The Nader Debate with the Sierra Club about Gore and the Environment

The page contains a letter from Nader mainly discussing, in detail, Gore's failings on the environment. Below Nader's letter is the Sierra Club's answer to Nader's letter.

From Ralph Nader:

Dear concerned environmental voters:

In the 2000 Presidential election, the environmental movement faces a special challenge to its integrity and its future impact on American politics. This challenge does not primarily emerge from George Bush. His archaic vision of environmental rape and pillage, of denial and delusion, is pathetically out of touch with the vision of most Americans.

When Bush used Alaska Senator Frank Murkowski as his surrogate in a speech before the National Press Club to promote oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he underscored a blatant disregard for Alaska's special contribution to our ecosystem and fundamental American priorities. Bush's "old school" allegiance to plunder and extermination as humanity's appropriate relationship to our world speak a language effectively discounted by the great tradition of naturalists from John Muir to David Brower. Bush's blatant anti-environmentalism will lose corporate favor as it loses popular support. It is a language of politics fading rapidly, and without a future.

A political language more sophisticated in its seductive impact on pragmatic environmentalists and environmental policy has replaced the threat to our planet articulated by Bush and his ilk. A carefully crafted alliance of multinational corporations is now fully conversant in the language of environmentalism. Politicians cognizant of this alliance are not overtly dismissive of constituencies concerned with dangers to the planet. To the contrary, these politicians wrap themselves in the mantle of environmental concern. They seize on serious threats to global survival as valuable political currency. Soon they will replace overt apologists for global exploitation on the political landscape.

These new environmental poseurs are the natural product of two forces in modern politics. The first are organized voters with a developed conservation agenda, prepared to support or oppose candidates with their votes and vocal endorsements. The second is multinational corporations who view environmental issues as yet another barrier to profit making that can be deflected or compromised with the appropriate political proxies. For these corporations, environmental agenda must be manipulated to corporate advantage. Big corporations are prepared to offer vast sums of money for seduction of environmentalists and systematic compromise of their ideals.

Vice President Albert Gore is preeminent among the politicians who have seized on this new corporate prerequisite for investment as an avenue for career advancement. He has best defined the role of politicians deemed attractive by corporations that appreciate the dangers and opportunities of environmentalism in politics. Corporations now reward politicians who can deliver environmental votes and opinion without seriously deterring their goals with burdensome environmental constraints.

Albert Gore is the politician who has best understood that his ability to attract and deliver the environmental constituency would make him attractive to corporate backers. Earth in the Balance, Gore's script for his reemergence as a national politician was an advertisement for his calculated strategy and availability as an environmental poseur, prepared to attract, barter and mollify environmental support for corporate cash. As a broker of environmental voters on corporate terms, Gore is the prototype for the bankable, Green corporate politician. He has literally written the book.

We can document Gore's commitment to his role as broker of environmental voters for corporate cash. Gore's agenda explains his apparent broken promises as, more than betrayal, proof of his calculated role as corporate double agent within the ranks of conservationists. Some examples:

Despite his vaunted last minute trip to save the Kyoto treaty, Gore's compromise committed the US to very small reductions in greenhouse gases, and has worked since to include nuclear power among the renewable energy source eligible for Clean Fuel credits under the treaty. These would allow the US to claim reductions supposedly made for the global good, while actually benefiting only the huge corporation that build nuclear power plants. It may sabotage the treaty in the eyes of Europe and small island nations (who will disappear if global warming isn't stopped), but Al Gore only seems to care about how global climate change affects big corporate contributors.

Meanwhile, when the presidential debate touched on oil exploration, Gore "bravely" defends the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that focus groups have shown him he cannot give up. Under cover of that stand, though, he has opened up the Arctic National Petroleum Reserve, 2000 miles of southeastern Alaska coastline, and parts of the California coastline, not to mention selling off the Elk Hills Petroleum reserve to Occidental Oil, his family's patron company, in the largest privatization in American government history. Now Gore seems poised to break another promise and allow drilling along the Florida coastline, which he has promised never to do. As long as it's not ANWR, it's likely at risk under a Gore administration.

