NEWS: 9/9 Cushman interview on America Online

Fri, 22 Jan 1999 16:14:21 -0500

Edited transcript of Sept. 9, 1996, Auditorium with New York Times legal
affairs correspondent Jack Cushman in Washington. Copyright 1996 The New
York Times.

RobertNYT: Our guest tonight is Jack Cushman, environmental correspondent in
The Times's Washington bureau. Cushman joined The New York Times in 1986, and
has since covered several news beats. He was aviation and air safety
correspondent during the time of the Pan Am crash over Lockerbie, Scotland,
and Pentagon correspondent during the Persian Gulf War. In his current
assignment, he is writing about the environment and focusing on Congressional
legislation and profiles of the records of Bob Dole and President Clinton on
environmental issues. Jack Cushman joins us tonight from Washington.

RobertNYT: Thanks for joining us tonight.

Jhcushman : Thanks for having me.

RobertNYT: How important an issue is the environment in this year's
election? Is it something we'll be hearing a lot about?

Jhcushman : It is because the White House decided last year to elevate the
issue to one of a few that would help distinguish Clinton-Gore from the
Republican-controlled Congress. Indeed, in a few off-year races, it appears
that the environment played an important role. I expect that this will
continue because there are still some issues facing Congress in the weeks
before adjournment.

RobertNYT : How would you characterize Bob Dole's record on the environment
in his years in the Senate?

Jhcushman : Dole cast some votes that have been criticized by environmental
groups, but in the past the major environmental legislation was so mainstream
in nature that few Senators came out foursquare against the bills on final
passage. Recently, though, Dole has been a leading sponsor of legislation
that was strongly criticized by most environmentalists, such as legislation
to revamp the entire regulatory system. He also favored a sweeping proposal
to compensate property owners when they are regulated.

RobertNYT : Has there been a significant difference in environmental approach
es between Presidents Bush and Clinton?

Jhcushman : In some areas, such as the approach to regulations, they
differed. The biggest changes have been in the "reinventing government" ideas
of the Clinton Administration, where the Administration has sought some
innovative new ways of pollution control and cleanup.

Sid 6pt9 : How can we better balance commerce & environment, and lifestyles
(i.e., grazing rights) and the environment?

Jhcushman : It seems to me that there need to be new ways of thinking about
the balance that is sought so that people are seeking ideals like
"stewardship" which can balance competing needs while serving the needs of
future generations, children and people at special risk.

ExplorerE : What do you think are the chances of the Endangered Species Act
being re-authorized ?

Jhcushman : That has proven extraordinarily difficult for the past five
years, and it's hard to see where the new consensus will come from. But when
Congress wants to do something that is in the mainstream, it has proven that
it can succeed, as with the drinking water and pesticides bills that just
passed by virtually unanimous vote.

GaryPar4 : How many of the Superfund sites has Clinton cleaned up?

Jhcushman : Well, he didn't clean them up *personally* :) but the
Administration has seen more sites completed than in the entire twelve years
of Bush and Reagan. Part of this they can rightly claim credit for, but part
of it was just because a lot of work was done beforehand. The Administration
has promised to accelerate the pace further if reelected.

RobertNYT : What are the 3 biggest environmental issues on the agenda today
in Washington?

Jhcushman : In my opinion, the three top items on the agenda may not be the
same as the three biggest questions that need to be resolved. So let me give
you two lists off the top of my head.

I would say the biggest questions on the current agenda are revising and
extending Superfund, revamping the Endangered Species Act and deciding how to
balance risks, costs and benefits. Followed by a fourth: how much Federal
money to spend.

But if I were to list the three top long-range problems that need to be
addressed, they might be dealing with global population growth, dealing with
the worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases and the climate change that could
result, and finally, dealing with the accelerating loss of species. These are
things that have major long-term implications, and potentially irreversible

Baffindog : What was Kemp's record on the environment?

Jhcushman : I'm afraid I don't know!

RobertNYT : What do you see as Interior Secretary Babbit's greatest
accomplishments and failures so far?

Jhcushman : Well, he has managed to substantially change the way endangered
species issues are addressed, even though the law was not changed. Now, there
are more broad habitat conservation measures put into place. His greatest
disappointment has probably been the failure to put into place the National
Biological Service which was supposed to provide a far better scientific
underpinning for such decisions. But it was viewed as Big Brother by some in
Congress, and the budget did not help to fund this interesting idea.

