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Published Wednesday, March 1, 2000,
in the Akron Beacon Journal.


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Environment erodes as an early issue

Topic not yet surfacing as national concern, but Ohio town has opinion

Beacon Journal staff writer

It's no secret that Vice President Al Gore may have a hard time winning votes in gritty, blue-collar East Liverpool in eastern Ohio.

Democrat Gore stuck his foot in his mouth in 1992 in the controversy surrounding the $160 million Waste Technologies Industries Inc.'s hazardous-waste incinerator, said incinerator opponents. That political skeleton may come back to haunt him, said critic Alonzo Spencer.

``We hope he will remember his promise, because we have not forgotten,'' he said.

President Clinton and Gore had raised the hopes of opponents in July 1992 on the campaign trail in Youngstown and Weirton, W.Va., when they criticized the plant.

On Dec. 7, 1992, Vice President-elect Gore promised the administration would not issue a test permit for the plant until the health risks were studied.

But Jan. 8, 1993, before Clinton took office, the Bush administration issued the permit. The Clinton administration says it cannot shut down the incinerator unless it can prove it is a risk.

``He did not keep the promises he made to our community,'' said Terri Swearingen of Chester, W.Va. ``It's an issue of trust Please see Issue, A6

Organizations study candidates' records

Continued from Page A1
and accountability.''

Opponents have requested a meeting with presidential-candidate Gore, although it hasn't yet been arranged.

But the East Liverpool debate remains a local issue -- with little evidence that it will play a major role in Tuesday's primary or elsewhere.

The environment has been nearly invisible as a national issue through the early primaries.

``The environment is showing up in a few individual states, although it's not showing up nationally,'' said Lisa Wade of the League of Conservation Voters in Washington, D.C.

Similar opinions

The reason the environment has not become an issue yet is that the intraparty candidates for the Democrats and Republicans are aligned closely on the issue, said Daniel J. Weiss, political director of the national Sierra Club.

Both Democrats -- Gore and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley -- have very strong environmental records, he said.

On the Republican side, Arizona Sen. John McCain and Texas Gov. George W. Bush have similar eco-records, although McCain's is slightly better, he said.

In fact, Bush's environmental record in Texas has become a national issue, in large part because of Weiss' group. It has bought campaign ads in New Hampshire and Michigan to hammer Bush.

The environment will become a bigger issue in the general election, and the differences between the Democratic and Republican candidates become more pronounced, Weiss said. ``It will make a huge difference then,'' he said.

The environment could be one of the key issues, along with gun control and abortion, he said.

Voters back issue

A national survey by Greenburg Quinlan Research Inc. found that 86 percent of the people expecting to vote in 2000 say the environment is important in deciding how to vote.

All the candidates want to appear green, and the greener the better. Even conservative candidates are embracing the environment and telling voters that positive incentives, responsibility and the free market will work better than what they see as heavy-handed federal mandates.

``Every one of the candidates running for president has claimed at various times to be an environmentalist,'' said Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters. ``(But) the facts don't always support the assertion.''

Records under scrutiny

Her group was especially critical of Bush's record. ``The saying that `Everything is bigger in Texas' unfortunately applies to the state's environmental problems under Gov. Bush,'' she said.

``George W. Bush's tenure as governor of Texas is marked by weak state environmental regulations, neglect of Texas state parks, worsening air quality and a general governing philosophy that, if applied nationally, would jeopardize three decades of national environmental progress,'' she said prior to the New Hampshire vote.

The Sierra Club bought radio and television ads charging that Bush failed to curtail smoggy air and the release of toxic chemicals into the environment.

Texas leads the nation in air pollution, and Houston's air is now the smoggiest in the country. Texas, with its petrochemical industry, is No. 1 in the country with 100 million tons a year of toxic chemicals being released.

Bush has defended his record. ``I don't like it, but people have a right to express their opinion,'' he told Time magazine. ``I don't like it when the Sierra Club pollutes my record like they had been doing in the states.''

McCain has ``a mixed environmental record,'' according to Callahan's group.

In McCain's career in Congress, he compiled a 20 percent favorable vote from eco-groups, siding with conservative Republicans on most national issues. But his conservation votes affecting Arizona are generally strong.

His 1999 eco-rating was 19 percent, above the 13 percent average rating for all Republicans in the Senate.

McCain gets high marks for his past efforts to protect the Grand Canyon, although he recently opposed creation of two new national monuments in Arizona.

Democrats Gore and Bradley have both been ``friends of the environment and would promote environmental progress from the White House,'' Callahan said.

Said Weiss of the Sierra Club, ``Both would be good. It would be like having Archie Griffin or Eddie George as your running back,'' a reference to two former star Ohio State University football players.

Gore is called ``the most knowledgable candidate on issues pertaining to environmental protection'' and has provided great leadership, Callahan said.

He has a lifetime 64 percent approval rating from the environmentalists while in Congress.

He also is praised widely for fostering an open-door relationship between environmentalists and the Clinton administration and for taking the lead on such issues as suburban sprawl and open-space protection.

Bradley compiled an 84 percent approval rating from the League of Conservation Voters in his 18 years in the Senate.

He consistently has supported environmental legislation and is viewed as a friend of the environmental movement. But he has been criticized by some for not taking a leading role.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or by e-mail at

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