The Week That Was
August 24-30, 1998

Big goings on in Convent, Louisiana, last Friday. A CBS News "60 Minutes" camera crew blew into town to shoot a media event staged exclusively for them by Greenpeace and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The issue featured was "Environmental Justice," the EPA's latest attempt to link civil rights and the environment that is causing a flap all across the country. Convent is the site of a proposed Shintech plastics plant, which would bring 165 jobs to this poor, rural corner of Louisiana. Activists represented by the Tulane University Law Clinic, and urged on by the EPA, say any potential for pollution would be an affront to minorities; better to take a pass on the jobs.

Other groups don't see it that way. The U.S. Conference of Mayors recently passed a resolution urging the EPA to rethink its environmental justice guidelines, concerned they would hamper efforts to bring jobs to urban areas where minority unemployment is high. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue has been soliciting support from minority business groups in an attempt to challenge the EPA's environmental justice plans in court. Donohue said the EPA is attempting to become a "national zoning board," stepping in to reconsider local building permit decisions on just a single activist complaint. Donohue cited news articles accusing the EPA of "funneling" money to Green groups so they could file lawsuits against minority owned businesses. The Louisiana State Supreme Court has also weighed in, ruling that the Tulane University Law Clinic could not file suit on behalf of local activist groups affiliated with large national Green organizations or on behalf of groups with fewer than 75 percent of their members from Louisiana. In other words, outside agitators stay home!

Frustrated, the EPA, working in concert with Greenpeace, finally brought in the big guns at "60 Minutes," counting on its producers to do for environmental justice what they and Fenton Communications, the Green activist PR firm, did for Alar a few years back.

To be sure, the day-long events package arranged by Greenpeace press director Dwight Mims was quite a piece of work. The kick-off was a press briefing at the New Orleans offices of the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund. The wrap-up was an "open" town meeting, heavily salted with EPA officials and activists, including representatives from the Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and Greenpeace itself. Greenpeace activists were reportedly prepping residents for their big on-camera moment.

But the actual turnout was somewhat disappointing. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan flew down, meeting with the plant opposition group, put together by Greenpeace, and ignoring black community leaders who overwhelmingly support the plant (including 6 of the 7 Council members). The town meeting fell flat, with only 30 or so in attendance, most of them activists trucked in from outside the area.

Now the question is: Will the American television audience hear any of this when the segment airs this fall? Will "60 Minutes" cohost Leslie Stahl reveal that two "producers" of her segment are Greenpeace and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency? Will "60 Minutes" seek the opinion of policy analysts who have studied this issue? Will residents supporting construction of the plant have a chance to make their case on-camera? Or will the desire for good theater take precedence over facts?

In other news, the Aspen Institute is announcing its global warming recommendations letter to Clinton and the Congress with a press release issued today (Sept.1) The op-ed version will soon appear in Energy Daily, under the "authorship" of just two of those whom Aspen's Jack Riggs encouraged to sign: Enron CEO Ken Lay and Roger Sant, chairman of AES Corporation and the World Wildlife Fund. John Bryson, chairman and CEO of Edison International, bailed at the last minute.

U.S. oil producers who don't get with the program--a la British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell--risk the same fate as the tobacco industry, according to Lester Brown, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute. In a Reuters wire report (Aug. 28), Brown called the belief that the link between carbon dioxide emissions and global warming has yet to be established a "disinformation campaign." Brown raised the spectre of multimillion dollar lawsuits against oil companies and their demonization in the press. He then said that "the only proof of climate change is climate change," a remarkable admission that promoters don't yet have convincing evidence.

No sympathy for Green activists in northern California. Earlier this year, police used pepper spray on nine anti-logging demonstrators who had locked arms together during a protest inside the Eureka office of Rep. Frank Riggs. The activists filed charges, claiming police used excessive force, but the trial ended August 25 with jurors hopelessly deadlocked 4-4 after just six hours of deliberation. According to the Press Democrat newspaper, "a graphic videotape of sheriff's deputies using pepper spray to break up a non-violent demonstration had less impact on jurors than protesters anticipated." The police have filed a motion to dismiss the charges.

Indications that you can't have your cake and eat it too, at least in Washington, D.C. Back in February, representatives from more than 100 national and international activist groups sent a harshly worded letter to President Clinton criticizing his plan to extend the life of nuclear power plants currently in use as part of his policy package to combat global warming. At Energy Secretary Bill Richardson's swearing in last week, he reiterated the Administration's reliance on nuclear power, saying nuclear power was "safe." We're waiting for the activist response.

In Bonn, Germany's political Greens called off a press briefing at the last minute when it became clear--even to them--that parts of their policy package were not feasible and, worse, would cost them votes in the September 27 general election. The Greens, which polls indicate could pick up 6-7 percent of the vote, are hoping to align themselves with the Social Democrats in a new German government. Unfortunately, the ever practical Social Democrats decided to put a priority on unemployment, sidestepping the Greens' favorite issues: raising taxes and shutting down nuclear power plants.

Speaking of polls, bad news for Vice President Al Gore, especially if the U.S. economy hits the pond and he's still beating the drum for an international agreement to roll back energy use. A Detroit Free Press poll, announced last week, asked voters: "If Clinton doesn't finish his term, how much confidence do you have in Vice President Gore's ability to lead the country as president?" Only 35 percent said they had "complete" or "a lot" of trust in Gore. Even among Democrats, 46 percent of the respondents rated their confidence in Mr. Gore as "little" or "none."

Good news for European men, however; their sperm counts are NOT dropping after all, according to a reanalysis of global trend data just published in Environmental Health Perspectives. Dr. Stan Becker of Johns Hopkins University and Dr. Kiros Berhane of the University of Southern California conclude that the marked decline that turned up in the original analysis by Dr. Shanna Swan et al of the California Department of Health Services was simply an artifact of inappropriate sampling. (We are SO relieved.)

Until next week...

TW2 is compiled by SEPP Research Associate Candace Crandall

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