The ClintonGore Administration did not even propose any across the board fuel CAFE standard increases during its 8year administration. Thanks to that freeze and the effect of the exemptions given to SUVs, average fuel efficiency is now down to 24.5 mpg, the lowest level seen since 1980. Clinton Gore in their 1992 campaign, promised that in 2000 A.D., the average would reach 40 mpg.

Gore's support for truly clean alternative fuels has never matched his promises. Instead of fighting for expanded solar energy and conservation budgets, he and Clinton have wasted over one billion dollars in a giveaway to GM, Ford and Chrysler for a clean energy project that never produced even a single prototype. Taxpayer subsidies to fossil fuel and atomic power companies continue unabated. He cannot even make solar energy a major forward vision of his campaign extend and further fund the "Clean Coal" subsidy, which wastes millions of dollars finding ways to clean up the burning of domestic coal, such as "sequestering" the resultant CO2 in sea beds or oil wells. Meanwhile it totally ignores all the environmental harm that comes from mining including mountaintop removal in West Virginia and in his home state of Tennessee and its resultant waste disposal. With all these fossils getting their way, it seems the Kyoto treaty is doomed.

For other resource extraction issues, the public good has been sold to highest bidders under the guise of conservation. The Administration set aside lands, not in National Parks, but rather in National Monuments that often can allow grazing, helicopter logging, and even hard rock mining. Logging has continued under this "earth friendly" administration: Clinton Gore signed the "salvage rider" that suspended the Endangered Species Act despite claiming they opposed it. Logging subsidies in the Tongass (Alaska) and White River (Colorado) have gone to corporate friends, and one in six old growth trees that existed when they took office has been cut and sold for below cost. "Roadless areas" still have roads built with federal money, sometimes showing up in budgets as "stream enhancements." The hands off attitude toward corporate crooks reached its pinnacle in the backroom deal to protect Headwaters old growth forest, which will lose 53,000 of its 60,000 acres, yet forces taxpayers to give $1.2 billion in cash and logging rights to Charles Hurwitz's company, the S&L escapee which still owes Americans millions of dollars.

On toxics, Gore's position has been to wait years for risk assessments, then never release them if they look bad. Both administration terms have passed without the Clinton Gore EPA's dioxin reassessment being formally released, despite dioxin (the most potent carcinogen ever) being found in eggs, meat, and being dumped into the ocean. The administration signed away the Delaney Clause that prohibited any cancer causing pesticides or ingredients in food, a clause hated by the food industry.

The dangerous WTI hazardous waste incinerator was permitted by the Gore EPA, despite his promise in 1992 that it would not be granted. This endangers that community, including its elementary school 1100 feet away at the same altitude as the smokestack. Gore claimed the Bush administration allowed the first permit there, but Bush EPA head William Reilly has said he was advised by the Gore staff during the transition to go ahead with the trash burn permit. In any case, the owners of the plant gave thousands of dollars to the Democratic campaign fund which obviously counts more to Gore than promises to the locals. That may be why, despite Gore having held the first hearing on Love Canal, the true hero of that fight, Lois Gibbs, has spurned Gore and is supporting the Green candidacy.

The Clinton Gore administration also backtracked on its promise to implement "chlorine free paper," which would stop dioxin production in papermaking, when the chemical industry made the slightest squeal. Despite trumpeting the role of the US government as the biggest purchaser of paper in the country, the administration settled for "chlorine dioxide" paper, thereby committing the government to continuing buying into the dioxin lifecycle. For two and a half years, Clinton Gore have not responded to a coalition petition to the DEA to allow farmers to grow industrial hemp that could be used for paper that's both chlorine free and tree free.

On genetic engineering, the Democratic administration allowed the release of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone with faulty science provided by Monsanto, the company that made it. That science has not passed muster in countries where the government is not on this corporate payroll, such as Canada. As other governments in Europe and Asia demanded at least minimal testing and labeling requirements, the US administration insisted that the genetically engineered foods were "substantially equivalent" to bred crops, and even tried to get them included into national Organic food standards (along with food that was irradiated or treated with sewage sludge). Any efforts to segregate these experimental foods has been met with Clinton Gore Administration threats under GATT and WTO to treat such precautionary actions as "obstacles to free trade." In fact, any local standard is imperiled by the "free trade" bureaucracy that both major party candidates endorse, including Al Gore at his most enthusiastic.

