Published by Forbes on 2001-05-20
THE VICE PRESIDENCY, someone once said, is a spare tire on the automobile of government. (It was John Nance Garner -- FDR's veep for the first two terms.) But in today's technologically complicated and heavily regulated society, a vice president can be very powerful indeed. He can have a large and lasting impact on the way you lead your life and the way you run your business.
Al Gore is obsessed with protecting the environment, and he has the means to put his beliefs into law. He has seeded such bodies as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of Energy with his friends, acolytes and ex-staffers; from those positions the Gore-ites hold sway over a large part of the federal regulatory apparatus. And in the environmental arena the regulatory apparatus cuts a wide swath. The EPA alone expects to issue 462 of the 4,560 planned rules that will eventually find their way to the Code of Federal Regulations.
In the environmental sector Congress has, in effect, ceded lawmaking power to the executive branch. It had to. There is simply no way that legislators could themselves run the experiments and make the scientific judgments that determine the details of pollution control or energy conservation. And how is Vice President Gore on science -- the science of global warming or resource scarcity or hazardous chemicals?
"The things Gore believes aren't supported by facts," says William Happer, a Princeton University physics professor who worked at the department of energy from 1991 to 1993. "He is surrounded by like-minded people, and they all want to save the world. That's a recipe for disaster."
Gore gave America an alarmingly revealing peek at his environmental extremism in his 1992 bestseller, Earth in the Balance, a bleak tome on our "dysfunctional" society that was devoid of any recognition of the potential of science and technology to improve lives.
Reared on national politics and the son of a U.S. senator, Gore has pursued his agenda as the most powerful vice president in modern history. Clinton delegated to him much of the turf that will define our future: the environment, energy, technology, information systems, housing. He is Clinton's main conduit to the social and economic development programs of the United Nations, covering such issues as climate change and population control.
The regulatory efforts of the vice president's loyalists are taking hold. One irksome example: The Department of Energy, a backwater brimming with Gore lieutenants, is seriously considering dictating that all domestic washing machines be front loading rather than top loading. Front loaders use less hot water -- never mind that they also require smaller loads, or that America's white goods aren't exactly draining the national power supply.
New standards for ovens, water heaters, fluorescent lamps and air conditioners are in the works at DOE. Who's energy secretary? It is William Richardson, previously U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and, before that, a congressman from New Mexico.
Gore's kitchen cabinet on environmental issues also includes Carol M. Browner, whom he persuaded President Clinton to name head of the EPA, and Gore's former Senate staffer Kathleen McGinty, who recently resigned as director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, but is likely to play a major role in Gore's run for president.
Another ally, Jonathan Lash, former attorney general of Vermont, is now president of the World Resources Institute, the Administration's favorite eco think tank. Maurice F. Strong, a millionaire Canadian businessman and former secretary-general of the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit, is Gore's link to nongovernmental organizations. Also close to Gore are Time Warner honcho Ted Turner and former Senator Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.), who now heads a Washington-based foundation that Turner set up to fund U.N. projects.
Do these eco-advisers have an antibusiness bias? Seems that way. Last June a renegade group of more than a dozen EPA employees, most of them scientists, published a letter in the Washington Times harshly criticizing their own shop. They alleged that EPA employees "are harassed, even fired, for protesting illegal or irresponsible behavior by managers."
They argued that agency moves are based on "poor science" and that staffers who said as much were harassed. The letter-writers were responding to revelations contained in a report by the National Wilderness Institute showing the EPA ignored whistle-blower warnings about fabrication of agency documents in a Wisconsin wetlands case, and that it had used public funds to bankroll a puppet foundation to win control of Chesapeake Bay restoration.
The EPA pursues drastic policy even when sibling agencies vehemently disagree. In July 1997 the EPA put out tougher standards on air pollution. The rules on particulate matter and ground-level ozone ignored the findings of the EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which found no proof that the new standards would measurably improve public health. But the standards will be costly -- a burden of perhaps $ 100 billion a year over and above previous standards, a burden that will be paid in some way by consumers, businesses or taxpayers.
What's going on? You have to understand pollution control in the context of the battle over global warming. The new rules force some counties to further reduce levels of ozone and particulate matter or lose federal transportation funds. The man-made sources of these pollutants -- cars, trucks, manufacturing plants and electric utilities -- are in large part the same sources of man-made "greenhouse gases."
And that's the point. Those gases are the target of the Kyoto Protocol, which puts most of the burden for reducing gas emissions on the U.S. It effectively requires a 30% reduction in emissions over the next decade -- while imposing no restrictions on China, India, Mexico and other developing nations. The Kyoto treaty is one that the U.S. Senate would probably reject, but that problem is not stopping Gore & Co. from moving full speed ahead. "The goal of all this," says Malcolm Wallop, chairman of advocacy group Frontiers of Freedom, "is to phase out coal and reduce use of fossil fuels, thereby significantly altering U.S. energy policy."
With his influence over federal purse strings, the Vice President has made sure that environmental lobbying groups receive plenty of taxpayer funds. James Sheehan, a research associate at Washington's Competitive Enterprise Institute, says organizations backing the Kyoto treaty tend to win federal research grants, while dissenters don't.
Last year the Global Environment Facility, a World Bank-related program that supports the global-warming treaty, began passing out $ 193 million in U.S. funding to eager recipients; to date, $ 43 million of it has been committed to implementing the treaty. Among the environmental groups that have already received such funds are Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and Jonathan Lash's World Resources Institute -- all fervent Gore supporters.
You might think that the ideas in Earth in the Balance are kooky. Read the book anyway. You may have to live with its philosophy.
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist