Democrat manifesto and conference renews commitment to the environment
Throughout the week of the release of the Democrat's manifesto and conference the party's environmental record has been constantly touted and new pledges made.
The Democratic Party’s manifesto, which was ratified by conference delegates on 15 August, seeks to put clear blue water between themselves, outlining several specific and populist environmental pledges and the Republicans, with their rather vague and heavily-criticised proposals for the environment.
The fifty-page document gives as much space to environmental issues as crime and defence, and includes pledges to restore the Everglades, boost public transportation, and preserve open space, openly criticising the Republican opponents in some areas.
“From the Redwood forests to the Florida Everglades, from the Grand Canyon to Yellowstone to Yosemite, we have protected millions of acres of our precious natural lands. We stopped development in America’s last wild places,” the manifesto reads. “Today’s Republicans see them (national parks) as the playground of the powerful — there for big businesses to exploit with drilling and mining. The Republicans have tried to sell off national parks; cut air, water, and endangered species protections; let polluters off the hook; and put the special interests ahead of the people’s interest. They are wrong. Out natural environment is too precious and too important to waste,” it continues.
“Al Gore is committed to restoring the Everglades; protecting the coasts of California and Florida and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas drilling; and preserving our untouched forests, including the Tongass, from logging and development,” the manifesto reads. Gore’s pledge to the Alaskan wilderness, despite becoming an environmentalists cause celèbre, is unpopular with a majority of Alaskans and even with some of the state’s Democrat politicians, who favour George W. Bush’s plans to encourage mineral exploration. Federal funding would be given for land acquisition to protect forests, wetlands, and coastal and wildlife preserves.
The manifesto takes a strong stance on pollution and encouraging energy-efficient forms of transport and fuel production. It proposes building high-speed rail systems in major transportation corridors across the nation by providing new grants to Amtrak and the states to reduce highway and airport congestion and improve air quality. Gore also aims to encourage investment in light rail and cleaner buses.
“Today, technology has advanced to the point that we can drive the kind of cars we like and live in the kind of houses we like — while being kind to the earth. We should use some of our budget surplus to help Americans take advantage of these new opportunities,” the manifesto states. It proposes tax incentives for purchases of fuel-efficient vehicles, energy efficient homes, appliances and equipment and incentives for the oil industry to promote the development of cleaner fuels, and for the auto industry to promote cleaner engines.
Other proposals include funds for the development and deployment of clean energy technologies, cleaning up ageing power plants and tax credits for state and local bonds to preserve open space, build parks, improve water quality and redevelop brownfields. Strong support is demonstrated for adhering to the 1997 Kyoto Protocols on reducing greenhouse emissions, which were scorned in the Republican manifesto.
In stark contrast to the Republican’s recent convention where environmental issues were noticeably absent from the agenda, at the Democratic Party’s convention in Los Angeles, which began on 14 August, the issue has been seized on as a vote-winner. Several speeches have referred to environmental issues including the presidential hopeful’s nomination speech and on 15 August a convention round table debate was held to discuss Gore’s position on topics ranging from reducing pollution to sustaining the nation’s unprecedented economic prosperity.
“On the issue of the environment I have never given up, I have never backed down, and I never will,” Gore announced in his 17 August nomination speech. He also recalled how he became involved with toxic waste issues in his first congressional term. “Ever since, I’ve been there in the fight against the big polluters,” he said. “Our children should not have to draw the breath of life in cities awash in pollution. When they come in from playing on a hot summer afternoon, every child in America – anywhere in America – ought to be able to turn on the faucet and get a glass of safe, clean drinking water.”
In accepting the Democratic nomination for vice president, Joseph Lieberman, called Gore a ‘leader’ in protecting the nation’s environment and promised that if elected in November he and Gore would continue to work for cleaner air and cleaner water. He also criticised George W. Bush for attempting to cast himself as the environmental candidate in the presidential race. “I think it’s a good thing that our opponent talks about the environment,” Lieberman said. “But I’m sad to say that in Texas, the quality of the air and water is some of the worst in America.”
Gore and Lieberman, though still behind in the polls, can rely on the support of the environmental lobby, including the US’ most powerful green group, the 600,000 member Sierra Club. Despite a surprisingly strong showing for the Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader, the vast majority of environmentalists, including Sierra Club President Robert Cox, support Gore’s White House campaign.
“We have publicly announced our support for many of the reform efforts that Nader is associated with, but the fact is, come January 2001, either Gore or Bush will be sitting in the White House exercising federal executive power,” Cox said, adding that it would be “dangerous” to support Nader, given Bush’s strong showing.
Cox referred to the Gore-Lieberman candidacy as “ the most pro-environmental ticket in history” and cites Gore’s record to demonstrate his commitment. “As Vice-President, Al Gore helped strengthen clean air health standards, sped clean up of Superfund toxic waste sites, reduced automobile tailpipe pollution, and protected America’s spectacular landscapes,” Cox said.
Lieberman is supported by green campaigners for his 100% environmental voting record in Congress since 1997, and for his prominent position in championing 1990’s Clean Air Act and its implementation. The Connecticut senator also co-sponsored the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Act.
Despite the Sierra Club’s guaranteed support, Democrats are quietly worried about the Green Party’s potential to steal environmental votes. At the round table meeting on the 15th Kennedy said that Democrats fighting to protect the environment “can’t afford to be marginalised” by the “growing presence of the Green Party.” He said that any increase in the Green’s popularity could contribute to the defeat of environmentally friendly Democratic members of Congress, pointing to Deputy Mark Udall’s strong challenge from a Green candidate in Colorado, which could see him losing him his seat to the Republicans.
Gore also faced anger from 2,000 environmentalists and human rights protesters who took to the streets of Los Angeles on 14 August. He was denounced as a “puppet” to the multi-national oil company, Occidental Petroleum, in which he owns $500,000 of stock. Protesters fear that Gore stands to benefit from a recently approved military aid package to the Colombian Government, which is heavily-criticised by human rights campaigners. They also say that Gore ignored environmentalists’ pleas not to drill for oil in Colombian rainforest, on land that is sacred to an Indian tribe, and call him a hypocrite for supporting this, whilst opposing drilling in Alaska.