not easy being a token green: Christie Todd Whitman.
Your Wilderness and Drilling It Too
are, the EPA vacancy left by Christie Todd Whitman will be
filled with an even more aggressively pro-business appointee—all
under a cover of green
By Mark Hertsgaard
Todd Whitman has resigned as EPA administrator at a time when
Republicans themselves recognize the environmental issue as
“the single biggest vulnerability for the Republicans and
especially for George Bush.” Bush’s choice to replace Whitman
will offer a clear indication of how the White House plans
to handle this vulnerability as it approaches the 2004 election—and
of how the president’s opponents might exploit it.
The quote in the preceding paragraph comes from Frank Luntz,
a top GOP strategist; his specialty is crafting messages that
sell a political candidate or ideology to the voters. In a
memo leaked earlier this year to The New York Times,
Luntz further warned that the Republicans “risk losing the
swing vote . . . [and that] our suburban female base could
abandon us.” Since the swing vote—those middle-of-the-road
voters with no great loyalty to either of the two major parties—is
where the 2004 election is likely to be decided, the environment
promises to be a crucial battleground over the coming 18 months.
It’s not hard to see why Republicans are in trouble on the
environmental front. The environment has become a mom-and-apple-pie
issue in the United States, and the Republicans are on the
wrong side of it. According to a Gallup poll released in April,
61 percent of Americans say they are either active participants
in or sympathizers with the environmental movement. Eighty
percent favor stricter emissions standards for business. Only
7 percent endorse the Bush-Cheney view that government is
regulating too much.
But that hasn’t stopped the Bush administration and Republicans
in Congress from doing all they can to relax environmental
regulations. Whether it’s more arsenic in drinking water,
killing the Kyoto protocol, pushing for expanded logging and
limited wilderness, or putting industry executives in charge
of dozens of regulatory agencies, Bush has pursued the most
nakedly pro-corporate agenda in memory.
Whitman was the supposedly moderate Republican whose job it
was to make these policies appear reasonable. Mainstream green
groups unwittingly played along with the ruse, talking as
if Whitman were genuinely committed to the environment and
repeatedly expressing their disappointment at her failure
to stand up to the White House’s slash-and-burn approach.
But Whitman was never as green as enviros liked to think.
During her tenure as New Jersey governor, she had instituted
many of the policies that Bush has pursued as president, including
corporate self-audits and drastically reduced oversight and
fines of industrial polluters. As EPA administrator, she continued
to work against meaningful environmental regulation while
running afoul of conflict-of-interest laws.
On Earth Day 2002, the EPA’s former public-interest advocate,
Robert J. Martin, resigned as EPA ombudsman after clashing
with Whitman over a Superfund cleanup agreement that would
have saved Citigroup—a principal investor in Whitman’s husband’s
venture-capital firm—up to $93 million. Martin alleged that
Whitman ordered his office reassigned within the EPA bureaucracy
and stripped of its independence after he opposed a nuclear-waste
cleanup settlement with Citigroup that would limit the firm’s
liability to a fraction of the true cleanup cost. Whitman
denied the charges, but has been dogged by a continuing investigation
of the matter. That investigation has also focused on Whitman’s
questionable statements after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,
when she assured residents that the air of Manhattan was safe,
even though the EPA had not done adequate testing to support
So, with Whitman gone, what’s next? For his part, Frank Luntz
doesn’t want Republicans to change their environmental policies—just
how they talk about them. He advises them to use words like
“common sense,” “sound science,” and “balance.” Republican
candidates should call themselves “conservationists.” They
should stress how much they love national parks. They should
assure voters that they favor environmental protection but
simply believe that local people, not Washington bureaucrats,
should be in charge.
Luntz’s message seems to be getting through. The White House
included a pitch for hydrogen-fueled cars in this year’s State
of the Union address. (Pay no attention to that man behind
the curtain pointing out that the hydrogen in question would
be generated by burning more fossil fuels.) And in April,
just in time for Earth Day, came the birth of an environmental
alliance between a Republican advocacy group and one of the
nation’s largest labor unions.
The new organization’s name, the Labor Environment Alliance,
sounds positively left-wing. It brings together the International
Brotherhood of Teamsters with the Council of Republicans for
Environmental Advocacy, and it promises to lobby for “responsible
environmentalism that walks hand in hand with job creation.”
Specifically, the alliance says it supports reduced emissions,
brownfields redevelopment, more highway construction, and
increased domestic-energy production. As such, it enthusiastically
backs the Bush-Cheney energy plan, with its overwhelming bias
towards fossil-fuel and nuclear production. In words that
would doubtless please Luntz, the Council of Republicans for
Environmental Advocacy praised the plan as “balanced, comprehensive
and environmentally responsible.”
Of course, it wasn’t that long ago that the Teamsters were
marching arm in arm with environmentalists and other progressives
in the historic globalization demonstrations in Seattle in
1999. But the romance of Turtles and Teamsters was never consolidated
into a real working marriage. The modern Teamsters have always
been conservative, and they were early endorsers of the Bush-Cheney
energy plan. The rupture with enviros now seems final. Meanwhile,
most other unions still maintain at least cordial relations
with the big environmental groups like Greenpeace and the
Sierra Club, even if the so-called Blue-Green Alliance sought
by numerous union and environmental leaders has yet to jell
into the powerhouse initially envisioned.
