From its stance on arsenic in drinking water to drilling in Alaska, the Bush administration is under fire for its positions on the environment. But is that fair?
We'll ask Christie Todd Whitman, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. And we'll get another view from Senator Joe Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut and a member of the Senate Committee on Environment.
Then we'll talk with columnist Tom Friedman of the "New York Times" about the latest events in China and the Middle East.
Gloria Borger will be here, and I'll have a final word on demonstrators.
But first, the environment on Face the Nation.
Good morning again, and this is Earth Day.
And we begin in New Haven, Connecticut, where Senator Joseph Lieberman is standing by. Here in the studio, the director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christine Todd Whitman. We're going to start with Senator Lieberman.
Senator Lieberman, I'll be frank. You have been very critical of the administration on environmental issues. Some people say this is just a prelude to a campaign to run for president in 2004. Are you thinking about running for the Democratic nomination in 2004?
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, D-CT: I am not, Bob. That's an open question that's far away.
My criticism of the Bush administration on the environment is a logical continuation of a 30-year interest I have had in environmental protection, which has really become a bipartisan interest in our country.
President Bush campaigned as a sensible centrist, but on the environment he's been governing far to the right and outside the mainstream of where most Americans are. When you get loose about he amount of arsenic in water, which we're worried causes cancer, when you say you're going to drill in one of the most beautiful places the good Lord has given us in America, the arctic refuge, that's not sensible centrism.
And it breaks the consensus in our country on environmental protection which ran pretty much through, in this country, through people and presidents of both parties until we got to Newt Gingrich and the Congress in '94. The last six years we haven't done very much affirmatively on environmental protection through Congress. The Clinton administration did, but now President Bush, in all these ways, seems to be stepping back. And I don't think the public likes it.
SCHIEFFER: All right. I'm going to ask you a lot more about all of what you just said, but I want to squeeze in one political question before we go on.
SCHIEFFER: If indeed you do decide to seek the nomination in 2004, can you envision a situation where you would challenge Al Gore? Or would you do that if Al Gore was also a candidate?
LIEBERMAN: I cannot envision such a situation. Aain, we're just a couple of months from 2000. I think we're all trying to get that election, unusual as it was, exciting as it was, in perspective. I'm not closing any doors on the future, but I'm sure not rushing through any either. I'm trying to be the best senator I can for Connecticut and for the country.
SCHIEFFER: Well, I do know there has been some discussion about it among those around you, but we'll go on to something else.
GLORIA BORGER, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Senator, we're going to move to the environment now. You say that you are going to launch an investigation into some of the recent environmental decisions made by the Bush administration. What exactly are you going to do? What are you trying to find out?
LIEBERMAN: Gloria, I'm doing this as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees the operations of government.
More than a month ago, I wrote to three agency heads that were part of rescinding or blocking environmentally protective regulations, including Administrator Whitman of EPA. And thus far, I have not received anything but a run around from EPA and the other agencies.
I'm trying, on behalf of the people, to get information which will help me understand, what did the Bush administration do? Who did it speak to before it rescinded a regulation like the one limiting the amount of arsenic in drinking water, because a lot of people - public health experts, scientists, the last administration - feel it causes cancer in people who drink that water? Who did they talk to? Did they talk to both sides or only one side after a process that went 17 years with thousands of people being heard on all sides before that regulation was adopted?
And this is part of the public's right to know. I don't want to have a confrontation with EPA, but if we don't get that information soon, I'm going to ask my fellow committee members to subpoena that information from the agency. I think it's that important.
BORGER: Well, with all due respect though, Senator, you're criticizing the Bush administration for rolling back these Clinton regulations. But President Clinton had eight years to issue a lot of these regulations, and many of them were done in the last days before he left office. Why did the Democrats wait so long?
LIEBERMAN: There were an awful lot of protective regulations issued during those eight years. Some of these were complicated, and I think the fact that some of them were issued at the end is an expression of the fact that there weren't hastily put out. There were years and years of testimony here.
And incidentally, we're talking about environmental protection today, but when we come to arsenic in drinking water, you're talking about people protection. When you're talking about soot in the air, as EPA itself has a report suggesting, soot in the air, smog, actually kills people. It leads to premature dath.
So I think it's the more interesting and important focus here is not on a timing of when these protective regulations were issued, but what was the basis of them and why were they issued. They were issued to protect the glories of our natural environment in America, or to protect us, people, from the harm caused by environmental pollution. And I think that's very much in the public interest.
And to stop them is a serious mistake. It again takes the Bush administration outside the mainstream of American life, Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative. People, you know, as an example, don't want too much arsenic in their water.
