NOW examines the new priorities at the EPA, where, critics say, environmental protection takes a back seat to politics, and a former head of the EPA, Christine Todd Whitman, gives a first-hand account of the controversies that dogged her tenure. President of the National Environmental Trust Philip Clapp talks to Bill Moyers about how ties to the oil and nuclear industries have directed that policy. Then, author Walter Mosley sits down with NPR’s Deborah Amos to talk about his novel, FEAR ITSELF. Moyers ends the show with an essay on US-French relations.
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You can access the original Web page for this program at the archived NOW with Bill Moyers website.
MOYERS: Welcome to NOW. President Bush set out this week to show that he’s a friend of the environment. With a huge coal-fired plant on Lake Erie for a stage, he trumpeted new policies that enable these plants to modernize even if that increases the pollution they release into the atmosphere.
The President assured us this will protect jobs and the air we breathe. But reporters for the NEW YORK TIMES read the small print and discovered that the very plant where the President was speaking will now be able to increase its industrial emissions by 50%.
It will be up to the President’s new head of the Environmental Protection Agency to explain exactly how it is the air can be cleaner with more emissions. Governor Mike Leavitt of Utah is the President’s nominee to take over at the EPA. He’ll be on Capitol Hill next Tuesday for confirmation hearings.
This just as the SALT LAKE TRIBUNE is reporting that one out of every $10 Leavitt raised for his campaigns in Utah came from landfill operators, oil refineries, mining companies and other corporations that have unresolved EPA violations for fouling the air, water or land.
The agency he will take over is already deeply compromised by politics. And no one knows that better than Governor Leavitt’s predecessor at the EPA, Christine Todd Whitman. NOW’s senior Washington correspondent Roberta Baskin talked to her in this interview produced by Katie Pitra.
BASKIN: In the first frantic days following September 11th, America was looking to its leaders for reassurance and information. Were we safe from future attacks? Were we safe from the damage already done? Was there environmental fallout that could endanger our health?
WHITMAN [FROM TAPE]: From a real health problem… health concerns, we don’t have to worry. But we are going to continue to monitor, we’re going to continue to take samples and whatever we find, we are going to let people know.
BASKIN: Just two days after the attacks, Christie Whitman, then administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was at Ground Zero, reassuring both workers and the public that the air was safe to breathe. But was it?
BASKIN [ADDRESSING WHITMAN]: You made a statement, “Given the scope of the tragedy from last week I’m glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, DC that their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink.” Are you comfortable with that? Would you do anything differently?
WHITMAN: No. The people of New York City, in general, it was fine. Down there on that site you have to wear your protective gear. And nobody else was allowed in that site.
BASKIN: Critics say the EPA’s reaction to 9/11 is just the latest example of how this agency has been putting politics ahead of environmental protection.
Christie Whitman resigned this past June, but the EPA’s own Inspector General now says Whitman could have done a better job warning New Yorkers about the possible dangers here at Ground Zero, and the agency wasn’t allowed to. The report concludes the EPA misled the public and did so on orders from the White House.
BASKIN [ADDRESSING WHITMAN]: So who gets to set the environmental agenda? Do you get to do it as EPA administrator? Or does the White House do it?
WHITMAN: Oh, the President is who was elected to run the country. I am a part of, or was a part of his administration. So the President sets overall environmental policy.
BASKIN: That pattern began shortly after Christie Whitman took over the EPA and started defending the President’s environmental message…
WHITMAN [CNN CROSSFIRE]: He has also been very clear that the science is good on global warming. It does exist. There is a real problem that we as a world face from global warming.
BASKIN: But within weeks came the first sign that the President and his EPA chief were not in sync. Whitman was representing the U.S. At an environmental summit of the eight major industrialized nations in Trieste, Italy.
Their mission was to reach agreement on an international treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol designed to tackle global warming.
WHITMAN [FROM TAPE, MARCH 3, 2001]: The President has indicated he acknowledges that global warming is of primary importance. It is at top of his agenda.
BASKIN: The proposed treaty called for a significant reduction in greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, within a specified period of time. Whitman led reporters to believe the President was all for it.
WHITMAN: When I said it over there, what happened was, everybody back here interpreted that as meaning we were going to support the Kyoto Protocol. And that set people nuts.
BASKIN: As it turned out global warming was far from the top of the President’s agenda…
PRESIDENT BUSH [MARCH 29, 2001 OVAL OFFICE]: Our economy has slowed down in a country… in our country. We also have an energy crisis, and the idea of placing caps on CO2 does not make economic sense for America.
BASKIN: Later that spring, President Bush walked away from the treaty on global warming.
PRESIDENT BUSH [FROM TAPE]: The Kyoto Protocol was fatally flawed in fundamental ways.
BASKIN: And that statement led to a barrage of criticism from around the world.
BASKIN: Was it embarrassing for you to, on the one hand, be saying that we do support it and then it’s really undermined just a few weeks later?
WHITMAN: It was awkward. But it was never about me. And I knew that. It was not about me, it was about the issues. It was about energy mix. It was about dealing with this big issue of climate change. So, I never took it personally.
The President did apologize. He said he’d left me hanging out there.
BASKIN: Pulling out of the treaty would be the first in a series of decisions that critics say would mark a shift away from environmental protection during Whitman’s two years at the EPA.
WHITMAN: The way we took ourselves out of Kyoto was what set up the problem. Because we didn’t recognize. And we’re bad in this country on our international… on understanding our role internationally.
