Al Gore has returned to the political spotlight in exalted fashion with a Nobel Peace Prize in hand, propping himself up for a potential presidential bid in 2008. Front and center in Gore’s new rhetorical entourage is the state of nature, and in particular, global warming. And while Gore may be delivering an important message about the fate of our fragile ecosystems, one must be weary of the messenger’s past. For Gore’s own environmental record leaves much to be desired.
Al Gore’s reputation as the Democratic standard bearer of environmentalism dates back to the early 1990’s when his book Earth in Balance outlined the perilous threats to the natural world. Gore also showboated his green credentials at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, which garnered the newly minted Senator great respect among Beltway greens who praised him for his willingness to take sides on controversial issues. While serving as vice president under Bill Clinton, Gore was put in charge of the administration’s environmental portfolio, but had little to show for it.
As the Center for Public Integrity writes in their book The Buying Of The President 2000, “Personally and professionally the vice president has profited from Occidental largess. To this day he still draws $20,000 a year from a land deal in Tennessee brokered between his father and [former Occidental chairman Armand] Hammer. The total amount is more than $300,000.”
This relationship between Hammer, who was close with Al Gore Sr. as well, matured greatly during the late 1980s while Gore served in the Senate, including Kenneth Lay style trips on Hammer’s private plane and monster campaign contributions.
Oil companies during the 20th Century, reports the Center for Public Integrity, “have tried unsuccessfully to obtain control of two oil fields owned and operated by the federal government: the Teapot Dome field in Casper, Wyoming, and the Elk Hillsfield in Bakersfield, California.”
When Clinton and Gore took office in 1992, that was about to change. Perhaps only outdone by George W. Bush’s connections to Big Oil, Al Gore pressed President Clinton to approve handing over these public lands to the oil companies. The land, managed by the Navy, had held emergency oil reserves since 1912.
It took five years of lobbying on behalf of Big Oil, but Gore and Occidental were victories. In the fall of 1997 the Energy Department sold 47,000 acres of the Elk Hill reserve to Occidental.
Continues The Center for Public Integrity:
“It was the largest privatization of federal property in U.S. history, one that tripled Occidental’s U.S. oil reserves overnight. Although the Energy Department was required to assess the likely environmental consequences of the proposed sale, it didn’t. Instead it hired a private company, ICF Kaiser International, Incorporated, to complete the assessment. The general chairman of Gore’s presidential campaign, Tony Coelho, sat on the board of directors.
“The very same day the Elk Hills sale was announced, Gore delivered a speech to the White House Conference on Climate Change on the
“terrifying prospect” of global warming, a problem he blamed on the unchecked use of fossil fuels such as oil.”
Other than his alleged environmental convictions, Gore was a political coward when push came to shove in Washington. During Clinton’s campaign for president in 1992 Gore promised a group of supporters that Clinton’s EPA would never approve a hazardous waste incinerator located near an elementary school in Liverpool, Ohio, which was operated by WTI. Only three months into Clinton’s tenure the EPA issued an operating permit for the toxic burner. Gore raised no qualms. Not surprisingly, most of the money behind WTI came from the bulging pockets of Jackson Stephens, who just happened to be one of the Clinton/Gore’s top campaign contributors.
Perhaps Al Gore’s greatest blunder during his years as vice president was his allegiance to the conservative Democratic Leadership Council and their erroneous approach to environmental policy. Gore, like Clinton who quipped that “the invisible hand has a green thumb”, extolled a free-market attitude toward environmental issues. “Since the mid-1980s Gore has argued with increasing stridency that the bracing forces of market capitalism are potent curatives for the ecological entropy now bearing down on the global environment,” writes Jeffrey St. Clair in Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: The Politics of Nature. “He is a passionate disciple of the gospel of efficiency, suffused with an inchoate technopilia.”
Then came the first of the Clinton administration’s neoliberal wet dreams: NAFTA. After the passage of NAFTA, pollution along the US/Mexico border dramatically increased. And Gore should have known better; NAFTA allowed existing environmental laws in the United States to be undermined. Corporations looking to turn a profit by skating around enviro statutes at home moved down to Mexico where environmental standards and regulatory enforcement were scarce.
These follies were followed by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt’s destructive deal with the sugar barons of South Florida, which doomed vast acreages of the Everglades. Then Gore and Clinton 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 one might expect, dominated by logging interests. Predictably, the summit gave way to a 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 get rich wish. Gore, again, said nothing.