SCHIEFFER: Senator, what do you think the level of arsenic in the water ought to be?
LIEBERMAN: Personally, I think it should be 10 parts per billion which is the World Health Organization's standard.
You know, Bob, there's a fair amount of scientific evidence - there was a very compelling article in "The Wall Street Journal" last week that suggests that at 200 parts per billion the risks of cancer from that drinking water are pretty real. At 100, some say there are still real. At 50 - and remember the units here we're talking about are not pounds or ounces, they're parts per billion, very small. Fifty is too high a risk. I'd say 10 is as high as it could go, and if I had my druthers, I'd go to the original request which was five.
I think it's that important. We're talking about people's lives and health here. When it comes to that, the people want their government to protect them from threats that they can't protect themselves from.
BORGER: Senator, very quickly. In the last week the Bush administration has rolled out some regulations that many would call pro-environment. Do you think, then, that they've seen the light in your view?
LIEBERMAN: Well, I'm encouraged by that, but it's only the beginning. I'm encouraged by it because maybe there's some folks in the Bush administration who think that they've gone too far away from protecting the environment, and in fact it is breaking their connection with the American people.
But it's only the beginning. They still are delaying the arsenic in water regulation. They're still intent on drilling for oil in the Arctic Refuge. They've still cut the budget of the environmentally protective agencies. They're still cutting funding for energy efficiency and new energy. And so, I think this is an administration for the most part that's headed in the wrong direction on the environment.
I'll be the first to express my satisfaction if they come back to do the right thing and come back to the non-partisan, bipartisan common ground that began three decades ago with Earth Day.
But let's work together on this because we all live on the same earth, we're all threatened by the same pollutants. Let's protect our health and the environment that the good Lord gave us.
SCHIEFFER: All right, Sentor Joe Lieberman. Thank you very much, Senator, for being with us this morning.
LIEBERMAN: Thank you both.
SCHIEFFER: Well, let's get the other side of the story now. We turn to the EPA Director Christie Todd Whitman.
Well, Governor, Senator Lieberman said he's getting the run around from your agency every time he tries to get some of this information.
CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: Well, I'm surprised at that, and I will certainly look and see why he hasn't gotten the information, but I'd be happy to give it to him on arsenic.
And the important thing here - and I heard the senator say it several times, that we're endangering people - nothing has changed. The standard in drinking water is the same today as it was last week and last month and was intended to be the same by the Clinton administration until the year 2006.
By 2006, we will have a new regulation in place that will dramatically reduce the amount of arsenic in water.
All I asked for is that we take the time to review the cost-benefit along with the science, so we can make a decision, because, as the senator said - and he indicated that these studies that said, well, 50, it's too high - we all agree, 50's too high. There is no standard, though, no scientific study that says, at 10, you're safe, at 11, you're not.
So, we need to - I've asked the National Academy of Sciences to come back and try to narrow this for us. They said 50 was too much. Tell me, between 3 and 20, where do you come down? What can we do to make sure we're protecting people fully? And we have everything in place to help those water companies and systems that aren't going to be able to meet the standard without jacking up the water bills out of people's reach.
SCHIEFFER: Governor, the thing that I don't quite understand, when you say we need more science, we need more study, I mean, according to some people in your own agency - and I get this from the "Philadelphia Inquirer" - they quote, "Some agency staffers point out the agency has studied the matter for a decade before issuing this new arsenic standard." How can you say you need more study? Ten years is a long time.
WHITMAN: Actually, as the senator pointed out, it's 17, and we still don't have anything that tells us that 10 is magic. And the thing is, we've had actually three new studies...
SCHIEFFER: But it does tell you that it's too high.
WHITMAN: Oh, we know that, and we absolutely agree with that. And there's no question but it needs to be dramatically reduced, and will be on the same time schedule as the originally proposed rule.
The question we have is that I want to make sure we don't allow for any unintended consequences for people who will lose their water systems or not be able to afford their bills. It may even be lower, for all we know, because there have been three subsequent studies that indicate that there are more problem, potentially.
SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you one question. Because of the firestorm that's grown up around this, in all practical ways, you can't afford to announce a standard that's more than 10 now, can you?
WHITMAN: Well, whatever standard we announce is going to be based on real science and real cost-benefit analysis, and it'll be the right thing to protect people. And, whether it's 3, 5, 7, 10, 15, I'm not going to prejudge, because I want to try to get a real number from the National Academy.
BORGER: But as governor in the state of New Jersey, you established a standard that was 10.
WHITMAN: 10, yes.
BORGER: So why isn't what's good for New Jersey good for the rest of the country?
WHITMAN: It is, but one of the things that I would say - and it's not a question so much of the standard as how it is implemented and what kind of tools we have in place to insure that we don't have these unintended consequences - it doesn't occur naturally at very high levels in New Jersey. And the base over which you have to spread the costs is much larger.
We're talking about a lot of naturally occurring arsenic in the West and the Southwest at way above 50 parts per billion, and so the cost there is much higher to deal with the issue. And we just need to make sure that we're putting it at the right place and we have the right tools in place to make sure that water companies don't walk away from their clients or put the bills up out of the reach of their clients. Because then what happens is, they'll dig wells and then they get worse water. And we don't want to do that. We don't want to jeopardize anybody's health.
So, the timetable is exactly the same as it would have been under the Clinton administration: 2006, it will be dramatically lowered. It'll be based on science, and it will be based on cost-benefit.
BORGER: There's a report in this week's" Time" magazine that the administration has made a decision not to drill in the ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. What can you tell us about that?
WHITMAN: I'm part of the energy task force that the vice president chairs, and we've just been looking at all sources. And we will put before the president options for all sources.
But, as you know, ANWR couldn't be drilled if Congress didn't support it, if they didn't get it through. So...
BORGER: So no decision has been made, then?
WHITMAN: Somebody may have made the decision somewhere, but, as far as our report goes, we didn't specifically say, "You must drill in ANWR,"we didn't recommend that to the president. But we will be recommending a range of choices, because our energy situation is very severe. And we need to understand we've got to find more energy sources, as well as conservation and looking at renewable sources.
SCHIEFFER: Let me read you what the Wilderness Society said in a press conference this week. An I would remind our viewers that the Wilderness Society is not all Democrats. There are a considerable number of Republicans in the Wilderness Society.
They said, quote, "The Bush administration has no agenda so sweeping in scope that we have decided the White House is the greatest threat to America's forests, monuments and federal lands."
What would be your response to that?
WHITMAN: Well, you know, I'm really disappointed when people and organizations that you respect and have a good reputation are moving this way. I recognize the environment is a very emotional issue. I recognize that people are deeply invested in it. But I would ask them, take a look at all the decisions that are being made. Look at the total picture.
The very first decision I made was to ensure that we have cleaner diesel fuel in the future, very important to the quality of our air. We opposed by many in the industry who supposedly control the White House.
A second important decision, and in fact the environmental organizations said it was the litmus test for how environmentally sensitive we were, was settling a case that was brought against the Clinton administration to ensure a timely review of pesticides. We're going forward with that.
We have made a number of decisions that are very pro-environment, but unfortunately they get overlooked when there's something that people can challenge. And I would hope that we look at the total picture. Are we making the air cleaner, the water purer, are we better protecting the land?
BORGER: But why come out, then, and declare the global warming treaty, otherwise known as the Kyoto Treaty, dead instead of saying, "We want to work to revise it"?
WHITMAN: Well, there are two different looks at that. I mean, the way you phrased it, actually, is a good way to do it.
Kyoto is dead. The president, as far as the protocol is concerned, indicated that. He's been very consistent on it. The Senate voted it 95 down, 95 to nothing, when they first talked about it. And every year since, Congress has put riders in the budgets of all the departments and agencies forbidding us from implementing anything that would lead to Kyoto. So that's not going to go anywhere.
What we need to do is re-engage the international community in a discussion that includes the developing nations, in a discussion that talks about market-based initiatives and technology transfers, because this president wants to be at the forefront on global climate change on that discussion. He's very committed to that.
SCHIEFFER: Governor Whitman, we want to thank you very much.
WHITMAN: My pleasure.
SCHIEFFER: Hope you'll come back many times.
We'll come back with a roundtable discussion of the rest of the week's news in just a minute.
SCHIEFFER: And joining us now, our friend Tom Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist of the "New York Ties."
Tom, Washington was pretty quiet this week, with Congress out, but there was a lot of news in other places.
Let's talk first about this conference up in Quebec, where the president was. Once again, we see these demonstrators. What's this all about?
FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, if you go to their web site, actually, Bob, they call it a "festival," and in many ways it is. It's a festival of protest, bringing a wide coalition of people against globalization together.
And it creates a kind of misleading image. The image is that there's a bunch of gray officials in suits behind barbed wire, and the people demanding justice are in the streets.
In fact, the reality is, all those officials behind the barbed wire are democratically elected leaders, and all the people in the streets are in fact self-appointed protesters for a range of issues, some serious, some totally wacky, including anarchism.
You know, if you look at Africa today, the countries in Africa that are the most democratic, that have freely elected governments, Nigeria, South Africa, are the most in favor of globalization and free trade. Why is that? It's because their leaders know that no country in the history of the world has ever grown out of poverty without trading and integrating with the world.
