Gore Concedes, Environment a Non-Issue for Bush

By Brian Hansen

WASHINGTON, DC, December 13, 2000 (ENS) - Vice President Al Gore formally conceded the protracted presidential election tonight to Texas Governor George W. Bush, a Republican who many critics fear will promote policies disastrous for the nation's environment.

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Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore (right) and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. The two men won the popular vote by more than 300,000 votes, but lost a disputed Electoral College tally to Republicans George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. (Photo courtesy Gore/Lieberman 2000 campaign)

Gore, speaking from the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House, pledged his full support to his Republican rival. Gore said that that while he strongly disagreed with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that blocked his efforts to count disputed ballots in the state of Florida, he accepted it.

"I accept the finality of this outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College," Gore said. "And tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession."

Gore's last shot at winning the race for the White House was scuttled late Tuesday night by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that there were constitutional problems with the vice president's bid to recount tens of thousands of disputed Florida ballots.

Critics maintain that partisan politics dictated the high court's unsigned majority ruling, which was accompanied by a scathing dissenting opinion authored by the court's more liberal members.

Still, Gore said that the "remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside," and he called on all Americans to "stand together behind our new president."

"This is America. Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done," Gore said.

Less than one hour after Gore delivered his concession speech, President-elect Bush addressed the nation from the House chamber of the Texas Legislature in Austin.

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Texas Governor George W. Bush, the nation's new President-elect. Bush asked that the country put aside the "bitterness" of the contested election and adopt a "spirit of cooperation." (Photo courtesy Bush 2000)

Bush saluted Gore for "waging a spirited campaign," adding that the Democrat has a "distinguished record of service to our country as a congressman, a senator and a vice president."

Bush said that he was thankful that America was able to resolve the disputed election in a peaceful way, and he pledged to work in a bipartisan manner during his administration.

"We must put politics behind us and work together to make the promise of America available for every one of our citizens," Bush said. Republicans want the best for our nation, and so do Democrats. Our votes may differ, but not our hopes."

Bush briefly outlined a number of issues he plans to address as president, including public education, social security, prescription drug coverage for seniors, tax relief, and strengthening the military. He made no mention of the environment.

Gore's Environmental Record

Gore sought to define himself as the most environmentally friendly presidential candidate early on in the grueling and historic race for the White House. As a candidate, Gore pledged to resist rollbacks of federal protections for clean air and water, and he promised to protect America's remaining wild places. The vice president promised to work on the problem of global warming, a top shelf issue for many environmental groups.

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Vice President Al Gore on the campaign trail (Photo courtesy Gore/Lieberman 2000)

Gore also vowed to clean up air pollution from the nation's dirtiest power plants, which a coalition of environmental groups this fall said causes some 30,000 premature deaths each year.

Gore had promised to protect pristine roadless areas in the national forests. He extended those protections to Alaska's Tongass National Forest, which has been targeted by the state's Republican Congressional delegation for expanded logging.

Gore also spoke on the campaign trail about his opposition to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. His position on the issue differes markedly from that of Bush and a host of key Republican lawmakers, who advocate opening parts of the refuge to oil and gas exploration in order to ensure national energy security.

Still, Gore insisted that the nation's record setting economic prosperity would not have been compromised by his environmental policies. At a campaign stop in Milwaukee this summer, Gore said, "We have proven, once and for all, that pollution does not have to be the price of prosperity."

Had he been elected president, Gore promised to oppose all new oil and gas drilling off the coasts of California and Florida, and to continue the moratorium on new offshore drilling leases nationwide. He would have worked to secure $2 billion in tax cuts and other new measures to help preserve land threatened by urban sprawl and traffic congestion. Gore said he wanted to ensure that families in urban and suburban communities had easy access to parks and other green spaces.

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Gore with supporters in his campaign headquarters in Tennessee (Photo courtesy Gore/Lieberman 2000)

Gore's environmental record won him the endorsements of a host of environmental advocacy groups, including the 600,000 member Sierra Club. Carl Pope, the organization's executive director, remarked that Gore's vision was "the type of bold leadership America needs to protect its remaining wild forests for future generations to enjoy, explore and discover."

The League of Conservation voters also endorsed Gore, though the Vice President's erstwhile rival for the Democratic Party's nomination, former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, scored significantly higher on the group's annual environmental voting scorecard.