Forests under Clinton and Gore’s watch didn’t fare all that well. The Clinton administration’s Salvage Rider, known to radical environmentalists as the “Logging without Laws” rider, was perhaps the most gruesome legislation ever enacted under the pretext of preserving ecosystem health. Like Bush’s “Healthy Forests” plan, Clinton’s act was choc full of deception and special interest pandering. “When [the Salvage Rider] bill was given to me, I was told that the timber industry was circulating this language among the Northwest Congressional delegation and others to try to get it attached as a rider to the fiscal year Interior Spending Bill,” environmental lawyer Kevin Kirchner says. “There is no question that representatives of the timber industry had a role in promoting this rider. That is no secret.”
In fact, Mark Rey, a former lobbyist for the timber industry and head of the United States Forest Service under Bush, authored Bush’s forest plan and Clinton’s salvage bill while working as an aide for Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho. “Like Bush’s so-called ‘Healthy Forest Initiative,’ the Salvage Rider temporarily exempted salvage timber sales on federal forest lands from environmental and wildlife laws, administrative appeals, and judicial review,” contended the Wilderness Society.
“The Salvage Rider directed the Forest Service to cut old-growth timber in the Pacific Northwest that the agency had proposed for sale but subsequently withdrew due to environmental concerns, endangered species listings, and court rulings. Bush’s initiative also aims to increase logging of old-growth trees in the Pacific Northwest.”
Clinton and Gore during the time could have exercised presidential authority to force the relevant agencies to abandon all timber contracts that stemmed from the Salvage Rider. But they never flexed their muscle and instead sat by as the forests were subjected to gruesome annihilation.
An example of the ruin: Thousands of acres of healthy forestland across the West were rampaged. Washington’s Colville National Forest saw the clear cutting of over 4,000 acres. Thousands more in Montana’s Yaak River Basin, hundreds of acres of pristine forest land in Idaho, while the endangered Mexican Spotted Owl habitat in Arizona fell victim to corporate interests. Old growth trees in Washington’s majestic Olympic Peninsula — home to wild Steelhead, endangered Sockeye salmon, and threatened Marbled Murrelet — were chopped with unremitting provocation by the US Forest Service.
And the assault on nature continued with Gore’s blessing.
Around the same time Clinton and Gore, after great pressure from the food industry, signed away the Delaney Clause, which prohibited cancer-causing pesticides and ingredients to be placed in our food products. And after pressure from big corporations like chemical giant DuPont, the Clinton administration, with guidance from Gore’s office, cut numerous deals over the pesticide Methyl Bromide despite its reported effects of contributing to Ozone depletion.
As for Gore’s pet project, global warming, he did little to help curb its dramatic effects while handling Clinton’s enviro policies. In fact, Gore and Clinton made it easy for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to back out of the Kyoto Protocol by undermining the agreement in the late 1990s. It was the winter of 1997 when Vice President Gore, who was in direct control of Clinton’s environmental policies, flew to Japan to address the international delegation about the US’s position on the Kyoto Protocol. Gore and Clinton had just come off an election victory and it was time to pay back the big oil and gas companies who had handed over $6 million to their party the year prior.
Gore warmed up his attentive audience by affirming that Clinton and the US public believed the Earth was in peril and that all global citizens must act swiftly to save it. But in typical Gore doublespeak, he declared the United States would not support the agreement because it did not ask enough of developing nations, even though the US is the leading polluter in the world.
As Gore put it then, “Signing the Protocol, while an important step forward, imposes no obligations on the United States. The Protocol becomes binding only with the advice and consent of the US Senate.”
Gore soon returned to Washington only to reiterate his message that the Clinton administration would not put the Kyoto Protocol before the Senate. “As we have said before, we will not submit the Protocol for ratification without the meaningful participation of key developing countries in efforts to address climate change,” he said.
It was at that moment when Clinton and Gore ruined any chances of the Kyoto Protocol being honestly debated in Washington. Later in November of 1998 Gore “symbolically” signed the accord, likely to appease his environmental pals like the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope.
But the Vice President’s tepid gesture couldn’t have carried less weight. The Clinton administration, with Gore’s guidance, refused to allow the Republican controlled Senate to decide on the Kyoto Protocol for themselves. Gore advised Clinton not to send the Protocol to the Senate to be ratified. The blame could have burdened the Republican Party, not the Democrats and the Clinton administration. But instead the buck stopped with Al Gore and Bill Clinton. Predictably, President Bush followed their lead.
And there you have it. It was Mr. Global Warming himself who first tried to kill off the Kyoto Protocol.
And the list goes on.
So while Al Gore flies around the country and overseas with trophy in hand to preach to the masses about the dangerous effects of global warming and its inherent threat to life on Earth — you may want to ask yourself whether the hypocritical Gores of the world are more a part of the problem than a solution to the dire climate that surrounds us all.
JOSHUA FRANK is the co-editor of DissidentVoice.org, and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the forthcoming Red State Rebels, to be published by AK Press in March 2008. He can be reached through his website, BrickBurner.org.