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2000-03-07

A Look at the Environmental Records of G.W. Bush and John McCain

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Arizona Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign filed a complaint yesterday with the Federal Election Commission about a TV ad being run by "Republicans for Clean Air," a name being used by Texas billionaires and top Bush supporters Sam and Charles Wyly. The ads trash McCain’s environmental record. [includes rush transcript]

The McCain campaign also urged the Federal Communications Commission to take action, saying the ads should not be run until a disclaimer is attached identifying the Wylys as the sponsors. The two brothers did not take responsibility for the ads for several days.

The Wylys have run $2 million in television ads that do not urge a vote for either candidate, but they bash McCain for his record on solar and renewable energy programs and characterize Bush as an environmental crusader. One of them, Sam Wyly, owns an energy company called Green Mountain.

The Wyly brothers have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Bush, both for his gubernatorial and his presidential campaign. Charles Wyly is one of the "Bush Pioneers." There are other Bush connections to the ads: the woman who bought the time for the ads also works for a political action committee led by a longtime Bush supporter, and the ads were placed by Multimedia, which has done work for Bush supporters.

The ads ran in San Francisco, Columbus, Ohio, across New York state, and Burlington, Vermont. But some stations were jittery about running them, given questions about whether the group, which did not exist a week ago, is legitimate.

With Bush and McCain both now fighting over their environmental credentials, we are going to look at their environmental records in Texas and Arizona.

Guests:

  • Ken Kramer, Texas state director of the Sierra Club.
  • Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson. He is a former Republican congressional candidate.
  • Rob Allyn, a producer of the Republicans for Clean Air ads.
  • Andrew Wheat, from Texans for Public Justice. Call: 512.472.9770.

Related links:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: John McCain’s presidential campaign yesterday filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission about a TV ad being run by Republicans for Clean Air, a name being used by Texas software billionaires Sam and Charles Wyly. The McCain campaign also urged the Federal Communications Commission to take action, saying the ad should not be run until a disclaimer is attached identifying the Wylys as the sponsors.

The two brothers did not take responsibility for the ads for several days, until exposed in the New York Times. The Wylys have run these $2 million in TV ads that don’t urge a vote for either candidate, but they bash McCain for his record on solar and renewable energy programs and characterize Bush as an environmental crusader. One of them, Sam Wyly, owns an energy company called Green Mountain. The Wyly brothers have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Bush for his gubernatorial and presidential campaign.

There are other Bush connections to the ads. The woman who bought the time for the ads also works for a political action committee led by a longtime Bush supporter, and the ads were placed by Multimedia, which has done work for Bush supporters. The ads have run in San Francisco, Columbus, Ohio, across New York state, and Burlington, Vermont. But some stations were jittery about running them, given questions about whether the group, which did not exist a week ago, is legitimate.

With Bush and McCain both now fighting over their environmental credentials, we’re going to look at their environmental records in Texas and Arizona. We’re joined by Ken Kramer, who is the Texas state director of the Sierra Club — he speaks to us from Austin — and Robin Silver, who is co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona, and a former Republican congressional candidate.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Ken Kramer and the Bush environmental record.

KEN KRAMER: Thanks, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

KEN KRAMER: Yes, it’s very interesting to see these ads in several other states that are touting Bush’s environmental record, considering that the actual fact is that Bush has had a very poor environmental record. And some of the things that he’s taking credit for are things that are requirements — or stem back to requirements of federal legislation, as well as the acts of his predecessor as governor of Texas, Ann Richards.

In the ad, for example, that’s been running in New York and Ohio and California — and perhaps other states, as well — by a group called Republicans for Clean Air, which is apparently a new group, a few Republicans who have just gotten religion on the environment within the last week, they tout Governor Bush’s record on the environment, especially with regard to air pollution, and tout his efforts in the legislature last year to supposedly bring grandfathered power plants, dirty, old industrial power plants, into our permitting process and reduce emissions. As a matter of fact, Bush has pushed a voluntary program for those plants, at best a very ineffective voluntary program. The last session of legislature, he essentially had to swallow a mandatory end to the grandfathering for the power plants as a result of pressure from democratic legislators on the House State Affairs Committee who wouldn’t let his electric deregulation bill out of the committee without several provisions, including the end to the grandfathering of power plants. And so now, much in the way that our Senator Phil Gramm often takes credit for federal largess that he opposes, Governor Bush is trying to take credit for something which he opposed at the outset and only had to take because he wanted an electric deregulation bill so badly.