MdntTrain : How big a problem is the "buy and toss out" product life cycle,
and why aren't manufacturers being held responsible for taking back worn-out
or useless machines? Most notably, the PC computer...

Jhcushman : The idea of getting manufacturers to think ahead about their
product life cycle is new and it is gaining increasing currency. The
President's Council on Sustainable Development emphasized the potential of
this approach, but it is still far from being widely used.

WrightASK : Do you believe the news media has sensationalized the theory of
"global warming" despite its controversy among scientists?

Jhcushman : Frankly, I don't think so. The controversy has been widely
reported, and possibly even overstated. There is today a very widespread
scientific consensus to support the theory, and to call for actions to head
off potential problems sooner rather than later.

Karep : What kind of policies can be implemented to help control population
growth? Not that I don't agree it's a problem but how can you make birth
control into a matter of public or world politics?

Jhcushman : Actually, birth control is not the top of the list for actions
to ward off the problem. Much more important are these things. First,
increase child health, so babies in poor countries are more likely to reach
adulthood. In many countries that alone removes an incentive to have more
babies. Second, educate women and give them economic opportunity and
political freedom. These things are proven to result in lower birth rates
everywhere they have been done.

EZwerling : Please address the Salvage Logging Rider which is clear-cutting
the last of the Ancient Forests.

Jhcushman : What would you like to know about it?

EZwerling : Isn't it generally acknowledged now that the Salvage Logging
Rider was a ruse to get at green trees?

Jhcushman : There is a lot of logging going on under this provision of law,
which makes it easier to log without full environmental review and appeal.
President Clinton said that signing this bill was a big mistake. Indeed, much
of the logging that was freed up by this rider was in healthy old growth
forest, not in areas threatened by disease or fire, although there is a lot
of that kind of sale as well.

RobertNYT : What do you think about the current controversy on whether
recycling makes sense or if it's really not worth the time and money it

Jhcushman : Well, there is certainly a lot of recycling that makes eminent
sense. Just ask the aluminum industry. And there is probably some that is
unjustifiable, at least as it is done today. But by and large, it seems to me
that common sense tells us that it makes environmental sense to reduce, reuse
and recycle in that order.

JOEWIND : Bringing the rest of the world up to the level of industrial
society will cause great environmental damage. CO2 will skyrocket. What is
the alternative?

Jhcushman : The alternative is to teach people who are just developing to
skip all the wasteful ways of the past. Don't build inefficient appliances,
etc., with the idea of improving later. This is what is meant by "sustainable
development." But it is very complicated!

JG Barth : What has happened with the follow up on the Rio
Clinton on track?

Jhcushman : Under the Rio treaty, the U.S. and other developed nations
promised to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by the year 2000 to the
levels that prevailed in 1990. But that has not happened. Instead, in all but
a few countries, emissions continue to go up, as in the United States. Now,
the parties to the treaty are seeking mandatory limits and measures, but this
is a long way from being settled.

F1ERY : If Clinton is elected this fall, will he take a tougher stance on
environmental issues without the need to run for re-election?

Jhcushman : That is a *very* good question! I believe that he would attempt
to use his newfound strength to broaden the base of support for mainstream
ideas. Not to take a "tougher" line. And the greens will complain that he is
not doing enough. Which could haunt Al Gore in 2000.

MMccann91 : Is the environment really an issue for the candidates? Clinton
hasn't done much for the environment and it is still functioning just fine.

Jhcushman : The question, it seems to me, is whether the environment is
really an issue for the voters. Everybody says they want more environmental
protection, but how many people when they go to vote, make that their top
concern? And if they vote on another basis, such as party loyalty, or taxes,
or character, or whatever, do politicians feel free to do whatever is
convenient on environmental issues?

RobertNYT : We have time for one more question. Is there a focal issue, like
the spotted owl, out there this election year?

Jhcushman : There is no poster child like the spotted owl at the moment.
Instead, the child on the poster is everybody's child. Trying to sort out
what is best environmentally for future generations is not easy, and not
amenable to sound bites. But the candidate who wins the green vote is going
to be the one who can justify his positions on the basis of doing what is
right for our children, and for theirs.

RobertNYT : Our guest tonight has been Jack Cushman. environmental
correspondent in The Times's Washington bureau. Jack, thanks for joining us

Jhcushman : It's been a pleasure, and I'm glad so many of you came and
offered such good questions.

RobertNYT : Good night from Times Square.