Al Gores reputation as the Democratic standard bearer of environmentalism dates back to the early 1990s when his book Earth in Balance outlined the perilous threats to the natural world. Gore also showboated his green credentials at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, which garnered the newly minted Senator great respect among Beltway greens who praised him for his willingness to take sides on controversial issues. While serving as vice president under Bill Clinton, Gore was put in charge of the administrations environmental portfolio, but had little to show for it.
Other than his alleged environmental convictions, Gore was politically timid when push came to shove in Washington. During Clintons campaign for president in 1992 Gore promised a group of supporters that Clintons EPA would never approve a hazardous waste incinerator located near an elementary school in Liverpool, Ohio, which was operated by WTI. Only three months into Clintons tenure the EPA issued an operating permit for the toxic burner. Gore raised no qualms. Not surprisingly, most of the money behind WTI came from the bulging pockets of Jackson Stephens, who just happened to be one of the Clinton/Gores top campaign contributors.
Perhaps Al Gores greatest blunder during his years as vice president was his allegiance to the conservative Democratic Leadership Council and their erroneous approach to environmental policy. Gore, like Clinton who quipped that the invisible hand has a green thumb, extolled a free-market attitude toward environmental issues. Since the mid-1980s Gore has argued with increasing stridency that the bracing forces of market capitalism are potent curatives for the ecological entropy now bearing down on the global environment, writes Jeffrey St. Clair in Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: The Politics of Nature. He is a passionate disciple of the gospel of efficiency, suffused with an inchoate technopilia.
These follies were followed by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's destructive deal with the sugar barons of South Florida, which doomed vast acreages of the Everglades. Then Gore and Clinton capitulated to the demands of Western Democrats and yanked from its initial budget proposals a call to reform grazing, mining, and timber practices on federal lands. When Clinton convened a timber summit in Portland, Oregon, in April 1994, the conference was, as one might expect, dominated by logging interests. Predictably, the summit gave way to a plan to restart clear-cutting in the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest for the first time in three years, giving the timber industry its get rich wish. Gore, again, said nothing.
Forests under Clinton and Gores watch didnt fare all that well. The Clinton administration's Salvage Rider, known to radical environmentalists as the "Logging without Laws" rider, was perhaps the most gruesome legislation ever enacted under the pretext of preserving ecosystem health. Like Bushs Healthy Forests plan, Clinton's act was choc full of deception and special interest pandering. "When [the Salvage Rider] bill was given to me, I was told that the timber industry was circulating this language among the Northwest Congressional delegation and others to try to get it attached as a rider to the fiscal year Interior Spending Bill," environmental lawyer Kevin Kirchner says. "There is no question that representatives of the timber industry had a role in promoting this rider. That is no secret."
"The Salvage Rider directed the Forest Service to cut old-growth timber in the Pacific Northwest that the agency had proposed for sale but subsequently withdrew due to environmental concerns, endangered species listings, and court rulings. Bush's initiative also aims to increase logging of old-growth trees in the Pacific Northwest."
Clinton and Gore during the time could have exercised presidential authority to force the relevant agencies to abandon all timber contracts that stemmed from the Salvage Rider. But they never flexed their muscle and instead sat by as the forests were subjected to gruesome annihilation.
An example of the ruin: Thousands of acres of healthy forestland across the West were rampaged. Washington's Colville National Forest saw the clear cutting of over 4,000 acres. Thousands more in Montana's Yaak River Basin, hundreds of acres of pristine forest land in Idaho, while the endangered Mexican Spotted Owl habitat in Arizona fell victim to corporate interests. Old growth trees in Washington's majestic Olympic Peninsula -- home to wild Steelhead, endangered Sockeye salmon, and threatened Marbled Murrelet -- were chopped with unremitting provocation by the US Forest Service.
And the assault on nature continued with Gores blessing.
Around the same time Clinton and Gore, after great pressure from the food industry, signed away the Delaney Clause, which prohibited cancer-causing pesticides and ingredients to be placed in our food products. And after pressure from big corporations like chemical giant DuPont, the Clinton administration, with guidance from Gores office, cut numerous deals over the pesticide Methyl Bromide despite its reported effects of contributing to Ozone depletion.
As for Gores pet project, global warming, he did little to help curb its dramatic effects while handling Clintons enviro policies. In fact, Gore and Clinton made it easy for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to back out of the Kyoto Protocol by undermining the agreement in the late 1990s. "Signing the Protocol, while an important step forward, imposes no obligations on the United States. The Protocol becomes binding only with the advice and consent of the US Senate," Gore said at the time. "As we have said before, we will not submit the Protocol for ratification without the meaningful participation of key developing countries in efforts to address climate change." Sadly, Gore stood by his promise.
Although the Kyoto Accord was a gigantic step forward in addressing global warming, Gore opposed the watered down version of the Protocol despite its numerous loopholes that would have allowed US corporations to continue their business as usual. But Gore backed off in hopes of not alienating the Democrats labor base who worried that new environmental standards would shift jobs to developing nations with weaker regulations. Hence Kyoto's derailment and the Democrats set up for Bush's misdeeds.
And the list goes on.