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Kerry and the Environment

It’s Not Easy Pretending to be Green

by JOSHUA FRANK

Despite John Kerry’s cozy relationship with big green organizations like the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, the Senator should not be mistaken as a friend of the environment.

For example, Kerry, who voted against the Kyoto Protocol, told Grist Magazine in an interview last year: "[The Kyoto agreement] doesn’t ask enough of developing nations, the nations that are going to be producing much greater emissions and which we need to get on the right course now through technology transfer." Perhaps someone should clue Senator Kerry into the awful truth-that although the US accounts for only 4% of the world’s population, we still emit over a quarter of the globe’s CO2. Shouldn’t we, then, be setting an example?

In 2003, Kerry decided not to cast a vote against a portion of Bush’s chainsaw-happy Forest Plan (HR 1904), which authorized $760 million to thin-out dense national forests under the pretext of increasing ecosystem health. The version of Bush’s plan that passed the House and Senate was actually rewritten by two veteran Democratic Senators-Diane Feinstein of California and Ron Wyden of Oregon, who just happens to be the top timber industry cash recipient eight years running. Kerry, however, has promised he will treat our environment much like Clinton did during those glorious 1990s. Unfortunately, that’s not saying a whole hell of a lot.

As the 1996 response of Ralph Nader supporters responded to Clinton’s first term, the Clinton/Gore administration was hardly the beacon of environmental action it claimed to be: First there was the WTI hazardous waste incinerator located outside East Liverpool, Ohio, which Al Gore had repeatedly promised to shut down. Within weeks of taking office, operating permits were issued. This was followed by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt’s destructive deal with the sugar barons of South Florida, which doomed vast acreages of the Everglades. Then the administration capitulated to the demands of Western Democrats and yanked from its initial budget proposals a call to reform grazing, mining, and timber practices on federal lands. When Clinton convened a timber summit in Portland, Oregon, in April 1994, the conference was, as expected, dominated by logging interests. Predictably, the summit gave way to plan to restart clear-cutting in the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest for the first time in three years, giving the timber industry its wish.

In July 1995, the administration dealt its heaviest blow to the U.S. environment by signing the so-called Salvage Logging Rider, known to radical enviros as the "Logging without Laws Rider." This gruesome bill suspended the application of all environmental laws governing federal forests. And on the eve of the 1996 Democratic convention, President Clinton gave the food and chemical industries a victory they had sought for over long 40 years when he signed a bill striking down the Delaney clause, a law that prohibited the addition of carcinogens to processed foods, the result of which could cause cancer in millions of people in the decades to come. But Kerry still wants to resurrect Clinton.

This — combined with Kerry’s support for Fast Track legislation, NAFTA, WTO, bombing of Iraq, Afghanistan, along with his refusal to oppose hilltop strip mining (mountain top removal), his intervention with National Marine Fisheries Service when they attempted to restrict Cob fishing off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and chemical fumigation in Colombia to counter coca and opium production — provides us with a clear indication that not only is Kerry not an environmentalist, he’s also not that good at pretending to be. Reverting back to the Clinton era, as Kerry promises to do, provides no remedies for the enviro problems that ail us.

Well, at least Kerry isn’t marinated in crude oil like Bush, you say? Not so fast there. Kerry recently told Teamster’s president Jimmy Hoffa that while he opposes drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, he has no qualms with drilling "everywhere else like never before." Where is this "everywhere?" How about the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, the red rocks in Utah, the Rocky Mountain flats, the coasts of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, just to name a few? Kerry, it seems, has no alternative energy plan whatsoever; he simply wants to drill for more oil. Call Bush Kerry’s mentor.

More recently Senator Kerry took an afternoon off the campaign trail to spend it with the American Gas Association. At the gathering, Kerry pledged his support for a Trans-Alaska-Canada Natural Gas Pipeline. This devastating conduit would cut across some of the most pristine wilderness and taiga in the world, and by far the most untouched landscape in North America. While the Trans-Alaska Pipeline is a modest creation next to Kerry’s grand vision, the Senator still receives fabulous ratings from the big environmental groups.

This is not to say that Bush hasn’t devastated the environment. But the belief that John Kerry is an environmental crusader is a pure fabrication, put forth by Beltway Greens to convince voters that Kerry and Bush stand in stark contrast to one another when it comes to cleaning up and protecting our environment. Instead, they should be telling voters and environmentalists that our struggles for environmental justices must continue — regardless of who wins November’s electoral contest.

JOSHUA FRANK, a contributor to CounterPunch’s forthcoming book, A Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, is putting the finishing touches on Left Out: How Liberals did Bush’s Work for Him, to be published by Common Courage Press. He welcomes comments at frank_joshua@hotmail.com.