Citing Gore's leadership, commitment and record on environmental issues - and expressing strong concerns about the prospect of a Bush presidency - LCV called Gore "the only choice" for environmentally concerned voters.

LCV president Deb Callahan said that the 2000 election represented a "significant crossroads" for the nation's environment. A Gore victory, Callahan said, would have guaranteed "thoughtful and continued progress in addressing the nation's and the world's most pressing environmental problems." A Bush administration, Callahan added, would "threaten the progress we've made in cleaning up our nation's air and water and would enable polluters to profit at the public's expense."

Callahan said that environmental records distinguished the differences between Gore and Bush more clearly than any other single issue.

Bush's Environmental Platform

Bush seldom spoke about environmental issues while on the campaign trail, though he did reveal some of his thoughts on the subject at an event in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, a few weeks before the Republican national convention.

Bush said that as president, he would "speak for [the] great national goal" of protecting the nation's natural lands and watersheds. The Texas governor said that "it is our duty to use the lands well, and sometimes not to use them at all. It is our responsibility as citizens, but more than that it is our calling as stewards of the earth."

But there are a number of caveats to carrying out those kinds of environmental policies, Bush warned. The Texas governor said that "problems arise when leaders reject partnership, and rely solely on the power of Washington" to dictate regulations and penalties from afar.

Bush called for a more decentralized approach, where "positive incentives" are used to promote cooperation and flexibility among the federal government, the states, and private landowners.

In July, the new president-elect unveiled a five point plan to provide resources for conservation and encourage more Americans to take an active role in protecting natural resources and wildlife.

Bush first proposed full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program that uses royalties from offshore oil and gas exploration to fund environmental projects. Although the fund is authorized for funding at $900 million a year, less then half of those funds have been appropriated by Congress in recent years. Bush said he would funnel 50 percent of this fund to state and local conservation efforts each year.

States would also benefit from $50 million in matching grants to establish a Landowner Incentive Program, Bush said. This program would help private landowners protect rare species while engaging in traditional land management practices. A $10 million Private Stewardship Grant Program would provide funding for private conservation initiatives.

The President's Awards for Private Stewardship, another Bush proposal, would recognize and honor the outstanding examples of private conservation, to encourage private conservation efforts and publicize innovative techniques in natural resource management.

Bush proposed a tax incentive to provide capital gains tax relief for private landowners who voluntarily sell their land for conservation purposes. This 50 percent tax break would help encourage the protection of environmentally important land for conservation, Bush said.

Finally, Bush said he would eliminate the estate tax, making it easier for private landowners to pass their lands intact to the next generation when they die.

Bush campaigned on the notion that the federal government has a crucial - but limited - role to play in managing the nation's national resources. "At its best, the federal government can lend support to local and state conservation efforts," Bush said in July.

Bush emphasized private conservation over public works, saying the federal government's role should consist of providing scientific and financial resources to help states, local communities and private landowners preserve land and wildlife.

President-elect Bush has been harshly critical of efforts by President Bill Clinton's administration to protect lands through the use of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the president the authority to create new national monuments from existing federal lands. On the campaign trail, Bush remarked that "we have seen millions of acres of land declared off limits and designated national monuments - just like that, with no real public involvement and no regard for the people affected by these decrees."

Critics Ridiculed Bush's Environmental Record

But Bush's efforts to cast himself as a friend of the environment during the campaign drew sharp criticism from the Democratic Party, as well as environmental groups such as the Sierra Club.

Gore 2000 national spokesman Douglas Hattaway said Bush's environmental record "shows a lack of effort to conserve the environment in Texas." Hattaway cited a report by the League of Conservation Voters ranking Texas 49th in state spending on parks. Under Bush, the state has acquired no new land for conservation, according to the League. A 1998 state audit found that Texas had a funding deficit of $36 million for maintenance of existing parks.

Hattaway once quipped that "A year ago, [Bush] didn't seem to know what the Land and Water Conservation Fund was. Now he's doing photo ops about it."

The Sierra Club also got into the act, as it launched an ad campaign in Nevada to educate voters about what it termed Bush's "Just Say Please" policy of asking polluters to voluntarily reduce their toxic emissions to Texas air and water.

Texas leads the nation in industrial air emissions, as shown by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's most recent Toxic Release Inventory. Factoring in for the first time emissions from power plants and mines, the state's toxic pollution discharged into surface waters jumped almost 20 percent, to about 25 million pounds a year. Last year, Houston topped Los Angeles, California, as the nation's smoggiest city, critics note.