I just have one wish, that these protesters would have to live in the one country in the world that actually practices their economics, Ralph Nader economics. It's called North Korea.
BORGER: If we could just move around the globe a little bit to the Middle East.
This morning we received news that a Palestinian suicide bomber outside of Tel Aviv crashed, killing one, with 39 injuries. Clearly, the Middle East violence isn't getting anybody anywhere. Diplomacy isn't getting anybody anywhere. What next?
FRIEDMAN: I mean, basically, you know, I followed the Middle East a lot of my adult life, and I can't remember a time where it has been more broken.
Basically, what you have right now is, the Palestinians think they have Sharon over a barrel. Ariel Sharon, prime minister of Israel, reputation as a real hardliner, wild man, in some ways.
So, Arafat basically says, look, if I keep pushing him, you know, he is going to react, as he did last week by actually seizing some Palestinian territory. If he reacts, I get the Americans to condemn him, as Colin Powell did last week. And if he doesn't react, I undermine him politically inside Israel with his own coalition. So he's really got Sharon over a barrel.
Colin Powell is sitting here, saying, "What do I do?" As you say, Gloria, violence isn't working, diplomacy isn't working - there's no opening for that. Colin Powell is saying to Ariel Sharon, "Let's see, the title of his biography in Hebrew is 'Doesn't Stop at Red Lights.' So, if I, Colin Powell, don't step in and try to do something, basically, who knows? This could lead to a Middle East ar."
Sharon, meanwhile, really desperately, I think, doesn't want to live up to his reputation. But right now this thing is so broken, within the parties and between the parties, that I don't see any hope of mediation. I see it grinding along with inconclusive violence and inconclusive diplomacy.
BORGER: So we just sit back?
FRIEDMAN: I'm afraid - sit back and maybe just keep telling the truth. Tell the Palestinians that what they're doing, with this intifada instead of the Camp David route, was lunatic. Tell Israelis that building more settlements in the heart of Palestinian-populated areas is crazy. And keep reminding people of those principles in the hopes that maybe the pain will reach a point where they'll finally come back to their senses.
SCHIEFFER: So we got the crew from the spy plane that landed in China back home safely. Do you think there's going to be any fallout on that, Tom?
FRIEDMAN: I do, Bob. I think that there are a lot of Americans that still feel pretty raw about this incident and feel very raw about this spy plane still being held by the Chinese, a surveillance plane.
And I think that plane is going to become the focus for all the anti-China sentiment in Congress and in the wider public. And, as long as the Chinese hold that plane - and there may be forces in China who really don't want to have a closer relationship with America now, who don't want to see China integrating with the world. These are people, like the People's Liberation Army, who may want to hold that plane just to exacerbate relations. And that's going to be a very hard one to juggle for this administration.
SCHIEFFER: One thing we shouldn't forget, of course, is that the Pueblo is still being held in North Korea, and we seem to have survived that.
FRIEDMAN: We have survived it, but we did not have the relationship, the trade, the integration with North Korea that we have with China.
So we've got leverage, they've got leverage. And how we balance this out, I think, is going to get real tricky.
SCHIEFFER: Tom Friedman, always great to have you.
FRIEDMAN: A pleasure.
SCHIEFFER: I'll be back with a final thought in just a minute.
SCHIEFFER: We heard Tom Friedman just a minute ago talking about the demonstrators in Seattle. Let me put my two cents worth in, because these demonstrations have become as much a part of the routine at international conferences as the opening pageant is a part of the Olympics.
I heard one of the demonstrators say on the news last night, quote, "We feel really good about pushing down the security fence at the conference site." Well, that's an interesting thought.
But are you like me? Are you having a hard time understanding what it is these people are demonstrating against? A careful reading of the newspaper suggest an answer. They are demonstrating against everyhing - globalization, big business, abuse of women, trade, environmental abuses, abuses of the rights of indigenous people, including the Zapatista guerrillas in Mexico, gay rights, artist rights, and farmers' rights. And there are the mass anarchists who apparently just enjoy creating, well, anarchy.
Excluding anarchy, there is probably something to be said for all of these causes. But forced on us all at once, it is hard to take any of them seriously.
As for conversion to a cause, thank you, but pushing over a security fence doesn't quite do it for me.
Martin Luther King, Jr. succeeded because he led a movement with a specific and legitimate grievance. Ditto the demonstrators for women's suffrage and the Vietnam War protesters. They were taken seriously because they were willing to go it alone.
A protest about everything is a protest about nothing. And it's a nuisance.
Well, that's it for us. We'll see you next week right here on Face the Nation.
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