Instead of recognizing that there were two things here… There was a Protocol. The treaty. And there was a process that lead to the treaty. Instead of recognizing the importance of that process, and saying to the world, “You’ve been working on this for ten years. We’ll continue to work with you. You’re not there yet. This is not the answer. This isn’t gonna solve the problem. But we’ll continue to work with you,” we just made it sound as if we were disengaging entirely.
BASKIN: Episodes like this led Secretary of State Colin Powell to call Christie Whitman a “wind dummy.”
WHITMAN: And a wind dummy is in the army it’s something that you throw out of a plane before you’re gonna do a landing or a jump to see which way the wind’s blowing. And he was sort of joking that I had been thrown out of the plane when… after Kyoto and carbon.
BASKIN: Controversy dogged Christie Whitman up until she resigned last spring. Once again the issue was global warming.
One of Whitman’s first directives as EPA administrator had been to order up a report card on the environment…a report card which, by the spring of 2003, had become politically radioactive. A trail of internal documents reveal what happened.
A November 2002 draft of the report contained strong language on global warming concluding that climate change has, quote, “global consequences for human health and the environment” and that global warming is, quote, “most likely a result of human activities.”
But by the following April, an internal EPA document shows the White House removed that language and declared, quote, “no further changes may be made” to the report.
And it came at a time when environmentalists were pressing Whitman to stand up to the White House. Eric Schaeffer is the EPA’s former Director of Enforcement.
SCHAEFFER: When you head a big powerful agency like EPA, you have to learn when to say no. You have to learn when to say, “It’s my watch. And if the President doesn’t like this decision, then he can have my resignation. I won’t make that decision and stay on the job.
BASKIN: As the agency scrambled for a response to the White House, Whitman’s staff offered her three possible options. She could “accept (White House) edits,” “remove the climate change section,” or finally, the staff suggested she go back to “try to reach (a) compromise.” But they also warned her that option, quote, “may antagonize the White House.” For Whitman, that was not an option at all.
SCHAEFFER: For Miss Whitman it was always about being a loyal Republican, being loyal to the White House. It was about being a Republican first and thinking about the environment somewhere after that.
WHITMAN: This was really just an instance of we couldn’t get all the scientists from all these different venues to agree on what we could say on climate change.
BASKIN: But internal EPA documents refer to a quote “scientific consensus” within the EPA on global warming. So who exactly was opposed?
It turns out it was the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Its offices are across the street from the West Wing. And how many scientists are on its staff? None.
It’s headed by James Connaughton, and who is he? A former lobbyist for power and electric utilities, the same industries who once opposed the very idea of global warming. That’s where the ultimatum came from.
SCHAEFFER: This is a White House that took any discussion of global warming out of the EPA’s report on the environment. They don’t want to hear it if they don’t agree with it. It’s not about science. It’s about politics.
WHITMAN: And the choice I had was either to put in some language that was basically pabulum on climate change. Or to leave it out.
BASKIN: When the report card was issued with no mention of global warming that omission made headlines, overshadowing everything else in the report.
BASKIN [ADDRESSING WHITMAN]: Were you troubled by having the White House that involved?
WHITMAN: Well, it was scientific consensus within the agency. I mean we were ready to say stuff. And we were ready to say it in pretty strong language. Other departments and agencies weren’t. No. But what happens at The White House is, the Council on Environmental Quality, which kind of acts as the gatekeeper for all of the agencies that have anything to do with environment, environment issues…
BASKIN: But did they trump the EPA? I mean do you get to run the Environmental Protection Agency? Or do you have to listen and do what the Council on Environmental Quality says you should do?
WHITMAN: You run the agency, but when there are decisions that you’re making that impact other agencies, that’s where the CEQ comes in and tries to get everybody on the same page.
BASKIN: Eric Schaeffer says this kind of White House interference is why he resigned from the EPA last year.
SCHAEFFER: I’m used to compromise. I’ve worked in government most of my life. Under the Bush Administration I saw something else. This was not a matter of trying to find a reasonable balance. But of taking whatever the industry gave us and feeling like we had to eat it. We had to accept it no matter how wrong it was.
BASKIN: Schaeffer says the EPA had to accept White House interference even if it meant relaxing provisions of the clean air act that Whitman herself fought to uphold when she was the Governor of New Jersey. Particularly the key provision of the act designed to control industrial emissions, it’s called “New Source Review.”
WHITMAN: New Source Review is part of the Clean Air Act. It was a tool designed to catch those utilities that made substantive changes, increase their emissions and were going beyond what they were allowed to do.
BASKIN: In the past, if an older power plant or oil refinery made upgrades to its facility that exceeded, “routine maintenance,” it also would have to add new equipment to control pollution. The utility industry lobbied hard to relax this costly requirement…and quietly got its way this summer.
WHITMAN: The biggest issue and what the acting administrator has moved on is a definition of routine maintenance repair and replacement. It means if the utility’s fan breaks down and they replace it, does that trigger a whole new set of environmental questions that paperwork they have to fill out…
BASKIN: Just a few weeks ago, the EPA issued its new interpretation of the Clean Air Act. Now some utilities can literally spend hundreds of millions of dollars on upgraded equipment and call it routine maintenance. Simply changing the language means they can avoid adding tougher pollution controls.
For instance, it means that the coal-fired power plant President Bush visited earlier this week would be allowed to increase the amount of pollutants it currently releases by 36,000 tons a year.