AMY GOODMAN: I was watching Mary Matalin, who was Bush, Jr.’s father’s assistant or aide, who is the big commentator on television, saying that George Bush, Jr., has gotten rid of more toxins in Texas than all 49 states combined.

KEN KRAMER: Well, the reality is that if you look at the figures, what they’re saying is that from 1995, I believe, to 1997 that Texas manufacturing facilities reduced their toxic releases and discharges by 43 million pounds, which is more than the rest of the country combined. Well, if you look at the actual figures, that is correct, but those figures are somewhat misleading. For one thing, obviously Texas has a much bigger petrochemical refining complex than practically, I guess, any other state in the country, and we produce more toxics, especially in terms of air emissions, than any other state. So, obviously, we have a capacity to reduce much greater than the rest of the country.

And the reductions that did occur were the result primarily of two factors. One was the 1990 federal Clean Air Act amendments, which put in new requirements for reducing toxic emissions from a number of industries, which have kicked in in the mid and late 1990s. And the second factor was a toxics reduction program that was implemented — initiated and implemented by Governor Ann Richards. And essentially, of course, Bush only took office in January of ’95. Nothing in the way of his policies had any impact on reductions from ’95 to ’97. There just simply wouldn’t have been time, even if he had taken the ball and run with it. So he’s now trying to take credit for something that the federal government has required and something that his predecessor, Ann Richards, really initiated.

AMY GOODMAN: I am looking at the response ad that McCain has released in New York, where he touts his own environmental record and says, “The Sierra Club said it best: praising George Bush on clean air is like thanking John Rocker for his contribution to civil rights.”

KEN KRAMER: Right, definitely true. Yes, Governor Bush has a very poor environmental record, and we’ve tried to make that clear to people around the country, in part, frankly, because we want more visibility to the problems in Texas, and hopefully that will bring some pressure on our politicians in our own state to clean up our pollution problems, though we definitely want to make it clear to everybody around the country that George Bush is not deserving of the vote of environmentalist based upon his record. His record speaks for itself, and it’s a very poor record.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about John McCain, his opponent. Robin Silver, you’re Republican. You ran for Congress from Arizona. You’re also co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, though we’re speaking to you in Eugene, Oregon, where you’re attending the National Environmental Law Conference. What is McCain’s environmental record?

ROBIN SILVER: Well, Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.

ROBIN SILVER: It’s hard for me — before we go to John McCain’s record, it’s hard for me to not listen, just as an avid news fan, listen to the problems in Texas, because if I remember correctly, Houston is still — or Houston surpassed Los Angeles now as the worst —- having the worst air in the country. I think that’s still the capital of the petrochemical industry. So for them to claim they’ve reduced air emissions or reduced toxins is really hypocritical. If you’re looking also at Mary Matalin or his father’s advisers, you look at George W.’s advisers now, I mean, George W.’s advisers are advocating selling off national parks to the highest bidders. So, I’m talking about John McCain -—

AMY GOODMAN: Who, specifically?

ROBIN SILVER: Or, I’m here to talk about John McCain, whose environmental voting record is atrocious. But before we go on, we just have to acknowledge that there’s no way that you can paint George W.’s record as anything but even worse than John McCain’s record, which is atrocious.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, what about John McCain, who you’ve dealt with for years as your senator?

ROBIN SILVER: Well, if you look at his votes, which is all that really matter for politicians, is that in 1999, if you look at his votes — and the League of Conservation Voters rates our congressional people — John McCain had a record of 11 percent. If you look at his record of 16 years in Congress, he’s less than 20 percent on votes that are friendly to environmental issues. John McCain is particularly notorious for his congressional riders that evade environmental oversights, harm endangered species, and are outright hostile towards endangered species protection, which is what we work to protect.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about some of the major controversies that McCain has been involved with?