Green Party Candidate Ralph Nader: The Spoiler?

Many Democrats blame Gore's failure to capture the White House on Green Party presidential Candidate Ralph Nader, an attorney and long time consumer advocate. Nader won more than 97,000 votes in the state of Florida, more than enough to have turned the election had they been won by either Gore or Bush.

Nader

Green Party Candidate Ralph Nader won more than 97,000 votes in Florida, prompting some to label him the "spoiler" who cost Al Gore the election (Photo courtesy Nader 2000 )

If Nader had not run as a third party candidate, his supporters would not necessarily have voted for Gore they said in exit polls. They told exit pollsters on election night that they would not have voted at all if Nader had not been in the race.

Other Nader supporters said they marked their ballots for Gore at the last minute, fearful that their votes would help to elect Bush. Nader's entrance into the race also prompted a flurry of vote swapping, where Nader supporters in tightly contested swing states promised to vote for Gore if a Gore supporter in an uncontested state pledged to vote for Nader.

Nader failed to garner five percent of the national popular vote, which would have qualified the Green Party for federal election funding in 2004.

Protesters Hounded Gore

Gore faced some of those criticisms in August at the Democratic Party's national convention in Los Angeles, where thousands of protesters disillusioned by the Vice President's stance on a host of environmental and human rights issues took to the streets.

Ten protesters were arrested on civil disobedience related charges during a demonstration designed to draw attention to Gore's ties to the Los Angeles based Occidental Petroleum Company.

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Demonstrators protested Gore's ties to Occidental Petroleum during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles this fall (Photo courtesy Indymedia.org)

Gore's family owns $500,000 worth of Occidental Petroleum stock. His father Tennessee Senator Albert Gore, Sr., served on the company's board for 28 years.

Gore had for years ignored the pleas of environmentalists who are opposed to Occidental's plan to drill for oil in Colombia, on lands that are sacred to the U'Wa Indians. The U'Wa, a peaceful tribe of 5,000 in the Colombian Cloudforest, are adamantly opposed to Occidental's project.

Another troubling aspect pertaining to Gore's ties to Occidental emerged earlier this year, when Congress - at the urging of the Clinton administration - approved a $1.3 billion military aid package to the Colombian government. Gore and other top administration officials have insisted that the money will provide substantial assistance in fighting the "war on drugs. Critics rejected that explanation, saying that the money will be used to protect the interests of oil companies such as Occidental.

Gore Dogged by WTI issue

Gore was also haunted by environmentalists and citizen activists opposed to the Von Roll Waste Technologies Industries (WTI) hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio. The WTI plant, which is permitted to burn more than 60,000 tons of hazardous wastes each year, is located just 400 yards from an elementary school.

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The WTI hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)

The incinerator has been linked to Gore since 1992, when he pledged to prevent the facility from operating if voters elected him and Bill Clinton to office. At a campaign stop in July of that year, Gore said that it was "just unbelievable" that the incinerator was located in a flood plain next to the school, and he committed the Clinton administration to shutting the plant down until the "serious questions" regarding its environmental and public health impacts could be addressed.

But William Reilly, who headed up the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under former President George H.W. Bush, said Gore passed on an opportunity to scuttle the permit in the time between the election and the inauguration.

According to sworn testimony Reilly gave to a federal investigator, Gore even encouraged the EPA to approve the incinerator's trial burn permit before he and President-elect Bill Clinton assumed power.

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William Reilly at an Earth Day celebration in 1990 during his tenure as EPA administrator (Photo courtesy EPA)

Reilly testified that he learned of Gore's position on the incinerator during a pre-inaugural meeting with Kathleen McGinty, who was the Vice President-elect's chief environmental advisor at the time. Many people assumed that Gore would have tapped McGinty to head up the EPA had he been elected president.

Bush's Next Move

Bush said Wednesday night that he will meet with Gore in Washington next week to "do our best to heal our country after this hard fought contest." Bush's transition team is being headed up by Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, a former oilman who served as Secretary of State in the administration of Bush's father.

The Bush team must move quickly to fill thousands of federal government jobs, especially Cabinet posts and the top positions at key regulatory agencies. Environmentalists will be watching closely to see who Bush taps to head up a number of institutions, such as the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.