and it failed!

BOND: Oh, that's not Republican -- that's a Democratic plan.


NADER: It was drafted by PG&E and Edison, passed by the legislature, both Democrats and Republicans unanimously in 1996, and signed by a Republican Pete Wilson!

NOVAK: You are talking to the former Democratic chairman.

BOND: Oh, I know, I know that, Bob.

NOVAK: We've got to take a break. And when we come back, we will explore what political contributions from business or from the environmentalists are effecting policy.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. If President Bush has his way, we may hear the sound of drilling on the Alaskan tundra before long. Is that because of big oil pouring big money into the Republicans, or could it possibly be that the president is just trying to find more domestic energy supplies for the country?

We're asking former Green Party presidential candidate, consumer advocate Ralph Nader; and Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, a member of the Senate Environment Committee -- Bill. PRESS: Senator Bond, the president has made no secret of his desire to open the arctic wilderness for new exploration -- at least I give him credit for that -- the Natural Resources Defense Council has featured that issue in a new television ad that's just starting. I'd like you to listen to a part of it, please.


NARRATOR: What do you call someone who would drill our arctic national wildlife refuge where there's hardly any oil?


PRESS: Now even your colleague, Republican colleague, Senator Bob Smith says it would be wrong, wrong, to open up the last great wilderness area of this country for what is probably at best a 60-day supply of oil. They are right, aren't they?

BOND: That's wrong, wrong and wrong, and I'm sorry that my friend Bob Smith may have taken that position, because I have been there. The arctic national wildlife refuge has one small part that was said aside in 1980 in an agreement between Tsongas, Jackson and the senators from Alaska for oil exploration, about 1.5 million acres out of the 19 million acres.

I have been up there. Most of the people who talk about the north slope have never been there. It is a frozen desert, most God- forsaken place I have ever been, yet still, the drilling goes on there, only in the dead of winter, with a very small footprint, and the caribou -- love it -- caribou heard has increased nine-fold, and frankly, the projections for oil in the arctic coastal region -- between five and 16 billion barrels of oil, enough to replace the oil we are getting from Iraq for about 54 years.

That's the most significant area for adding to the supply of domestic energy that we have.


NADER: Why aren't the oil companies drilling where Clinton gave them an opportunity in north slope? All kinds of areas -- they're not drilling. Why do they want to open up this refuge? Why don't they drill where they have right to drill now?

BOND: It might have something to do, Ralph, with where the oil is, because they have geological instruments that tell them where the oil is likely to be. I can assure you, if they had places where they could drill, where they think oil is likely to be, they would do that. This happens to be one of the best prospects...

NADER: But the others are prospects too, they are not exploring.

BOND: Well, if it is good prospects, why don't you and your friends go up and explore there?

PRESS: Just quickly, here is what I don't understand: during the campaign, President Bush slammed Bill Clinton for not doing enough to come down hard on OPEC. And he said, when I'm president, I'm going to call OPEC and say, don't you dare turn off the spigot. Well, you know, senator, twice in the last two months, OPEC has decreased production. George Bush hasn't said one word!

In fact, over the weekend, Energy Secretary Spence Abraham says we are not going to ask OPEC to increase production. Why have did they suddenly gone so cowardly on OPEC, now that he's in the White House?

BOND: Well, they're not going cowardly on OPEC, they realized that the energy situation in this country is a disaster, for after eight years of an anti-energy policy, when we did nothing but curtail sources of supply, even tried to take down hydropower dams, took land out of production and exploration for coal, natural gas, oil, we did not develop any new refineries -- we are suffering a severe shortage of domestic energy production.

We are going to need all sources and to the extent that we can jawbone OPEC, that's helpful, but we also have to take control of our energy future in our own hands.

NOVAK: Ralph Nader, I hate to correct you, because I have had a lot of respect for you, but we get our oil from Iraq right now, and there's plenty of oil in the ANWR, it's about the equivalent of Saudi Arabia, and I want to run a current...

NADER: Now, say that again?

NOVAK: Saudi Arabia. It really is!

NADER: Oh really?


NADER: Saudi Arabia has over 250 billion barrels of reserves so far.

NOVAK: I want show you...

NADER: This is fiction!

NOVAK: I want to show you an ad that's more accurate than the one that Bill showed. This is put on by the Arctic Power Energy Stewardship Alliance, which is a nice name, and let's put that on.


NARRATOR: Twenty years ago, Congress set aside a small part of Alaska to provide for our energy security. Geologists report it could be the largest supply of oil ever discovered in America.

We can balance our need for energy and our concern for the environment. That's why 75 percent of Alaskans support energy exploration in ANWR.


NOVAK: So, is it -- are you more interested in fuzzy animals than people?

NADER: I'm more interested in future generations being able to enjoy a rare wilderness areas, number one, and that involves preserving this little area.

You know, the biggest source of fuel in this country is right in Detroit. One mile per gallon, efficiency upgrade, for the motor vehicles that are rolling off those production lines, and that would replace the most optimistic findings of oil in ANWR.

NOVAK: I want to ask you one more question. You know, Bill was -- I thought Bill was going to come out and attack the administration for receiving all the money from the energy...


NOVAK: ... there's no time, but let me just say, I can't understand the whining that goes on by the environmentalists when during the last campaign, the environmentalists contributed $1.2 million to the Democrats and 97,000 to the GOP. Payback time, isn't it, against those people? They work for the other side!

NADER: Are the Republicans that petty? They jeopardize adults and children in this country to more toxics?

NOVAK: Well, it's politics! You understand politics.

NADER: To destruction of the federal forests? To arsenic? To carbon dioxide?

NOVAK: That's ridiculous. Oh, come on.

NADER: You know something, this is serious information gap in this administration. And we really have more debates at the national press club...

PRESS: We will have more debates, I promise you, but this one is over. Senator Bond, thanks so much for coming in -- I can see you were ready to jump in there.


PRESS: Thank you for coming back here to CROSSFIRE, Ralph Nader, we will have you both back to debate energy and the environment.

Bob Novak and I will be back with closing comments and our solution to the energy crisis. We will be right back.


PRESS: Bob, you know, I've been working on these environmental issues for 30 years, starting in California. I have to tell you, in all that time, Bob, I never met one person who said I need more arsenic in my drinking water. Even you have to admit that is extreme for Bush!

NOVAK: Well, that's silly and you know it, but...

PRESS: Do not!

NOVAK: But let me ask you this, are you ready now, Bill, to admit that we have now to solve our energy problem a clean, efficient, 21st century kind of power -- nuclear power, it's a time for the nukes. Are you ready to admit that?

PRESS: I am not going to admit it until you tell me what you are going to do with the nuclear waste, and what you're going to do with all the people who have cancer because of exposure to nuclear power.

NOVAK: I will tell you next week, but you are an eco-extremist, you know that?

PRESS: I'm proud of it!

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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