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Gore's Core Environmental Support a Little Soft

By Kate Ackley
Monday, February 21, 2000

You'd think presidential hopeful Al Gore would have the support of environmentalists tucked away. Although he's long disappointed some activists with his positions on trade, he's widely viewed as the pro-environment candidate.

In his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, Gore argued that global warming and pollution must be curtailed, and championed a slew of other environmental causes.

But Gore has bumped into a lot of grumpy greens along the campaign trial. One major national organization is backing Bill Bradley, and others are openly critical of the vice president's commitment to their cause.

"I think that if this were a Republican administration, there might be much stronger and broader finger pointing and outrage," says Rick Hind, legislative director of Greenpeace's Toxics Campaign. "[Gore] feels he's locked up the environmental vote. It's sort of like, 'This is good enough to get elected' or 'I got a C average in college and that's all I need to get a diploma.' "

Hind's organization has been closely following the administration's handling of a hazardous waste incinerator located near an elementary school in East Liverpool, Ohio.

During a stump speech in 1992 and then later in a press release after the Clinton-Gore ticket won, Gore called the incinerator "unbelievable" and said he would push for "a change."

The plant continues to operate today, and Greenpeace and its allies aren't about to let Gore forget it.

Neither officials from the vice president's office nor those based at Gore's campaign headquarters in Tennessee returned phone calls.

"We told the administration in the early fall that we don't want to spend time embarrassing them over broken promises," Hind says.

The green groups were promised an EPA review of the incinerator after they'd planned an organized demonstration in New Hampshire to be held right before the primary.

Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project, is no Gore fan, either. Public Citizen has called for the government to stop a radioactive-metal recycling plan in Tennessee. The group has sent a letter to the vice president calling for a meeting.

"We have been very concerned about Gore," says Hauter, who has yet to met with the vice president. "We haven't even met with a staff person."

But the vice president's defenders, and even some of his critics, say the groups that are squawking are simply making a strategic move to get their issues heard. At the end of the day - or the primary season - they will have nowhere to go but the Gore camp.

Peter Kostmayer, executive director of Zero Population Growth, a D.C.-based lobbying group, says organizations like Friends of the Earth, which has gone so far as to endorse Bradley, want leverage.

"You've got to pay attention to someone when they give you a little smack, even if they're wrong," offers Kostmayer, who served with Gore in Congress and later served in the Clinton-Gore Environmental Protection Agency. "They want to be a factor in the debate. They want their endorsements to be sought after, because they think their endorsements have been taken for granted."

Adds Betsy Loyless, policy director for the League of Conservation Voters: "Friends of the Earth made a political call. It's a tactic."

Some say it's a tactic that might actually weaken the cause. "I don't see the advantage of getting involved in the primary," says a spokesman for one of the smaller Washington-based environmental lobbying groups. "They should just stay out of the primaries."

Neither the Sierra Club nor the League of Conservation Voters has made an endorsement in the primary. But Sierra Club political director Daniel Weiss says his group finds it far more pressing to focus resources on attacking Texas governor George W. Bush, who Weiss says has "presided over the dirtiest state in the country," and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Though Gore's record is far from perfect, Weiss says, "the Clinton-Gore administration is operating in the most hostile, anti-environment Congress in the last 30 years. Given the hostility of the Congress, Clinton-Gore have really used their executive authority to make progress on the environment."

Kate Ackley is a reporter at Legal Times. Her e-mail address is kackley@legaltimes.com.

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