BUSH [FROM TAPE]: “We simplified the rules. We made them easy to understand. We trust the people in this plant to make the right decisions.”
BASKIN: It’s a controversial decision, and now Whitman’s former allies from her days as governor of New Jersey, state officials across the Northeast, say they’ll sue to block the rule change.
New York’s Attorney General predicts the rollback will bring, quote, “more acid rain, more smog, more asthma and more respiratory disease to millions of Americans.”
BASKIN [ADDRESSING SCHAEFFER]: And why should the public be concerned whether those rules are enforced or not?
SCHAEFFER: Twenty thousand premature deaths a year. I’d say that’s a reason to be concerned. Air pollution is invisible for the most part. Sometimes you’ll see the smoke. But a lot of time it’s what you can’t see that hurts you the most.
BASKIN: How can it be good for the environment to let coal-burning power plants when they do upgrades to their facilities not add needed pollution controls? That was the point to this New Source Review.
WHITMAN: There’s still a standard. Every plant has a limit of how much they can emit. That doesn’t go away.
BASKIN: But one federal court has just decided the EPA isn’t even upholding its own standards. A recent ruling found that the utility, Ohio Edison, tried to pass off extensive renovations as “routine maintenance” without putting in the necessary pollution controls. Judge Edmund Sargus scolded both the power company and Whitman’s EPA, quote, “given the enormous cost of retrofitting, this strategy should not be unexpected. What should be unexpected and condemned, however, is an agency unwilling to enforce a clear statutory mandate set forth in an act of Congress.”
BASKIN: It’s such an odd contradiction, though, because you have a federal judge that just recently ruled in favor of the New Source Review saying that the rule is clear. And now the EPA, under rolling it back or redefining it’s going to be a contradiction for the agency, isn’t it?
WHITMAN: Well, the real thing, the real way to get change… New Source Review was never designed to be the tool to reduce emissions. It was to stop increases.
BASKIN: But Whitman’s critics say little was done to stop increases. During her tenure the EPA didn’t bring a single lawsuit against a utility company.
SCHAEFFER: We felt the shadow of the White House on almost everything we did in a way that I’ve never seen before.
BASKIN: Which brings us back to the current controversy over the EPA’s actions and statements in the days following 9/11, and the Inspector General’s findings.
Let’s look at the recent Inspector General’s report from the EPA on September 11th which found that the EPA gave false assurances to New Yorkers.
WHITMAN: No, it didn’t. And that’s the thing that really upsets me the most. If you look at that report, what it says, the criticism they have is they say, “We didn’t have all the scientific information to be as comprehensive as we were in statements. But we were right.” Oh, by the way, nothing — and they say it in the report — nothing in that report contradicts what we said.
BASKIN: Actually, what the Inspector General said was: “A definitive answer to whether the air was safe to breathe may not be settled for years to come.”
What the report said is that when the EPA made a September 18th announcement that the air was, quote, “safe to breathe,” the agency did not have sufficient data and analysis to make that statement.
WHITMAN: That’s in their opinion. Our scientists thought they did.
BASKIN: But others reading the IG’s report, like New York Senator Hillary Clinton suspect there’s another explanation.
SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON [PRESS CONFERENCE, AUGUST 26, 2003]: I know a little bit about how White Houses work, I know somebody picked up a phone, somebody got on a computer, somebody sent an e-mail, somebody called for a meeting, somebody in that White House, probably under instructions from somebody further up the chain told the EPA, “Don’t tell the people of New York the truth.”
WHITMAN: She is absolutely wrong. And she is…
BASKIN: Nobody made a call from the White House?
WHITMAN: …the quality. She is misjudging the quality of the professional men and women of the Environmental Protection Agency. If she thinks for a minute they would sit by and allow politicians to misinform and put the people of New York and put people’s lives in danger and not say something?
BASKIN: But there’s a disturbing pattern that emerges from the Inspector General’s investigation. Just as it had done with Whitman’s report card on the environment, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, quote, “…convinced EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones.”
This week at a Washington press conference, some EPA scientists said their own agency had failed to warn New Yorkers of the serious health risks from 9/11.
HIRZY: Our credibility is damaged, it’s a terrible blow to our morale and frankly the public is not getting its full value from us.
BASKIN: But regardless of the calls for further investigation, Whitman still maintains there was nothing inappropriate about the White House’s influence over the EPA during her tenure, — including the days after September 11th.
WHITMAN: You have to coordinate all those things so that people knew what to do with the data they were getting. That’s the only place where the White House stepped in. Again, CEQ saying, “Look, we gotta try to figure out a way to give this information to the public in a useable fashion.
BASKIN: Did somebody from the White House call you at the Environmental Protection Agency and say, “Take it down a notch.”
WHITMAN: No. We had calls from CEQ, the Council on Environmental Quality, within the White House, on some of the press releases and language. And how we were gonna say things. But nobody said, “Take it down a notch.”
BASKIN: What did you learn as EPA administrator that you get a call from the next one that you would say, “Here’s what you need to know?”
WHITMAN: Well, first, you need to know that you’ve got very good staff. You’ve got very bright people, very dedicated to the issues. And to have a thick skin. Thicker even than you had as a governor because it’s brutal here.
MOYERS: Brutal is one word for it. Lucrative another. For one more reminder of how Washington works, consider this. No sooner had the EPA signed off on the lower standards for air pollution promised to industry by the President, than the Chief of Staff of the key EPA division involved, John Pemberton, resigned to become a lobbyist for, I’m not making this up, the Southern Company, the big coal-fired utility that led the campaign to relax the rules.