Wetlands destruction is no longer properly tracked, and the administration blocked the protection for functioning wetlands that are currently farmed. The Administration refused to have the Army Corps of Engineers implement section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which would protect wetlands. Again, the rhetoric is there, but when the follow through is needed, the budgets approved, the political will expended, Gore never challenges the despoilers, developers, and polluters if there is an easier back door exit especially one out of public view.

The Administration refused to impose sanctions against countries that break international law by engaging in commercial whaling, such as Norway and Japan. On fishing issues, they continue to attempt to set commercial licenses (ITQs: individual transferable quotas) for how much fish can be taken by large industrial concerns, at the risk to family fishermen, despite the fragility (and in some places collapse) of entire fisheries.

On ozone depletion, currently in its worst year with the biggest holes ever, including some over urban areas, the Administration made deals over ozone depleting chemicals such as the pesticide Methyl Bromide, used as a pesticide by strawberry growers and others. This had the effect of stopping the phase out of this nerve gas, to the benefit of large agribusiness, to the detriment of workers, consumers, and anyone who goes outside without sun blockers.

On the Everglades, currently a key issue in a hotly contested state, Gore has worked with the Florida government (including Jeb Bush) to cut deals for the "recovery plan" that allows for major development around this national treasure. Gore has not opposed a proposed commercial airport on the site of the former Homestead Air Force Base, despite the protests of local people working for conservation and his own EPA. There are no airports situated on the border of national parks in America; the Everglades is the last place to consider changing that fact. In general, work to restore the Everglades should be done for the public, and for future generations, not on the basis of debts called in by the sugar industry and local power brokers.

Finally, any of these and other environmental interests cannot be protected by laws that are superseded by global corporate interests which can see nothing beyond the next quarterly profit statement. Dangerous PCBs are imported into this country because waste incinerators must be kept profitable. Dolphins are killed catching tuna, turtles are killed catching shrimp because the countries that allow these practices can challenge restrictions on practices at a closed door, non democratic WTO process that values only money. Any environmentalists worth their salt know that local communities must be allowed to make more stringent rules for their own protection, yet the workings of global business can't allow that. This is why corporate environmentalism must be stopped.

The Nader candidacy offers environmental groups and voters committed to protection of our planet through the political process an opportunity to disengage from this con game as defined and played by Gore. As an achieving environmentalist for nearly four decades, I offer the environmental community an opportunity to reassert its independence as a potent and uncompromised political force. Environmentalists who stand with this candidacy can assert their own agenda and priorities without fear of contradiction. If environmentalists ally with Gore because he is positioned as distinctly different from a self proclaimed plunderer of the old school, they must acknowledge that any and all environmental positions taken by the candidate will be subject to mutation and subjugation to his corporate agenda. They thus allow corporations to define environmental results. They tell future political leaders that the environmental community is for sale, because its constituency values "access" to the process over any demonstrable and permanent results.

Even as this letter is being written, we watch Gore turn his back on perhaps the worst political disaster to hit the conservation front this Congressional session, a range of riders to the EPA appropriations bill that would:

1. Delay safe drinking water standards by telling the EPA to get new costs data before proceeding.

2. Substitute federal taxpayer dollars for increased fees that pesticide manufacturers were supposed to pay to fund EPA's pesticide programs.

3. Prohibit the EPA from listing localities with unhealthy smog levels until June 15, 2001 or a date set by the court in current litigation. 4. Delay EPA's effort to set new arsenic standards of five parts per billion to protect millions of American s from cancer and other health risks.

5. Weaken the EPA's effort to clean up rivers, lakes and bays contaminated with toxic waste by demanding further study.

6. Block implementation of 1998 environmental justice guidelines to expedite civil rights claims against the EPA alleging discrimination in permitting.

