Is Al Gore's Record Really So Green?Peter Hong
Al Gore gets passionate when he talks about the environment. Defending the earth, he likes to say, transcends politics and must be "the central organizing principle in the post-cold-war world." Republicans, taking the Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee at his word, savage Gore as an "international environmental extremist" whose position "runs the real risk of destroying the U.S. economy."
But an examination of the record shows that the Tennessee senator is thoroughly pragmatic when it comes to shaping his positions to the wishes of his constituents. In his 15 years on Capitol Hill, Gore has become a leading spokesman on global warming, clean air, and ozone depletion. But when home-state jobs have been at stake, the Tennessean has found it easy to be less than green.
NUCLEAR BACKER. In his early days in the House, Gore was sometimes the despair of environmentalists. A frequent ally of Senator Howard H. Baker (R-Tenn.) on local issues, he supported the Tellico Dam in 1978 despite objections that it would cause the extinction of a small fish called the snail darter. And he's a fervent supporter of the dam-building Tennessee Valley Authority. "He's been a friend of tva for a long time," says a high-ranking official of the government-owned utility.
The prospect of jobs for Tennessee also led Gore to support two highly controversial nuclear facilities. He backed the $3.2 billion Clinch River breeder reactor to the bitter end in 1983. The now-abandoned project drew the vehement opposition of both environmentalists and arms-controllers, who feared that the plutonium it produced could have been diverted to weapons projects. Meanwhile, along with the rest of the Tennessee delegation, Gore wants to move the manufacture of nuclear-weapons triggers from the Energy Dept.'s contaminated Rocky Flats complex in Colorado to Oak Ridge.
It's no surprise that some Tennessee environmentalists are upset with Gore. "He'd be better than Quayle, but we wish he would wear his green hat in the Armed Services Committee," says Ralph M. Hutchison, executive director of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. Replies an aide to the senator: "No one has done more than Gore to correct the past mistakes at Oak Ridge. Anybody who knows his record knows he wouldn't propose something without the absolute highest safety standards."
CANNY MOVES. Gore's willingness to compromise on jobs-vs.-the environment issues sometimes extends beyond Tennessee. "It's clear he doesn't vote the way we want him to every step of the way," says David Gardiner, lobbyist for the Sierra Club. "He's a practical guy." Gore pushed--unsuccessfully--for an amendment to the Superfund law that would have given business more favorable treatment in the allocation of toxic-waste cleanup costs.
In his much-cited book, Earth in the Balance, Gore argues that the time has come for "the elimination of those public expenditures...that encourage and subsidize environmentally destructive economic activity." But last year, he cast the deciding vote against restricting the ability of mining companies to obtain title to federal land at almost no cost. The Senate killed a similar amendment on a voice vote in early August, though this time Gore played no part: He was off campaigning for Vice-President.
In 1989, Gore's voting record won him a 100% rating from the League of Conservation Voters. But by 1991, he'd dropped to 73%, lower than some Republicans. The record shows that Gore is neither the enviro-terrorist portrayed by the gop nor the fierce tree-hugger he sometimes claims to be. He's a more familiar Washington species--an adroit politician.