Philip Clapp runs the National Environmental Trust, a non-profit public interest group that tracks environmental issues in Washington. The trust is supported by grants from individual members and from charitable foundations including in 1996 one grant from the Schumann Foundation that I headed. Welcome to NOW.
Why do you think the White House did not want us, those of us who live in New York, to know the environmental threats that had been released by the World Trade Center tragedy?
CLAPP: It’s very simple. The White House had one priority after September 11th and that was get the entire financial district up and operating. Get Wall Street going again. And the data on air pollution and the dangers was much less important to them than it was to make that happen. So they were willing to tell the EPA, “misinform the citizens of New York. Expose them to risks for the benefit of Wall Street firms and law firms.”
MOYERS: But getting the financial district back, given its seminal influence on the economy of this country, wasn’t that a justified priority?
CLAPP: No question about it. I mean, clearly that was an important economic issue that came out of September 11th. But they did it by lying to the people of New York. And by lying to the very people that were going back to work in those firms.
MOYERS: Lying is a very strong word.
CLAPP: I don’t know what else you call it. Christie Whitman went out there and said, “The air is safe.” At best, the agency didn’t have the data. At worst, it had indications that the data was totally the reverse. There are now independent studies that show that the site was actually operating as an uncontrolled chemical factory all the way through December of 2001 exposing all the people who went back into that area to things like bits of small, breathable glass.
MOYERS: You’ve been in Washington so long, 30 years, that you’ve seen the system and you understand the language of the system.
Let me ask you what’s at stake here. Are we just talking about inside the beltway politics?
CLAPP: No, what is really at stake here is 30 years of environmental protection actually that they’re backing up on. And number two, the ability of the American people even to trust their government on the most fundamental issues of personal safety.
I’ve been working in the field for 30 years. I first went to work on Capitol Hill in the ’70s working on environment and energy issues. I worked all through the Reagan Administration on Capitol Hill doing these issues. And I have never seen an administration so politicize agencies. Muzzle scientists, skew data and, frankly, lie to the American public about critical public health issues.
MOYERS: Now, as an environmentalist you have a bias when you look at the situation, right?
CLAPP: I have a bias in the sense that I believe in strong environmental protection. But I’ve also been around the data and the information long enough to know what’s real data and what’s spin. In reality, this administration has gone further than any other and I include the Reagan Administration in this. In naming the foxes to guard the henhouse.
MOYERS: Is that what you mean when you say you’ve never in 30 years seen it the way it is now?
CLAPP: That is exactly what I mean. The person who is the supervisor of the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture was the chief lobbyist for the timber industry. The Deputy Secretary of the Interior was a chief lobbyist for the coal industry. And millions and millions of tons of coal mined in the United States comes off of the federal lands that he regulates. You go across the board and that’s the case.
MOYERS: The Chief of Staff at the White House now was at one time the chief lobbyist for the automobile industry in Washington.
CLAPP: That’s one of the reasons that the President opposed any significant increases in fuel efficiency standards even though these are the… that’s the only energy efficiency measure which will either cut our dependence on foreign oil or protect consumers from spikes in gasoline prices. He did it for one reason, because of his closeness to the auto industry and because of officials in his administration that work for the industry.
And you find this throughout the Bush Administration. I mean, the oil industry is one perfect example. We have an energy bill which is 70 percent fossil fuel and oil and gas industry subsidies. We have a President and a Vice President from the oil industry. And we even have a National Security Advisor who had the Condoleezza Rice, an oil tanker, named after her.
MOYERS: But I would think that Andrew Card, the Chief of Staff at the White House and all those people you just mentioned would say, “But you know when Bill Clinton was in office he put environmentalists in control of everything. It’s time for us to have a different perspective.
CLAPP: Well, you know, in reality, no administration has ever put just environmentalists in control of anything. And I, for one, and many in the environmental community felt that the Clinton Administration made a lot of promises on the environment on issues like global warming that they never followed through on. So it wasn’t any sort of serious question that the environmental community had taken over the Clinton Administration.
MOYERS: And yet the President insists that he is a friend of the environment. He had five environmental events in the last week and he has two more coming up very quickly. He says that he’s a friend of the environment.
CLAPP: I think that’s more a recognition that the environment is a critically important issue to him in 2004. And the public’s rating of his performance on the environment is very low. There was a very interesting memo that was put together by Republican pollster, Frank Luntz which is quite famous in Washington now because it advises those who are opposed to environmental protections on how to talk about the environment and make it seem like they are environmentalists. The President uses the words and the spin from that memo all the time. Frank Luntz advised the administration to say, “Instead of global warming, which is actually very frightening to people, call it climate change which sounds like a natural process.”
He said, “Use the words common sense. That’s always very soothing to people.” “Talk about we need a balanced policy.” All of those words are designed to be extremely soothing. They’re like sleep teaching and they just are the total opposite, the mirror image of what the real administration policies are.
MOYERS: Here’s something that I truly don’t understand. Tony Blair has just announced that his government will reduce emissions by 60 percent over the next 30 years. That the Russian government has said it’s going to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. President Bush insists on going it alone. What are the consequences if he continues on that course?
MOYERS: Internationally there are huge consequences. I don’t think the President has any idea how important these issues are to our allies and to developing countries around the world. I actually saw Secretary Powell booed at last year’s environmental summit in Johannesburg because the United States would not recognize the necessity to move on global warming. This is a serious international and foreign relations issue.
