NPR's Shogren ignored environmentalists' concerns over Kempthorne's nomination as interior secretary

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

During a discussion on National Public Radio's (NPR) Morning Edition regarding Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's March 16 nomination to be secretary of the interior, environmental reporter Elizabeth Shogren largely ignored Kempthorne's controversial environmental track record and minimized environmentalists' concerns about the nomination.

In a March 17 news brief on National Public Radio's (NPR) Morning Edition about the March 16 nomination of Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to replace Gale A. Norton as secretary of the interior, environmental reporter Elizabeth Shogren largely ignored Kempthorne's controversial environmental track record and minimized environmentalists' concerns about the nomination. The only clues Shogren provided of concerns about the nomination were in reporting that "Kempthorne was one of several Western governors who sued the federal government to keep national forest lands open for road-building and logging" and that environmentalists "expect Kempthorne to continue what they see as the Bush administration's pattern of sacrificing beautiful scenery to drill rigs and mining operations." But Shogren could have cited numerous other specific concerns about Kempthorne that prominent environmental groups have pointed to. Absent from Shogren's report, for example, was any reference to his 1 percent lifetime voting record score he received from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) during his time in the Senate, as well as to his close ties to the mining, timber, and energy industries.

Shogren also reported that "[s]ome former Clinton administration officials who worked with Kempthorne when he was in the Senate say they believe he will be more accommodating to environmental issues than Norton was."

Kempthorne is a career politician; before his election as Idaho governor, he served as mayor of Boise, Idaho, and as a U.S. senator. In 2003, he reportedly made the short list for the top spot at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Immediately after the announcement of Kempthorne's nomination, environmental groups across the country released press statements. For instance, the League of Conservation Voters -- a national environmental organization that claims to "hold our federal elected officials accountable" through its National Environmental Score Card -- stated in a March 16 press release responding to Kempthorne's nomination: "During his career in Congress, Governor Kempthorne earned a paltry 1% lifetime LCV score. Enough said." LCV records each vote cast by a member of Congress and ranks the senators and representatives according to how their votes correlate with pro-environment positions.

Expressing "serious concerns" over Kempthorne's nomination, the Sierra Club's press release stated, "President Bush nominated someone who has consistently opposed protecting public health and public lands." The Sierra Club also cited Kempthorne's LCV rating and said that Kempthorne "[s]upport[ed] drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," opposed the "protection of 60 million acres of wild forests," and "[w]ork[ed] to weaken the Endangered Species Act and Safe Drinking Water Act."

As a March 17 Associated Press article reported:

Kempthorne has supported oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He also filed suit to overturn former President Clinton's "roadless rule,'' which banned new road building on 60 million acres of national forests. And he has sought changes in the Endangered Species Act that ranchers and property rights groups support but environmentalists have said would weaken it.

Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm, issued a statement on March 16 outlining similar concerns to those of the Sierra Club. In addition to noting Kempthorne's LCV rating and alleged failure to protect "60 million acres of America's last wild forests," Earthjustice staff lawyer Todd True stated that Kempthorne has "consistently fought against protection for wildlife like grizzly bears and salmon in his home state of Idaho" and noted that Kempthorne "introduced a bill to undermine the Endangered Species Act." The 60 million acres of national forest reference is to a Clinton initiative, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, that was designed to protect that amount of national forest from logging and mining interests by banning road development. Kempthorne opposed the initiative, and the Bush administration repealed it in 2005.

Another source of concern, according to Earthjustice, is Kempthorne's alleged ties "to the oil, mining, and timber industries," the very industries that, if confirmed, Kempthorne would be responsible for regulating. As July 24, 2005, USA Today report noted that Kempthorne "helped finance his re-election by receiving about $86,000 -- about 8 cents of each dollar -- from timber, mining and energy industries that could benefit from greater access to national forests in his state." Continuing, the article reported, "Two of Kempthorne's top three donors for the 2002 campaign were the Coeur D'Alene Mines Corp., which gave $13,922, and the Potlatch Corp., a forest products company, which gave $12,034, according to the non-partisan Institute on Money in State Politics." The organizations allegedly supported Kempthorne's attempts to overturn Clinton's "roadless rule" which opened 60 million acres of national forest to road construction.

