electric competition
pollution prevention

Too bad Gore didn't inherit Dad's courage


by Jennifer OíDonnell
Akron Beacon Journal, Guest Viewpoint
December 11, 1999

Next time you are at a candidatesí night, you can make the room really quiet by asking the candidates the following question: "Have you ever risked your political career for the sake of principle?"

Almost no one will be able to answer "yes."

Among the few who could honestly say "yes" was the Vice Presidentís father, Albert Gore, Sr.

In 1970, Al Gore Sr. had served as U.S. Senator from Tennessee since 1953. He was running for re-election with a record of support for civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War. His opponent, Bill Brock, attacked him on both issues.

Gore Sr. certainly knew how to soft-pedal his views to Tennesseeís conservative electorate, but he refused to do so. Instead, knowing the likely consequence, Gore Sr. stood his ground. Bill Brock won the election.

Albert Gore, Sr., will long be remembered for this moment of principle.

This doesnít mean he was a saint. After leaving the Senate, for example, he became chairman of Island Creek Coal, the nationís third-largest coal producer and a company notorious for strip-mining Kentucky. One Tennessee critic noted that strip-mining is the only environmental issue not mentioned in Gore, Jr.ís book, Earth in the Balance.

But Gore Sr.ís one moment of principle is one more than nearly all politicians can rightfully claim. Including his son.

Vice President Albert Gore, Jr., has never risked his career for principle. Not once. He will describe at length all the things he cares about. In all his experience, however, he has yet to find one thing for which he cares about enough to risk his career.

What about the environment?

The Vice President talks about it endlessly, but his record as the Administrationís declared leader on the environment is weak.

The U.S. EPA, under the direction of Goreís handpicked administrator and former aide, Carol Browner, has:

  • Failed to enforce the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, passed to reduce the amount of pesticides found on fresh fruits and vegetables;
  • Failed to revoke the enforcement authority of any of the 23 states, including Ohio, that have passed polluter secrecy laws;
  • Failed to crack down on Brush Wellman for continuously exposing its workers and neighbors in Elmore, Ohio to the fatal exposure of beryllium dust, and
  • Made it difficult for citizens to get chemical accident reports filed by the 66,000 facilities in this country that pose serious chemical risks to their communities.

Gore has also broken his promise to reject trade deals that lack effective environmental safeguards.

Worst of all for Northeast Ohioans is the Vice Presidentís broken 1992 promise to block the notorious WTI hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool. In December 1992, Gore said that the new Administration would not issue the plant a test-burn permit until serious questions concerning its safety were answered, and called for an investigation.

The incinerator was built on the west bank of the Ohio River, in a flood plain, 1,100 feet from an elementary school and 320 feet from the nearest home. Current Ohio law prohibits siting of facilities like WTI within 2,000 feet of schools and homes.

Within three weeks of his promise, Gore caved in to pressure from the company and the incinerator has been burning toxics ever since, spewing lead, mercury and dioxin into the valley.

When later questioned about his reversal at a Nebraska meeting, Gore said, "The decisions relating to this particular permit were made principally and almost exclusively during the last administration, and that incurred certain legal obligations toward the company that had invested tens of millions of dollars."

Gore did not say whose investments he felt obliged to guarantee. The original lead investor in the WTI project was billionaire Jackson Stephens. Although Stephens sold his proprietary interest in WTI in 1990, he arranged the financing for the incinerator through the Union Bank of Switzerland the same year.

Stephens was also the biggest financial backer of the Clinton-Gore campaign. The Little Rock investment banker raised $100,000 in contributions for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign, and extended a $3.5 million line of credit to the campaign through his bank.

The school children next door would have been spared eight years of breathing chemical emissions if Al Gore, Jr., had inherited his fatherís guts.

The writer is the Akron-area director of Ohio Citizen Action.