Let’s just start with global warming. We’re seeing a situation where Europe’s weather is already changing. And we’re going to see massive impacts ranging from flooding to the kind of droughts and deaths we saw this year. That’s what is predicted that global warming will start doing all over the world. So there are very serious physical consequences to people and consequences to our international relations and our relations with our allies.
MOYERS: Aren’t there businesses that actually want us to tackle global warming?
CLAPP: No question about it. Any industry has its spectrum of viewpoints. Companies that are really progressive and really recognize issues and want to deal with them. And others that want to stick their head in the sand. In this case, you have many, many companies ranging from Shell Oil, the second largest oil company in the United States, BP Amoco, all of whom are working actively to reduce their emissions, who support putting in place programs now to start getting all companies to reduce their emissions.
But there are a few companies like Southern Company in the utility industry some companies in the coal industry, Exxon-Mobil that for the moment just want to stick their head in the sand. And those are the ones that, frankly, are closest with the Bush Administration. The President is listening to a very tiny segment of the right-wing of American business in each one of the affected industries. He is not listening broadly to what American business wants. To give you one example, the Kyoto Protocol was both a set of targets and a process for coming up with future targets and mechanisms for reducing global warming pollution.
The process was actually won by the Clinton Administration at Kyoto and it was what the American business community wanted. A flexible trading system so that at low cost, you could reduce CO2 emissions. It was entirely the proposal of the U.S. business community and it’s in the Kyoto Protocol. He, however, walks away and rejects the entire protocol, the entire effort on the behalf of a few companies in the coal industry, one big company in the oil industry, a few big utilities.
MOYERS: Let’s talk about the energy bill that is right now in conference in Congress between the House and the Senate and seems certain to come out and go to the President before long. What’s your opinion of that energy bill?
CLAPP: There was a book that many of us used to get assigned to read in high school. It was called LOOKING BACKWARD by Edward Bellamy. That’s what it is. Looking backward. It was an energy policy that was tried in 1970. It’s failed again.
This bill is nothing but a very large set of subsidies for more oil and gas tax breaks. $33 billion over ten years and I would point out…
MOYERS: Which means?
CLAPP: Which means money out of the taxpayers’ pockets. Actually it means borrowed money out of our children’s and grandchildren’s pockets to pay for further oil and gas industry tax breaks. Now…
MOYERS: But we do need more energy.
CLAPP: No question about it. But we already know that the solution is not just try to put the pedal to the metal here at home and produce. The United States has only three percent of identified world oil reserves. Saudi Arabia has 65 percent. No matter how much we produce at home, we’re at best going to stay flat in our oil production. The issue is moving forward to diversify our energy resources. Moving to things that are already economic ranging from wind energy to solar energy as other countries in Europe and Japan are already doing.
MOYERS: Would you concede that the President and corporations have something going for them when they say, you know, we can’t any longer do what we have to do with command, control from the top down regulations. We need private/public partnerships.
CLAPP: We’ve always had private/public partnerships. But the other side of the coin is that major industries do not clean up and make millions of dollars of investments that it takes to clean up pollution often unless they’re told to. Let me give you one example: the auto industry.
I like to call it America’s can’t-do industry. Because they have fought every major step forward in auto safety, air pollution, energy efficiency for 30 years.
In 1975 after the first oil crisis, Congress passed auto efficiency standards. The auto industry said, “We can’t meet them. Thousands of workers will be thrown out of business. Industries will go under because of it.” And in reality they used available technology and doubled the fuel efficiency of American cars when they were required to between then and 1988. So there’s a lot of can-do. But there’s a lot more “don’t touch my bottom line.”
MOYERS: When the President was at that coal plant on Lake Erie a few days ago he said this, a direct quote, “The rules created too many hurdles and that hurts the working people.”
CLAPP: That’s absolutely false. We’ve had massive job creation in the United States through the entire 30 years of modern environmental protection. Most recently actually when we were moving forward on a number of environmental issues in the 1990s and we created record numbers of jobs.
So, there is no cost in jobs to protecting the environment. As a matter of fact protecting the environment creates whole new industries in environmental protection technologies that create jobs.
MOYERS: Do you really think that grip on that system can be broken?
CLAPP: In the long run I think it will be broken and it’s gonna be broken by events. One is oil cut-offs from the Middle East and frankly our relationships with oil-producing nations are going down, not up. And number two, we’re looking at volatility in energy prices that American consumers are gonna be increasingly less tolerant of. And eventually…
MOYERS: What do you mean by that?
CLAPP: Well, I mean, we’ve seen two big run ups — actually three in the last year — run ups in gasoline prices. And, you know, nothing makes consumers squawk to their members of Congress louder than paying $2 and more per gallon at the pump. Or in the Midwest paying higher and higher prices for natural gas in heating.
Those are very big issues. And that eventually is gonna break the back of the control of the energy industry on the Congress because they are gonna have to move at some point. The question is how big a crisis is it gonna take?
MOYERS: If people want to know more about your work and the National Environmental Trust what do they do?
CLAPP: They can go to our Web site which is www.net.org.
MOYERS: Philip Clapp, thank you for being with us on NOW.
CLAPP: Thank you, Bill.
ANNOUNCER: Next week on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS:
GROUP: Heavenly Father, we just thank you for this day, Lord…
ANNOUNCER: Religious groups are getting your tax dollars to run government programs for the needy.