Beyond the arguments put forth by the environmental groups mentioned above, Shogren also overlooked relevant past news reports about Kempthorne. For example, on June 24, 2003, Knight Ridder reported:

During Kempthorne's four-and-a-half-year tenure as governor, Idaho's pristine air has gotten dirtier, more rivers have been polluted, fewer polluters have been inspected and more toxins have contaminated the air, water and land, according to a Knight Ridder analysis of Idaho pollution data from EPA and state records.

In the same period, the nation's air and water have gotten cleaner on average, and fewer toxins have been emitted, EPA officials said Monday in a draft report.

Further, Knight Ridder noted, that between 2002 and 2003, Kempthorne "cut Idaho's environmental services budget three times" and in 2003, a court order had to be issued to force "the state to increase monitoring and cleansing polluted waterways." The report also stated:

In some respects, Idaho under Kempthorne has bucked national trends that showed environmental quality improving, according to EPA records on air pollution, water quality, toxic emissions and pollution enforcement.

While 35 states and the nation as a whole reduced the amount of toxins released into the environment from 1998 to 2000 -- the most recent year of available data -- Idaho increased emissions by 2 percent. National emissions decreased by 9 percent in the same period, an achievement [former EPA administrator Christie Todd] Whitman hailed Monday as an environmental success story.

Idaho emitted 59 pounds of toxins per resident on average in 2000, according to the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory. The national average was 25 pounds of toxins per person in 2000.

With 76 million pounds of toxic releases in 2000, Idaho - population 1.3 million - has more total toxic emissions than California, population 33.9 million.

Although Idaho has some of the cleanest air in the United States, its air quality worsened from 1999 to 2002, while Kempthorne has been in office, compared with the previous four years. There were 11 violations of EPA air-pollution standards in the four years before Kempthorne came to power and 22 in his first four years in office. At the same time, the number of air violations decreased by 3 percent nationally.

At the time, Kempthorne was reportedly under consideration to replace Whitman as EPA administrator. Kempthorne, ultimately, was not offered the position.

From the March 17 broadcast of NPR's Morning Edition:

SHOGREN: Kempthorne has got an impressive resume. He's been a senator, governor, and mayor of Boise. When President Bush introduced him yesterday at a White House ceremony, he talked about a bike ride the two of them took last year through some of Idaho's beautiful landscape and Kempthorne's appreciation for the outdoors.

PRESIDENT BUSH [audio clip]: Dirk has had a long and abiding love for nature. When he and wife, Patricia, were married, they chose to hold the ceremony atop Idaho's Moscow Mountain at sunrise. Dirk said, "I don't think there's a more beautiful cathedral than the outdoors."

SHOGREN: As interior secretary, Kempthorne would oversee America's national parks, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and energy reserves. President Bush says Kempthorne agrees with his own philosophies for managing those resources.

BUSH [audio clip]: Dirk understands that those who live closest to the land know how to manage it best. And he will work closely with state and local leaders to ensure wise stewardship of our resources.

SHOGREN: Kempthorne was one of several Western governors who sued the federal government to keep national forest lands open for road-building and logging. Kempthorne says he would work with all sides as interior secretary.

KEMPTHORNE [audio clip]: Mr. President, one of the hallmarks of my public service has been my ability to bring people to the table and to work together to build consensus. I pledge to you and to the American people that I will continue in that role of reaching out and finding solutions.

SHOGREN: Some former Clinton administration officials who worked with Kempthorne when he was in the Senate say they believe he will be more accommodating to environmental issues than [Gale] Norton was. But some environmentalists say that they expect Kempthorne to continue what they see as the Bush administration's pattern of sacrificing beautiful scenery to drill rigs and mining operations. Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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