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Who's Got the Power? | Collateral Damage | Dubya's Dictionary | "Wise Use" in the
White House
| Bush's 7 Deadly Sins | USA Tomorrow | Our Next President | more Sierra

  Sierra Magazine
  September/October 2004
Table of Contents
 
  ELECTION 2004:
Who's Got the Power?
Collateral Damage
Dubya's Dictionary
"Wise Use" in the White House
Bush's Seven Deadly Sins
USA Tomorrow
Our Next President
 
  FEATURES:
Forty Wild Years
Interview: Michael Pollan
 
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Ways & Means
One Small Step
Letters
Let's Talk
Hearth & Home
Lay of the Land
Good Going
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Sierra Club Bulletin
Mixed Media
 
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Our Next President
He fights global warming, foils offshore drillers, protects the Arctic! His recycling knows no bounds! And if enough environmentalists vote on November 2, John Kerry could be our next president.
by Jennifer Hattam

When George W. Bush first ran for president in 2000, he proclaimed that "protecting our natural lands and watersheds...is our calling as stewards of the earth." This time around, his team has stopped trying to appease environmentalists and started attacking them. With the November elections on the horizon, Bush campaign chair Marc Racicot fired an early shot at his boss's presumptive rival, telling a Michigan crowd that Senator John Kerry's "environmental extremism" would not go over well with voters in the state.

It was obviously a jab, but Kerry would probably be proud that Racicot also described him as "incredibly environmentally green." The Democratic candidate has kept environmental issues at the center of his agenda throughout his political career. (The Sierra Club endorsed Kerry's presidential bid in May.) "Being responsible about the environment is not some do-gooder, silly notion that you embrace once a year," he commented at an Earth Day event this spring.

Since 1970, when he spoke at the first Earth Day in his home state of Massachusetts, Kerry has fought for action against acid rain, participated in international climate-change negotiations, and cosponsored successful legislation to protect coral reefs, strengthen limits on offshore oil drilling, and restore estuary habitat as a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans and Fisheries (which he renamed the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, and Fisheries during his tenure as chair).

With two-thirds of Americans saying in a recent poll that the United States government does not do enough about the environment, Kerry the "extremist" is looking pretty mainstream. He's also...

...optimistic.
On the stump, Kerry exudes optimism about cleaning up the environment while boosting the economy: "Americans can unite behind policies that will protect our natural resources and create jobs inventing, designing, manufacturing, and constructing the clean technologies of tomorrow."

As a senator, Kerry has supported tax incentives to encourage the production and purchase of alternative-fuel vehicles. As president, he would invest $1 billion a year to help the auto industry begin building more efficient vehicles, part of a shift in energy policy that would eventually create 500,000 new jobs. To achieve his goal of generating 20 percent of U.S. electricity from renewable sources by 2020, Kerry favors creating joint ventures, grants, and tax credits for businesses. "You make it profitable for people," he says.

...concerned about national security.
"Domestic, renewable sources [of energy] are urgently needed now because they are entirely under our control," Kerry says. "No foreign government can embargo them, no terrorist can seize control of them, no cartel can play games with them, no American soldier will have to risk his or her life to protect them."

To wean us from our oil addiction, Kerry has continually pushed for increased fuel efficiency of cars and trucks. In 2002, he introduced a bill, along with Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), to boost automotive fuel economy by as much as 50 percent over the next decade. This would have been by far the largest increase since standards were first established in the 1970s.

...a man of faith.
Kerry, a committed Catholic, finds moral grounding for his environmental stances in his religious beliefs. (But like the majority of his fellow U.S. Catholics, he opposes the Vatican's proscription of contraceptive use in family planning.) He's repeatedly fought efforts to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act, which he says embodies "the goal of protecting all of God's creatures."

In the 1990s, he also authored successful legislation to strengthen safeguards for marine mammals, including a ban on the use of drift nets that threaten dolphins. His wife, environmental philanthropist Teresa Heinz Kerry, has equally strong beliefs. In a recent speech, she called President Bush's environmental policies "a sin against humankind, period."

...a proponent of family values.
Kerry's mother started a recycling program in their hometown back in the 1970s and volunteered to help build a community nature trail. When her son was young, she took him walking in the woods to listen to birdsong, and later introduced him to the works of Emerson and Thoreau--experiences that Kerry credits with awakening his environmental consciousness. In 1992, Kerry got acquainted with his future wife, Teresa, at the Earth Summit in Rio, where they were both delegates with a passion for the environment.

...in good company.
Kerry's running mate, Senator John Edwards (D-N.C.), garners high marks from environmentalists in his home state for protecting Pisgah National Forest and fending off threats to Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. On the global stage, Edwards supports international right-to-know standards that would keep companies from hiding their abusive environmental or labor practices by moving jobs overseas.

In Congress, he's consistently voted for wilderness protection for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, higher fuel-economy standards for cars, and increased funding for toxic-waste cleanups. Last year, Edwards led the opposition to the Bush administration's assault on the Clean Air Act, introducing an amendment to prevent proposed changes to the act--a priority for Vice President Cheney's energy task force--from taking effect until their health and environmental impacts had been thoroughly studied.

...not afraid to have a little fun.
Kerry admits to being "a noodge about recycling," and his wife recently built an office of sustainably harvested wood. But the avid outdoorsman doesn't think the environmental life should be all seriousness and sacrifice. When questioned by eco-friendly Grist magazine about his passion for Harley motorcycles, Kerry replied, "If it's a vice, it's one I don't think I can quit."

...an urban visionary.
"We must leverage a new urban strategy to build community and revive the urban center as one of the best places to live and raise a family," Kerry says. In 2001, he cosponsored successful bipartisan legislation to provide financial assistance for cleanup and revitalization of toxic brownfields that primarily benefits inner-city areas. The Pittsburgh-based foundation run by his wife has directed nearly $200 million into environmental causes over the past dozen years, including millions to help the Steel City become a leader in green building and redevelopment.

...a fighter.
In the mid-1990s, Kerry helped beat back Republican attacks on environmental safeguards that were part of their so-called Contract With America. More recently, he has doggedly fought the Bush administration's plans to weaken the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and gut the Superfund.

"There is not one proactive, genuinely thoughtful, positive policy that you can point to that George Bush and his administration are advocating," Kerry told Grist magazine. "They have their Healthy Forests thing; it's a fraud. Clear Skies; it's a fraud. It's all very Orwellian--remember in 1984 where war is peace? That's the Bush environmental policy."

...an embracer of innovation.
In June, 48 Nobel PrizeŚwinning scientists publicly endorsed Kerry, saying he will bring science "back into the White House." Indeed, Kerry knows that his goal of decreasing reliance on fossil fuels will require a serious technological push.> He points to California, which already gets 10.3 percent of its energy from non-hydroelectric alternative sources--including wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass--as an example of how the country could achieve his plan for 20 percent renewable energy by 2020. (The national average is a pathetic 1.8 percent.) Kerry has also praised California's "smart laws on clean water, clean air, energy-efficient appliances, [and] offshore drilling," saying that environmentally, the state has "shown the way to what America can and should become."

...consistent.
Between 1985 and 2002, Kerry's votes in the Senate earned him a 96 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters, light-years ahead of the 20 percent averaged by Senate Republicans during the same period. It was also a higher lifetime score than that of any of his opponents in the primary (yes, even Dennis Kucinich's). In nine of those years, Kerry voted pro-environment 100 percent of the time.


Jennifer Hattam is Sierra's associate editor.

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