ROBIN SILVER: Well, I think his biggest controversies have been his — have been the congressional riders that he sponsors. And the riders are legislation that are — they’re stealth, they come in the middle of the night, or they come without public review. They always come by surprise, and they prevent our ability to use the laws that we have to protect endangered species. He has sponsored two congressional riders for a telescope project in Arizona that foreclosed our ability to protect endangered species in the area. When the endangered species moratorium came about a few years ago, John McCain voted for that. We have a very endangered antelope on the border, but John McCain has promoted, with another rider, low-level flights in the area of these endangered — they’re endangered Sonoran pronghorn. It’s been very frustrating, as you can hear, when you’re trying to protect any endangered species. He literally hamstrings the Fish and Wildlife Service when they’re trying to protect species. And then, when the Forest Service is trying to fund their Fish and Wildlife Service protection programs, once again he worked against funding for those programs. So, you know, once again, if you look at or you listen to his rhetoric, he’s starting to sound pretty green, as what usually happens when folks start trying to present themselves in a favorable light. But if you look at his overall record, I mean, it’s not even close to passing. He would get an F, a failing mark, by any standards, on his environmental record over the last 16 years.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona, former Republican congressional candidate himself; Ken Kramer, who is Texas state director of the Sierra Club. When we come back, we’re going to be joined by two people from Texas, including the producer of the ads that have been so controversial that the George W. Bush campaign has been accused of being affiliated with. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!. I’m Amy Goodman, as we finish up on this very cursory look at the environmental records of George Bush and John McCain. Robin Silver, you were just going through the record of John McCain. Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Mount Graham being a major issue in Arizona.

ROBIN SILVER: Well, you know, as a person moves from their position locally as a senator or governor, then they always try to present themselves in a different light. In the case of John McCain, if you look at Mount Graham as an issue —

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what Mount Graham is.

ROBIN SILVER: Mount Graham is an area that is sacred to traditional Apache people, and it’s an area where there’s an endangered animal there, the Mount Graham red squirrel. This is an area where, as I mentioned before, where John McCain was — we notoriously call him one of the “Mount Graham Three,” in reference to the Keating Five in the S&L scandals. The reason is, similarly, is that as federal officials have tried to protect some of our endangered species here, then John McCain comes in and aggressively threatens federal officials. And in this particular case, there’s even a documented memo or a documented transcript of one of his sessions, where he told the forest supervisor who was trying to protect species at that time that if he — the quotes are “if he did not cooperate on the project, he would be the shortest tenured forest supervisor in the history of the forest service.” Now, what that forest supervisor was trying to do was obey laws.

AMY GOODMAN: Was that illegal to threaten him like that?

ROBIN SILVER: Not only is it illegal —

AMY GOODMAN: Why is it illegal?

ROBIN SILVER: Well, it’s illegal to obstruct the ability of any federal official to do their job. In the bigger picture, however, though, this is a consistent type of a behavior. We saw it in the S&L scandal, and now we’ve seen it when folks attempt to protect endangered species. And, you know, what it says is, on one hand, it might be a good quality to be an advocate for something that you believe in, but on the other hand, it just shows how far that you will go for advocacy if you’re representing people that own you. And, you know, while we were talking about campaign finance reform, we can’t forget that for 16 years we’re talking about a senator who has represented the people that own him very well, and that’s why he has such a dismal environmental record. Less than 20 percent over 16 years, 11 percent in 1999, you can’t escape that fact.

AMY GOODMAN: Eleven percent?

ROBIN SILVER: Eleven percent in 1999.

AMY GOODMAN: Eleven percent voting record on environment issues?

ROBIN SILVER: Yes. In the case of Mount Graham, particularly, you’ll notice that the senator talks about what he’s done for Indian people. Remember, this is an area that is sacred to traditional Apache people. The traditional elders went in in person and begged Senator McCain to please don’t put this project in an area that impedes their ability to practice their religion. He turned his back.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, I want to thank you for being with us, Robin Silver of the Center for Biological Diversity. Website?

ROBIN SILVER: Oh, I’m sorry. The website is www.sw-center.org.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s www.sw-center.org. I thank you for being with us.

Now we’re going to play the controversial ad that is being run by Republicans for Clean Air, a name being used by the Texas billionaires and top Bush supporters, Sam and Charles Wyly, that attacks Senator John McCain’s record.

REPUBLICANS FOR CLEAN AIR AD: Last year, John McCain voted against solar and renewable energy. That means more use of coal-burning plants that pollute our air. New York Republicans care about clean air. So does Governor Bush. He led one of the first states in America to clamp down on old coal-burning electric power plants. Bush clean air laws will reduce air pollution more than a quarter million tons a year. That’s like taking five million cars off the road. Governor Bush, leading, so each day dawns brighter.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the ads that was run against John McCain.