At the same time, parts of Bush’s right-wing base will remain
resistant to even talking green. Many on the right disdain
environmentalism as today’s equivalent to socialism. For them,
global warming is still liberal hokum, and drilling for oil
and gas in Alaska is imperative—not so much for the resources
themselves as for asserting the principle that nothing should
be off-limits to the market’s appetites. With their ideological
biases, they don’t see the political risk in Bush’s environmental
policies. Paul Weyrich, the president of the Free Congress
Foundation, has argued that Republican electoral prospects
should be fine as long as the body count doesn’t get too high:
“There’s a risk with some of the swing voters, but unless
something happens where lots of people turn up dead before
the election, these issues are not going to resonate with
lots of voters.”
These are the same right-wing voices who carped at Christie
Todd Whitman throughout her tenure, accusing her of doing
too much to please the green lobby. Now, expect them to pressure
the White House to appoint a replacement more to their liking.
One name circulating in the capital’s rumor mill is Josephine
Cooper, chief operating officer of the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers.
Just what America needs: a SUV lobbyist setting environmental
But White House strategists may prove smarter than that. Frank
Luntz is right: Republicans do need political cover against
the public perception that they’re in bed with corporate polluters.
So as the 2004 campaign heats up, expect to hear lots of green
rhetoric from Bush and his fellow Republicans. They will proclaim
their love of the great outdoors and pledge to preserve and
protect it. They will invoke the need for a common-sense approach
to the environment and economics, and they will thank their
labor union allies for showing that good jobs and clean air
and water go together.
In short, Republicans will show they understand that in modern
America any politician who sounds indifferent to the environment
invites defeat on Election Day. But to talk the talk on the
environment is one thing; walking the walk is quite another.
Hertsgaard, a commentator for National Public Radio’s
Living on Earth show, is the author most recently of The
Eagle’s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the
World and Earth Odyssey: Around the World In Search
of Our Environmental Future.
Build or Not to Build?
The future of the Albany City
School District’s facilities plan hinges on Tuesday’s vote
By Travis Durfee
easy to get sidetracked by the hype and politicking that continue
to lead up to the Albany City School District’s June 3 vote.
Over the past five months, the mayor and the district have
engaged in a pitched battle over who should run Albany’s public
schools, and it has been colorful: Lawsuits have been flying
left and right, the mayor has excoriated the facilities plan
on his weekly radio show, and both parties reportedly are
trying to woo black churchgoers to the polls Tuesday.
But according to district officials, the focus shouldn’t be
on political melodrama, but on how any further delays to the
construction of the city’s third middle school will affect
the district’s $176 million, voter-approved facilities-renovation
On Tuesday (June 3), voters citywide will be asked to grant
the district $6.1 million to purchase roughly 19 acres of
land between Kelton and Marlborough courts off of Whitehall
Road and begin construction of the city’s third middle school.
According to Ken Gifford, director of facility planning for
the Albany City School District, without the voter permission
to begin construction this summer, the remainder of the facilities
plan will be in jeopardy.
is not a planning exercise anymore; we’re in the middle of
construction,” Gifford said. “We have 48 percent of our school
plan in progress—either in construction or finishing design—and
so it isn’t like we can cay, ‘Let’s try a new idea,’ and run
off in this direction.”
Along with the facilities plan, the district is reconfiguring
its middle-school structure; middle schools currently house
students in grades seven and eight, but the district is looking
to expand them to include sixth-graders. All of the district’s
elementary schools will be renovated to house students in
grades k-5. The entire facilities plan is to be carried out
over a six-year time frame, Gifford explained, and without
an additional middle school to handle the surge of sixth graders,
it can only go so far.
can do three more elementary schools [without the new middle
school], and then we’re dead,” Gifford said. “We can’t [rehab]
any of the middle schools, we can’t rehab Sunshine, we can’t
rehab TOAST, we can’t rehab Arbor Hill Elementary. We’ve got
to put the sixth-graders someplace.”
If the proposition is voted down, Gifford said it would end
up costing the district millions trying to redraft another
proposal for a third middle school in Albany.
It’s been a long road for district officials trying to find
a home for the most crucial and expensive aspect of the facilities
plan. The site off of Kelton Court was initially pegged as
the home for the new middle school, but neighborhood opposition
led the district to abandon it. The district then considered
a site in Westland Hills Park, but it too was abandoned due
to a lengthy environmental review process. The Kelton Court
site has once again been targeted as the home for the new
school, and awaits voter approval on June 3.
Though public opposition to constructing the middle school
off of Kelton Court still exists, it is much less than the
first time around. This most likely results from a developer’s
interest in constructing 70 or so single-family homes on the
very same plot.
In his State of the City address in January, Mayor Jerry Jennings
issued his own school proposal: razing all of the district’s
existing elementary schools to build 11 cookie-cutter schools,
consolidating the two middle schools into one, and building
a new high school. While the mayor’s proposal seems much different
from the district’s, he has yet to issue a concrete plan to
show exactly how it would benefit the city. Jennings did not
return a phone call for this story.
The second proposition on Tuesday, dependent on the first,
asks city residents to grant the district an additional $2.84
million to construct athletic fields at the Kelton Court site.
Should the voters accept both propositions, school officials
say the impact on the taxpayers would be minimal.
The additional $8.75 million would be tacked on to the existing
total for the facilities plan and would result in an increase
of approximately $9.40 annually for the next 30 years on a
home assessed at $100,000, according to figures provided by
the school district.
of the residents at our budget hearings last week looked at
the numbers and said, ‘That’s less than a pizza,’” said district
spokeswoman Tara Mitchell.
Voters also will be asked to consider the sale of the deteriorated
School 17, which has been vacant since 1975, for no less than
Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 AM to 9 PM, and information
on where to vote can be obtained from the district’s Web site,
www.albany.k12.ny.us, or by calling the district clerk at
462-7200 or the County Board of Elections at 487-5060.