Where is Al Gore when the chips are down? Does it take courage to make these cruel riders a major vocal difference between him and George W. Bush? Clinton Gore opposed these riders in the House but signed off on them in the Senate, despite vocal opposition from health and conservation groups. They apparently assumed that campaign rhetoric would conceal riders that blocked the EPA from designating non attainment areas under the new smog rule, clean ups of PCBs in river, or blocked EPA from investigating environmental racism in the permitting process, among others. Who among their allies in the environmental community would dare speak out? The same friends of the earth who condemned the Clinton Gore regime of "anything goes with the coddled biotech industry" now proceed to endorse Gore, who will outrage them even more should he become President.

In the meantime these same environmental groups urge their members to vote for Gore either because he writes and speaks their language or because he is the lesser of two evils when compared with George Bush. In environmental terms, they fight the last war instead of confronting the new politics of their new adversaries and the new advocacy at their disposal. They have adopted the servile mentality of the lesser of two evils (see Michael Lerner, Tikkun).

My candidacy offers environmental groups and voters committed to protection of our planet through the political process an opportunity to disengage from this conservation con game as defined and played by Gore and his corporate allies. I offer the environmental community an opportunity to reassert its independence as a potent and uncompromising political force.

Independence critical to sustained environmental influence on political events is contingent on a conscious withdrawal by environmentalists from pseudoenvironmentalists supported by corporate money, which have fueled both parties with tens of millions of dollars. This important opportunity will be valued increasingly as the Gore betrayals accumulate, from the Everglades to East Liverpool to the environmental racism that he so cruelly ignores. People concerned about the environment don't just need access to politicians they need access to power. For that to happen, the power must come back from the corporations to whom it has been auctioned. For the earth and the common good,

Ralph Nader


Sierra Club answer:
To: Sierra Club Leaders
Environmental colleagues
Fr: Carl Pope
Re: Ralph Nader attack on environmentalists who are supporting
VicePresident Gore

Yesterday I received from Ralph Nader a letter addressed to concerned environmental voters, but distributed also through the Nader press list. The letter attacked Vice President Gore, but went beyond that attack to criticize those environmentalists who are endorsing Gore for adopting a "servile mentality." While the letter raised, legitimately, a number of valid issues on which Nader and Gore differ, it also contained a number of inaccurate and utterly unfair attacks.

Additionally, Green Party spokespeople have begun attacking the Sierra Club, and other environmentalists who are supporting the Gore Lieberman ticket, in increasing harsh terms, terms that go far beyond anything that we have said or would in any conceivable world want to say about our differences with the Nader candidacy.

I have responded to this attack, and my response is attached. I would appreciate it if folks could distribute this as widely as possible to environmentalists outside the Club. We will get it out to the entire Club leadership list on email.

Ralph Nader
Nader 2000
PO Box 18002
Washington, DC 20036

Dear Ralph:

Yesterday you sent me(and many other environmentalists) a long letter defending your candidacy and attacking "the servile mentality" of those of us in the environmental community who are supporting Vice President Gore. I've worked alongside you as a colleague for thirty years.

Neither the letter nor the tactics you are increasingly adopting in your candidacy are worthy of the Ralph Nader I knew.

The heart of your letter is the argument that "the threat to our planet articulated by Bush and his ilk" can now be dismissed. But you offer no evidence for this crucial assertion. Based on the polls today Bush is an even bet to become the next President, with both a Republican Senate and a Republican House to accompany him.

You have referred to the likely results of a Bush election as being a "cold shower" for the Democratic party. You have made clear that you will consider it a victory if the net result of your campaign is a Bush presidency.

But what will your "cold shower" mean for real people and real places?

What will it mean for tens of millions of asthmatic children when Bush applies to the nation the "voluntary" approach he's using in Texas to clean up the air. And what about his stated opposition to enforcing environmental standards against corporations?

What will it mean for Americans vulnerable to water pollution when Bush allows water quality standards to be degraded to meet the needs of paper mills and refineries as he has consistently done in Texas, most recently at Lake Sam Rayburn? And what if he eliminates federal financial support for both drinking water and water pollution, as his budget calls for and his record in Texas (46th in spending on drinking water) suggests?