We’re joined right now by Rob Allyn, who’s a producer of the ads, and also Andrew Wheat from Texans for Public Justice, speaking to us from Austin, Texas.

Rob Allyn, can you talk about this controversy behind the ads and the group that was hastily put together, Republicans for Clean Air, that in fact are the Texas billionaires Sam and Charles Wyly, well-known Bush supporters.

ROB ALLYN: Well, and Sam is also a very well-known environmentalist. He has about a $100 million investment in greenmountain.com, which is a Vermont-based company which is the nation’s leading provider of clean energy from solar and wind, water, etc. And Sam’s issue, I mean, the issue that gets Sam out of bed in the morning, is clean air. His — once basically decided, since selling his Sterling Software Company, to devote the rest of his life to promotion of clean energy and clean air, and specifically solar and renewable power, which Senator McCain voted against. And George Bush led Texas to place mandates on the electric utility industry, which is the number one polluter of our air with these old, grandfathered coal-burning power plants.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Wheat of Texans for Public Justice, your comment on their record and their involvement in the ad campaign?

ANDREW WHEAT: Well, I think I would have to agree more with Ken Kramer, who was on earlier, that this ad that we’re talking about and just heard is a gross distortion of Governor Bush’s environmental record. As Ken Kramer said, you know, the ad says that Bush led on this issue. The truth is that Bush followed. And environmental groups down here in Texas didn’t open records requests on Bush’s voluntary program to clean up the air. The fact is that our state Clean Air Act had a loophole in it for old power plants and old industrial facilities, and that loophole has been in existence for 30 years. Bush went to representatives at Exxon and Mobil and asked them what he should do about this problem, and they suggested that he put together a voluntary program. Well, these same companies have had 30 years to volunteer to clean up the air and didn’t do it. They missed their chance. So, certain environmentalists in the state, certain members of the legislature said, "Well, it’s finally time, 30 years down the line, to clean this up." Bush was forced to sign that bill to get something else that his big donors wanted, which was the deregulation of our local electricity markets. And so, you can’t really say he led on this issue. He followed.

ROB ALLYN: Well, I mean, I think we can debate semantics about lead or follow. The fact is that Governor Bush, as we say in the ad, signed new clean air laws here in Texas, Senate Bill 7, which is the electric restructuring and deregulation that the other guest mentioned. And that bill ultimately is going to take a quarter million tons of air pollution out of the air, which, as the ad points out, is equivalent to taking 5.5 million cars off our roads here in Texas, first — made Texas one of the first three states in the nation to clamp down on these old coal-burning power plants.

Now, I agree with your other guest that the restrictions on refineries and cotton gins and bakeries were voluntary and industry-driven. But the worst polluter of our air in this country is the electric utility industry, specifically with these grandfathered coal-burning power plants, which are really the nemesis of every good environmentalist. And Governor Bush did sign laws to compel them to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 50 percent by the year ’23 and sulfur dioxide by 25 percent. And that’s leadership in the right direction. It may not be everything that every environmentalist wants, but it certainly is vastly superior to Senator McCain’s abysmal record of voting against solar and renewable energy when he had the opportunity in Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, Rob Allyn, producer of the ads, because the Wylys aren’t speaking about them right now, about using this device of setting up a group, Republicans for Clean Air, and then paying, putting out $2 million for these television ads. There’s a cap of a thousand dollars that you can give to a candidate, and so instead, directly giving this money, which has led McCain to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

ROB ALLYN: Well, look, the only thing dirty going on here is the pollution that’s spewing out of the smokestacks of the coal-burning power plants that John McCain voted to protect by voting against solar and renewable power. The Wylys are a family that have consistently been willing to put their money where their mouth is. They’ve made a more than $100 million investment in greenmountain.com, the nation’s leading provider of clean energy. And they have a right to free speech.