JARAMILLO: We don’t want to drag them to church. We don’t want to win them to Christ. We just want them to have the tools they need.
ANNOUNCER: But do vulnerable people, who need help the most, feel pressured to join in? The price of help, next week on NOW.
And connect to NOW WITH BILL MOYERS Online at pbs.org.
More on the air you breathe…what the Clear Skies Initiative may mean for you. The politics of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The books of Walter Mosley, a complete list.
Connect to NOW at pbs.org.
MOYERS: If you’ve ever met Easy Rawlins, you won’t forget him. And if you haven’t met him, well, run, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore. You’ll find him waiting there, on the shelf, under the name Mosley, Walter Mosley.
Through characters like Easy Rawlins, Walter Mosley has taken millions of us into the world of black working-class America, where the art of survival requires sometimes the skills of a detective.
Earlier this year Walter Mosley took time off from writing mysteries to publish WHAT NEXT: A MEMOIR TOWARD WORLD PEACE. But now he’s back with a new novel, FEAR ITSELF. He sat down the other day for a talk with NPR’s Deborah Amos.
AMOS: There’s two characters in FEAR ITSELF, Maestro Wexler, who’s a very rich white man, and Winifred Fine, who’s a very rich black woman. And they both are from the ’50s. And you write that money makes them equal. The main character Parris Menton says about them, “I could see where money affected them more than race.” Even in the 1950s, does money take away differences?
WALTER MOSLEY: Money, when you’re wealthy, and when you can have that kind of control over your life especially in America, you can remove yourself from the necessities of everyday life. Neither one of them had to read the newspaper. Neither one of them had to cook a meal or drive a car or do anything.
They were just living in a bubble. Now you could go out of that. Anybody can go out of that bubble and get killed, can get attacked, can get arrested. Anything can happen. But in their little bubble, they become a kind of a warped creature, where they can live in this other place, which is theirs and no one else’s.
AMOS: But I asked you that because in your political work, you talk about this community of African-Americans who are richer than any other community that there’s been. And I wondered if you also thought that because this community was wealthy, that some of those differences are also changing. Now those are odd characters in the 1950s. But still, money…
MOSLEY: Well, what’s interesting is that these…
MOSLEY: …people are millionaires.
AMOS: True, true.
MOSLEY: You know Wexler is a millionaire. But the issue is, the real issue for us, is African-Americans are the wealthiest most powerful, most influential group of black people in the world. But we’re everyday people. And we’re working people.
Some are middle class people. Very few are rich people. But the fact is, as a group we’re very powerful and very rich. Also as a group, we’re removed from black people around the world. You know if something was happening in Ireland, for instance, as happened in Rwanda, almost every Irish person in America would be either on a boat or sending money or sending others, sending something to say, “We gotta get into this thing.”
We’ve been so removed, African-America, and we feel that we aren’t connected in that way. And so we hear what’s happening in Rwanda, the first thought isn’t the, “Well we gotta get together and do something about this, and make sure that it doesn’t happen again, and ameliorate what’s already happened.”
And we haven’t for a variety of reasons. One, you know because of racism, because of the history of slavery, because we’ve been cut off from our roots. But also because we feel like victims in America. And indeed, there are many many many African-Americans who are victims. And all of our ancestors were victims of racism in America. But the issue is, is we have to get over that hump in order to make other things happen for us and also for other people in the world.
AMOS: So the idea is that like an Irish-American, who has equal attention to both of those, that African-Americans don’t.
MOSLEY: Right. No, we don’t. And for a variety of reasons. And I mean the reasons are good reasons.
But the thing that we need to do, is we need to face who we are and what we are in order to advance beyond the limits that have been put on us by America.
AMOS: And you said that you cannot be happy as long as you know that there are people in the world who are in despair…
AMOS: …in this book.
AMOS: You are a successful writer. You are a fairly happy guy. What does that mean?
MOSLEY: It means that all you have to do is get on a plane, fly to Port au Prince and walk around Port au Prince and Haiti just a little bit to see the people who are suffering. People who are starving. People who have no… in their life.
Go to Chad. You probably won’t live very long in Chad from the diseases you’ll probably get. But you’ll see how other people are dying and holding up against starvation and those diseases. All you have to do is travel — there’s so many places in the world where people of color mainly are suffering. And for me and I know you understand, if we’re in a world economy — we’re in a world economy and I’m doing well, well, part of my doing well means that I’m taking something from them.
It just makes sense. It’s not a crazy notion. You know, nothing happens in the world that doesn’t affect some other part of the economy. So if I and my friends, the people I know and the people I live among are incredibly wealthy, which most of us are in America compared to the rest of the world, then that means the rest of the world is giving up some of their wealth for our comfort. That’s something that we have to, one, accept as a reality. And, two, start to think about, “Well, how can we start to remedy this to make it better?”
AMOS: You have so much social commentary in your writing. There’s not a book that you’ve put out that doesn’t have some examination of a time, a place, historical facts. You could have been writing history books. You didn’t. Is that as important as writing mystery novels, science fiction novels?
MOSLEY: Well, I think that any good fiction will tell you more about the era that it happens in especially if that era is contemporary like Zola for instance than history will. Because it talks to you about what people’s lives are like, what they’re facing, how they’re living.
Might be talking about poverty. It might be talking about gender. It might be talking about race. It might be talking about nationality. But there’s no real way that you can write a novel in which you don’t talk about the political and economic pressures on the character.