What will it mean for communities of color and poverty located near toxic waste sites, when Bush applies his Texas approach of lower standards and lower polluter liability to toxic waste cleanup?

What will a Bush election mean to the Gwich'in people of the Arctic, when the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is turned over the oil companies and the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou herd on which they depend are destroyed and despoiled?

What will it mean for the fishing families of the Pacific Northwest when Bush amends the Endangered Species Act to make extinction for the endangered salmon a legally acceptable option? If he refuses to remove the dams on the Snake River or reduce timber cutting levels to preserve salmon?

What will it mean for millions of rural Americans whose livelihood, health and communities are being destroyed by unregulated factory feeding operations, if Bush weakens the Clean Water Act? When he appoints Supreme Court justices who complete the task of shutting down access to federal courts for citizens trying to enforce environmental laws?

What will it mean for the wildlife that depend upon our National Forests when Bush undoes the Clinton Gore Administration reforms, reverses their roadless area protection policy, and restores the timber industry to the mastery of the forests and the Forest Service that it enjoyed under his father? If he doubles, or triples, the cut on those Forests?

What will it mean for millions of people in Bangladesh and other low lying countries when an American refusal to confront the problem of global warming unleashes the floods and typhoons of a rising ocean upon them?

Your letter addresses none of these real consequences of a Bush victory. Nor has your campaign. Instead, you indulge yourself in the language of academic discourse when you claim:

"Bush's "old school" allegiance to plunder and extermination as humanity's appropriate relationship to our world speaks a language effectively discounted by the great tradition of naturalists from John Muir to David Brower. Bush's blatant anti-environmentalism will lose corporate favor as it loses popular support. It is a language of politics fading rapidly, and without a future."

Candidate Bush may well be speaking a fading language. So was candidate Reagan in 1980 when he ranted that trees caused air pollution. It is power, however, not language, that determines policy. President Bush would be vested with the powers of the government of the United States, and he is an even more devoted servant of environmental counterrevolution than Reagan ever was.

Because your letter is couched in this language, so divorced from the real world consequences of your candidacy, and the real world choices that face Americans, it is difficult to respond to all of its selective misrepresentations and inaccuracies. A few samples, however, may show you why I am so disappointed in the turn your candidacy has taken:

You claim that "Earth in the Balance" was "an advertisement for his calculated strategy and availability as an environmental poseur." Can you offer a single piece of evidence to support this quite astonishing statement?

You claim that the Clinton Administration stood up to the oil industry on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge only because "focus groups have shown him he cannot give" it up. In fact, most polls show that the public is somewhat split on this issue, and there are certainly no focus groups I know of showing that it is a third rail which no President can cross at his peril. Can you cite your evidence?

You lament that the Administration has "set aside lands not in National Parks, but rather in National Monuments...." You are surely aware that a President cannot legally create national parks, which require an act or Congress; nor can you be under the misapprehension that this Congress with Don Young as the head of the House Resources Committee and Frank Murkowski as his counterpart in the Senate would have designated these areas as parks however long a battle Clinton and Gore might have fought. No, you simply took a cheap shot, and ignored the facts.

You have also broken your word to your followers who signed the petitions that got you on the ballot in many states. You pledged you would not campaign as a spoiler and would avoid the swing states. Your recent campaign rhetoric and campaign schedule make it clear that you have broken this pledge. Your response: you are a political candidate, and a political candidate wants to take every vote he can. Very well you admit you are a candidate admit that you are, like your opponents, a flawed one.

Irresponsible as I find your strategy, I accept that you genuinely believe in it. Please accept that I, and the overwhelming majority of the environmental movement in this country, genuinely believe that your strategy is flawed, dangerous and reckless. Until you can answer how you will protect the people and places who will be put in harm's way, or destroyed, by a Bush presidency, you have no right to slander those who disagree with you as "servile."

You have called upon us to vote our hopes, not our fears. I find it easy to do so. My hope is that by electing the best environmental President in American history, Al Gore, we can move forward. My fear is that you, blinded by your anger at flaws of the Clinton Gore Administration, may be instrumental in electing the worst.

Sincerely yours,

Carl Pope

Executive Director
The Sierra Club