And, you know, yes, we do have a thousand-dollar cap on direct contributions to the campaign. The Wylys have abided by that. And we have not coordinated these expenses in any way with the Bush campaign. This was an independent act by an environmentalist entrepreneur who believes in what he says, and he has the opportunity. And the truth is, would you and I be talking about this today, would I have been on the phone all day yesterday with the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, would we be on ABC World News Tonight, if we had passed out leaflets about this a year from now? No. We’re on it because they spent $2 million during a hotly contested presidential primary. That’s why we’re talking about clean air this week.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, McCain contends that Sam Wyly, who’s an authorized fundraiser for the Bush campaign — he’s one of the Bush Pioneers, pledged to raise $100,000 — is therefore not eligible to finance a so-called independent issue ad.

ROB ALLYN: Actually, technically, Sam is not a Pioneer. His brother Charles is one of the Pioneers. But, in any case, those folks are volunteers, as you well know. They aren’t campaign staffers, and they’re not paid by the campaign, and they’re not official agents of the campaign. But in any case, you know, the first question they asked when they hired our firm last Friday, I got a call out of the clear blue sky asking if we could create these ads for them, and the first question they asked was whether — "Have you done any work for the Bush presidential campaign?" And the answer was no. And it was only on that basis, following the law very strictly to the letter, that we could proceed on the project.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Wheat from Texans for Public Justice, the company that Rob Allyn is talking about, Green Mountain, Sam Wyly’s company, saying it’s one of the cleanest energy companies in the country?

ANDREW WHEAT: Yeah, I mean, here’s the story. The first thing is, I don’t think the only thing that’s dirty around the United States right now is the air. The political system is dirty, and the fact that the Wylys can spend $2.5 million to get their message out when ordinary Americans can’t is a serious problem. And I don’t equate money with speech. It’s not the same thing. The problems with our campaign finance system are at the root of the problems with our environment. People like John McCain, people like George Bush, people like Al Gore, who can be bought and paid for by special interests, have an interest in doing certain things that the rest of us aren’t doing, and often that results in destruction of the environment.

Coming back to Green Mountain, the founding company of Green Mountain initially was Green Mountain Power Up in Vermont, which has a big stake in the Vermont nuclear facility, the Vermont Yankee nuclear facility. It also has been associated with — the other major source of its power is the Quebec — the dams up in Quebec that have flooded immense amounts of Cree native lands in Quebec. The Wylys acquired this company, and they have a special niche that they’re seeking under a deregulated power market.

Last year Governor Bush signed a deregulation bill for the state of Texas. Other states had already done so, including California. Public Citizen criticized a sale that greenmountain.com, a Wyly company, was doing back in 1998 in California where they were selling clean hydropower to environmentally conscious Californians. And here’s the kind of semantics and complexities that you can’t really get into in a 30-second ad. But Public Citizen’s complaint was, yes, they were selling hydropower from Oregon to Californians, but that created a deficit in power back in Oregon, which the company that provided it, PacifiCorp, had to make up with by jacking up its coal power plants, the very kinds of coal power plants that are criticized in this Wyly ad.

ROB ALLYN: I want to go back for a second to the point of equating money with free speech and point out that the Sierra Club has spent a good bit of money running ads attacking Governor Bush on environmental issues. And I just am failing to grasp the principle that the Sierra Club is allowed to have free speech, the unions are allowed to spend about $46 million a year in this country on political advertising, which, by the way, is taken out of workers’ paychecks without their permission, but the Wylys don’t have an opportunity to spread their views about their free enterprise version of environmentalism. And I would put it to you that the Sierra Club no more has a monopoly on environmental solutions, or gospel about environmentalism, in general, than coal-burning power plants should have a monopoly over their generation of electricity.

AMY GOODMAN: Giving the last word to Andrew Wheat from Texans for Public Justice?

ANDREW WHEAT: Well, that’s a false argument. Obviously, the Sierra Club and the unions — nobody said that they should be the only ones to have the right to speech. What we’re talking about is changing the campaign finance laws in this country so that none of these special interests are able to buy out our politicians, which has a destructive effect on the environment, as well as a vast array of issues that we all care about. It’s a dirty system, and it’s not just the air that’s dirty. It’s the political system. It needs to be changed.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, I want to thank you both for joining us. Rob Allyn, producer of the controversial ads by the Wyly brothers, Sam and Charles Wyly, who put together a group in the last week called Republicans for Clean Air, and the ads attacking the environmental record of John McCain. Now John McCain filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission about the TV ads and also urging the Federal Communications Commission to take action, saying the ads should not be run until a disclaimer is attached identifying the Wylys as the sponsors.

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