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Know the West

'A choice between bad and worse is not good enough'


Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories.

NIJHUIS: I've been wondering who you'd pick for Secretary of the Interior.

NADER: Well, I haven't thought about that yet (laughs), but it would be someone with a determined record of achievement on behalf of the environment and the preservation of the public lands. It wouldn't be anyone who just said the right things - it would be someone who was tested, and tempted, and succeeded in persevering.

NIJHUIS: How do you think activists in this region can be most effective in preserving the West's remaining open space - both public and private open space?

NADER: There are a lot of ways. There are land trusts, there's purchase of development rights by farmers so that their land can't be developed - that was done in Connecticut with considerable success. Zoning is another. The problem is, in the West you have municipalities that aren't contiguous with each other the way we have out East, so you have county governments you have to deal with, and the land between the municipalities. When it comes to the public land, this is where you've got to get new leadership in Washington, and at the state government, for the state land and the public lands.

NIJHUIS: The Western Colorado Congress recently negotiated an agreement with Louisiana-Pacific, historically a big polluter in our region, that would improve communication between LP and WCC. Do you think that's a good strategy, or do you think that groups like WCC should concentrate more on pushing the federal regulators to keep these companies in line?

NADER: Both. It's a good idea that if a company's going to come in anyway, and it gets a subsidy, you say "OK, we're gonna have a two-way deal here. You may get a subsidy, you're gonna get wealth for your profits, but that you've got to commit to a certain investment in environmental preservation and cleanup, you've got to disclose regularly, you've got to open up your channels of decision-making to communities." All that. It's just got to be a two-way process, not just one-way giveaway. There has to be reciprocity.

NIJHUIS: How do you propose that grassroots environmental groups balance national battles with what's going on in their backyard?

NADER: Unfortunately, they've got to do both. The power is exerted upon them both locally and nationally and regionally, and they've got to work on both. I think if the Green Party gets more votes in the fall, it will be a restraint on some of the recklessness in Washington. The two parties will know that people have somewhere to go in future elections and this Green Party watchdog had better be heeded, or else they're going to lose more votes.

But (at the local level), I think it's also important for land trusts to strategically buy up land. Even a few acres here and there, that could impede great development tracts in the future. So if some big developer wants to develop 10,000 acres, a few hundred acres here and a few hundred acres there that's in a land trust, it basically blocks it.

NIJHUIS: How does your fight for corporate reform relate to environmental problems we have in the Intermountain West?

NADER: One way, of course, is to make the mining companies pay for their external costs. They're getting a free ride under the 1872 Mining Act. They're getting the minerals free, they leave wreckage behind, they don't give royalties back to government and all these external costs, environmental damage they're not being billed for. So we're the only country in the world that gives away our minerals. (Mining companies) have to pay market value and they have to pay for the damage done to innocent people and other interests.

Second, the West is a great area for wind power and other forms of solar energy, which would replace gradually the fossil-fuel economy. Third, I think what needs to be done is to have a much more rigorous zoning and tax system that curbs reckless development and gentrification and pushing out of people who have been there for generations. That's something that needs to be done at the state level and in Washington, and the only way you can get that going is to support new political movements, because the two parties are completely in the pockets of corporate interests.

NIJHUIS: What do you say to people in the rural West who sympathize with your environmental positions, but fear a Bush administration?

NADER: Well, they've got to vote their conscience. I think they want their members of Congress to vote their conscience, and that's the way to vote their conscience. A vote for the Nader-LaDuke ticket is a vote for stronger attention to be given to environmental groups in Washington (D.C.). It's a vote for getting dirty corporate money out of politics, which is corrupting it against the environment. It's a vote for building a new party in the future. In many ways it's an investment vote - it's not throwing away your vote, it's investing it in a political movement, because both parties are bad. One may be worse than the other, but they're both bad.

NIJHUIS: Can you point to anything good the Clinton administration has done for the public lands?

NADER: They have put more land under the (Antiquities Act) and the Wilderness Act, but a lot of their so-called forest policies grandfathered in a lot of bad things that were already under way. They excluded the Tongass forest (from the roadless initiative). They did sign the salvage rider to a larger bill, which had a very bad effect on the forests. I don't think they've been very good, but they're telling people the Republicans would be worse. They probably would be worse, but the thing is, a choice between bad and worse is not good enough for the people in this country. If you choose between bad and worse every four years, both get worse, and that's what we've been seeing.

You can contact ...

  • Nader 2000 headquarters, 202/265-4000;
  • Oregon Wildlife Federation, 503/234-2163;
  • Sierra Club D.C. office, 202/547-1141.