Even a novel like ROBINSON CRUSOE. A novel like MOBY DICK, where you just got a whole bunch of people on a boat out in the middle of the ocean. You think, “Well how can that be political?” It could the politics will be the politics of the boat. But really it was the politics of the whole world. I think any novelist who’s really committed to his or her craft will have to talk about the politics of that time. And that when I read books, that’s what I experience.
AMOS: Let’s talk a little bit about your father. And the lessons that he brought home from World War II about being an American.
You use that story in the way that you deal with 9/11.
MOSLEY: Well, yeah, my father’s story where he wasn’t worried about going to the war because he didn’t think the Germans were going to shoot at him. And then the Germans started shooting at him. And that’s how he knows, “Hey, I must be an American because this guy’s trying to kill me for being an American.”
And that’s the thing. And he came back, him and a million other black men understood that. And that was the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Me watching the planes crashing into the World Trade Center is very much the same thing. I’m thinking, “The people in the Arab world are not mad at me, you know? They’re mad at Mobil Oil. They’re mad at Shell. They’re mad at these international oil conglomerates who are so depressing them, trying to control their natural resources, trying to control their money and their world.”
Then all of a sudden I see this plane crashing into the World Trade Center, I know you know that my apartment looks out on the World Trade Center. I happened to be looking out of my window when the planes were crashing into the building.
I only heard the first plane and then saw what happened. But I said, “Well, wait a second. This is much broader than that. These people see me, Walter, as their enemy.” And that was and so I said, “Therefore I have to get involved and try to start to figure this thing out.”
My father, and his ilk figured out, “Hey, we gotta come back and we’re gonna fight for civil rights.” Me, the way I figure it is I’m going to start to fight for the rights of everybody everywhere in the world. I want everybody to have that equality. I want everybody to live in a world where they feel safe and secure and as if they had a future. That’s what I want to do and that’s what I think is most important. It’s the opposite of my father and at the same time the same thing.
AMOS: And 9/11 in the African-American community is as transforming as World War II for your father?
MOSLEY: One of the reasons that I wrote WHAT NEXT? is to talk about that, is to say, “Only African-Americans as I understand it, can really understand the issues and the nuances of the so-called War on Terrorism.” Only we can, really on an every day level.
Most Americans, you know are kind of stop that… you know we won World War II. We saved the world, which of course for us is mainly Europe. We saved it. And we’re the good guys. We believe in democracy.
AMOS: It’s a pretty strong statement to say that blacks understand more than others the War on Terror.
MOSLEY: Hmmm. Yeah. It is.
AMOS: How? Why that particular group? I mean they that community has been the quietest.
MOSLEY: Yeah, that’s true. That’s and it’s true in…
AMOS: Since September 11th.
MOSLEY: And it may be why. Because if we in speaking, we’d say we’re thinking it doesn’t necessarily agree with the trend of the rest of America. I mean, most…
AMOS: Which is?
MOSLEY: One of the things that I understood immediately was that of all the black people, African-Americans and people of African descent from other countries, weren’t surprised by it. I mean they were outraged by it. They were frightened by it. They thought it was wrong. They were up in arms. But they weren’t surprised.
AMOS: And not surprised by what? That people would get…
MOSLEY: The fact that people…
AMOS: …into airplanes…
MOSLEY: …hate America so much that they would want to exact this kind of violence upon America. They’ll say, “Yeah we understand that. Because we come from a group of people who have been treated in this way that America treats other people in the world.”
Historically in America white people have had racist notions of black people, racist notions. Notions that we are somehow genetically inferior or different. That we have slack morals and that we want to rape their daughters or rob their stores or whatever you know people think ’cause it changes over time.
But we could live in that world. Go to work everyday. Say, “Yes, good morning. How are you? It’s nice to see you.” And we know that these people wouldn’t want us walking in their neighborhood. Want us in their houses. Wouldn’t want us involved in any intricate way in their lives.
But still and say well you know I’m not gonna get angry about that so well you know because they’ve been fair to me. I go to work everyday. They pay me my salary. They haven’t done this. They haven’t done that. You know? And so we learn how to deal with people.
AMOS: You write in WHAT NEXT? is, “Our backs are strong enough to bear up under the weight of the hate people have for us. And let’s critique the faint-hearted other Americans who feel they can’t bear living in a world where they are despised.” That’s an interesting idea.
It’s not that you dismiss the hate or explain it away. But do you think that African-Americans have a way of parsing it out?
MOSLEY: Black people in America know what it’s like to be among white people who don’t like us, who hate us that’s been forever. And that’s not it’s not an issue. And it’s a very important thing for the rest of America to learn. Because most of the world doesn’t like America today. They’re angry at us. They’re afraid of us, and afraid of us for good reasons because of destructive power. And we have to begin to live with that, to understand how to live with that. Not to have too powerful a reaction to it. Because our survival is at stake.
AMOS: But you obviously want the African-American community to do something.
AMOS: Because they have a special role. They have a special insight that’s different than anybody else in the country.
AMOS: What exactly do you want them to do?
MOSLEY: The first thing I want them to do is to articulate these issues in the same way that I’m doing now. Or in better ways. I mean, I don’t think that I’m the last word on this. There are many people who are much smarter than I am about this.
But I think that we need to articulate it. I think that we need to articulate it to ourselves and then to each other. I think that we need to start to take action. Get together into groups and say, “Well, what should we be doing about Sudan? And what should we be doing about Rwanda? And should we be criticizing Liberia? And what is going on with America and the Arab world?”
I mean, is are we in danger from them or are they in danger from us? What is going on? And just to start that dialogue and to let that dialogue travel throughout the country and through the world. I mean, this is what we need to do.
And I think it would change the world. And one of the things is I think that black people should get together and say, “Well, we have to make some decisions.” Because if every black person in America voted, everyone who could vote voted America would be ours to at least say, “Well, we’d like to go here and we’d like to go there,” and America would have to listen. We need to recognize that power and make it happen.
AMOS: In your book WHAT NEXT? you begin by saying, “This is a book, dear readers, for African-America.”
AMOS: “That’s who I’m addressing this to.” Who are you writing that for? What Africa-America are you writing that for?
MOSLEY: Well, you know, there’s an interesting thing about that. Some people often ask me about my fiction. They say, “Well, who’s your audience?” And I say, “Well, listen, I have a cousin Alberta who I loved very much when I was a little kid.” She was much older than me and she would baby-sit for me on Friday nights.
So she’d make me these big, fat hamburgers and we’d sit together and watch scary movies, FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, THE MUMMY. And she would hug me and I’d watch the movie and I’d be scared but she was holding me so I didn’t have to worry. I loved Alberta more than anything. I love talking to her. I love telling her stories. So she’s dead now. But I imagine I’m in a train and Alberta’s sitting next to me.
My audience is the person sitting behind us. They’re overhearing my story and they’re listening to me. So as I address African-America in this book WHAT NEXT? I expect a much larger audience to be listening. But the words that I’m saying, the history that I’m talking about, the experiences that I’m talking about are peculiarly African-American, my own and my father’s who, you know, coming out of World War II, changed as radically as America is changing now with the September 11th.
AMOS: The book is FEAR ITSELF. The author is Walter Mosley. Thank you very much for being on NOW.
MOSLEY: Well, thank you.
MOYERS: We were in France last week. Seven old friends. One more reunion while there’s time. We had a lot of catching up to do — grandkids and all that. On our last day we drove a couple of hours out of Paris to visit some places we had heard about long ago from World War I veterans who were still around when we were growing up.
The Marne River, Chateau-Thierry. Belleau Woods — it was at these places, in the summer of 1918, that young Americans fresh from the United States were thrown into battle during the German army’s last great drive of the war, aimed at Paris itself. So fierce was the fighting that it took American Marines a month, at the loss of over half their men, to capture a single square mile — the crucial strongpoint at Belleau Woods, defended by seasoned German troops who were astounded at how the Americans fought.
By summer’s end the Kaiser’s army had been thrown back, Paris was spared, and the war would soon be over. Of the 310,000 Americans who took part in the action that summer, 67,000 were casualties…including the poet Joyce Kilmer and Quentin Roosevelt, the son of a President. Nothing was ever found of one thousand sixty of the missing…their blood and bone mingled now in the fertile soil of the Marne Valley vineyards.
High above that valley, on a hill once marked by trenches and shell holes, stands a monument of 24 mighty columns and two heroic-size figures. Their hands are clasped — a tribute, the inscription tells us, to the French and American troops who fought here, and a lasting symbol of “the friendship and cooperation” between the two countries. A short drive away we stopped at the American Protestant Church and studied the stained glass window showing General Black Jack Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in France, being greeted by General Lafayette.
It’s only the artist’s fancy, of course. Lafayette was from another era — the French nobleman who persuaded the French king to send 6,000 troops to the aid of George Washington and who then led the army that cornered the British at Yorktown, securing the American Revolution. Legend has it that when General Pershing set foot on French soil he had America’s debt to France on his mind, and reputedly said: “Lafayette, we are here.”
France and America have been allies for a long time now. The sentiment runs deep despite differences over Iraq today.
Our taxi driver in Paris was listening to American jazz when he stopped for us. The owner of the little restaurant in the old Bohemian district of Montmartre wore an American T-shirt and played American ballads while we had our lunch. A young Swedish woman, working in France this summer, invited us to join with her French friends in a moment of silence on the anniversary of 9/11.
So the French were perplexed when this picture of President Bush appeared in newspapers last week. They didn’t understand America’s bellicosity, or why the President turns a deaf ear to others. They also think we’re fighting the war against terrorism in the wrong way — alone — and in the wrong place — Iraq.
In his column this week the NEW YORK TIMES columnist Tom Friedman was tough on the French. He says France is becoming our enemy — trying to foil our policy in the Middle East. But the French aren’t alone in thinking America has become the lone ranger of the world.
Last week even the FINANCIAL TIMES of London — pro-American, pro-business, conservative to the bone — threw up its hands in despair over Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. This is, said the lead editorial, a team whose “instinctive and ideological tendency” from the start has been “to regard international consultation and cooperation as a burdensome bore or intolerable constraint.” Don’t they know, the paper asked, that “alone the U.S. is far more vulnerable than it likes to believe, while in concert with free nations, it is far more powerful than even it can imagine.”
This is something to think about on the battlefields of France. You think about the times we’ve helped each other, and how we still need each other to confront global terrorism. So you want to celebrate our ties, and nurture them. And that’s what we did. We found an outdoor restaurant in a small village and ordered the specialty of the house. French fries. The real thing. French fries. As American as apple pie.
That’s it for now. I’m Bill Moyers. Good night.
This transcript was entered on April 16, 2015.