The lead story in the October 2000 issue of "The Hightower Lowdown" (edited by progressive Jim Hightower, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner in Democratic Governor Ann Richards' administration) is titled,

"The 'environmental President' he [ Gore ] won't be:

WHEN POLLUTERS CHALLENGE, AL GORE BACKS DOWN"

It's an article of faith among the Democrats-for-Gore that, whatever faults Al may have (his own mother describes him as "a born conformist"), at least they can all feel proud about his commitment to protecting the environment. Just ask anybody -- Al's got a strong environmental record that all Americans can feel proud of. Right?

Indeed, to hear the Limbaugh-breaths of the hard-right media talk, one would think Gore's secret agenda is to destroy the economy and force everyone to eat tofu, ride bicycles and wear Birkenstocks. I don't know what kind of wild mushrooms those yelpers are snacking on, but Al's idea of extremism is to wear a plaid shirt.

Gore has certainly talked a great game of green: "We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization, " he wrote in his thoughtful 1992 book, Earth in the Balance.

"The environment is much more than a policy position to me," Gore declared in a 1999 speech. "It is a profoundly moral obligation."

But, as actress Rosalind Russell once said, "Politics makes strange bedclothes," and while Al wears a cloak of green, he has sewn large pockets inside it to store all the campaign funds slipped to him by oil, chemical, developer, timber, mining, agribusiness, and other polluting interests.

From the first days of the Clinton-Gore administration, Mr. Environment began sniffing the money and backing off, refusing to throw any hard punches at the polluters. Gore's own performance as vice president has been so feeble that people who had suffered from his inaction took to attending his campaign events, shouting out to him: "Read your book!"

Al sells out

East Liverpool, Ohio, haunts Gore, but not as much as he and Waste Technologies Industries, Inc. (WTI) haunt the people who live there. The town, located on the Ohio River along the state's eastern border, is home to some 13,000 folks and one humongous toxic waste incinerator.

The WTI waste burner, now owned by a Swiss corporation, is one of the largest in the world. Locals and environmental experts say this facility never should have been built there, for it violates five of the eight (5 of 8) no-nos that EPA uses to reject a hazardous waste site as "inappropriate."

WTI's incinerator --located only 320 feet from homes and 1,100 feet from an elementary school, where 400 children attend classes and play in the schoolyard -- burns 63,000 tons a year of highly toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and other deadly, cancer-causing materials, emitting toxic gases and particles from its smokestack day in and day out.

Flashback to July 19, 1992: Beleaguered opponents of WTI's project were overjoyed because Captain Courageous had just arrived in the person of Al Gore, Jr. At the time, the project still had no federal permit to operate or even to conduct a "test burn" that it was required to pass before the company could get an operating permit. Campaigning in the area, Gore spoke up for the people: "I'll tell you this, a Clinton-Gore administration is going to give you an environmental presidency to deal with these problems. We'll be on YOUR side for a change."

To the delight of these good people, Al and Bill were elected that November, and only a month later the incoming veep boosted their hopes again by reiterationg his stance for environmental sanity: "Serious questioons concerning the safety of an East Liverpool, Ohio, hazardous waste incinerator must be answered before the plant may begin operation," he declared in a December 7, 1992 press statement. "The new Clinton-Gore administration would not issue the plant a test burn permit until....all questions concerning the compliance with state and federal law have been answered." Period.

Hoorah for the Great Goreski, the man who stared down WTI and saved the children! EXCEPT THAT HE DIDN'T. Once Gore was sworn in, the fearless defender of the folks and the environment turned out to be the one who blinked, suddenly mumbling that there was nothing he could do to stop the permitting process, so sorry, hope no one dies, goodbye. As Gore retreated, he lobbed the blame back to outgoing Bush officials, asserting that in a dastardly last-minute decision, they'd given WTI the go-ahead it needed.

WTI eventually conducted its test burn... AND FAILED! Wouldn't this have been the neat time for an environmentally macho vice president to assert himself? This was no minor technical fairure, either -- the test showed excess emissions of carbon tetrachloride (causes liver cancer), mercury (a neurotoxin that damages people's central nervous system), and polychlorinated dibenzodoxins (a super-nasty that causes birth defects, cancer, immuno-suppression, and cardiovascular problems).

But Al just stayed real still, and on April 6, 1992, WTI received its EPA operating permit. Meanwhile, Greenpeace and others filed suit to stop the incinerator from firing up. This time, at long last, the Clinton-Gore team sprang into action -- ON THE WRONG SIDE. Administration lawyers were dispatched to help WTI and the EPA battle the citizen groups, and Janet Reno's Justice Dept. even testified in court on WTI's behalf!

In the seven years since Gore took a dive, WTI has been incinerating away, even though it has recorded 34 fires, had five explosions, experienced 27 other "release incidents," and incurred state fines for what the New York Times referred to as "violations of air monitoring requirements." How bureaucratically genteel that phrase is!.

Less genteel is the stark picture of the townspeople's health. A 1997 state study found that the people of East Liverpool have "strikingly higher" rates of cancer death than elsewhere in the state and nation (40.25% higher than the national average).

Yes, this is an old industrial town with more than one source of pollution, but the very best you can say about adding a cancer-machine to the mix is that it was less than helpful. Notice that no WTI executives or board members live anywhere near it. As for the health of those who do live there, more studies are needed, say the authorities. But the incinerator doesn't wait on studies -- it keeps on chugging.

Follow the money

Why did Al disappear? The money boys got to him. Coming into office in January of 1993, both Clinton and Gore were engulfed by Wall Street insiders, corporate chieftains, lobbyists, and their own "wise advisors" inside the White House -- the latter comprising such corporate stalwarts as Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Robert Rubin of Goldman Sachs (later to become Treasury Secretary), and Robert Altman, also of Goldman Sachs (a firm that now ranks in the top five of Gore's presidential donors).

Al was seen by this triumvirate of elders as too green, and they did not think it helpful to have him running with the rabble in places like East Liverpool, making noises about yanking corporate operating permits.

Besides, the Street had some money in play in East Liverpool. Morgan Guaranty Trust was getting nice fees for handling $128 million in construction financing for WTI's wasteburner. The financing was being provided by Stephens, Inc., an Arkansas-based financial conglomerate owned by Jackson T. Stephens, who just happened to have close ties to Clinton. Stephens raised more thatn $100,000 for Bill's presidential run and provided a $3.5 million line of credit for the 1992 campaign. With this new information provided to the always obedient son, Gore turned a different shade of green, and he was no longer in touch with those trusting souls back in Ohio.

The list goes on...

East Liverpool is hardly the only dark stain on Gore's green cloak:

Adjacent to the Gore's bucolic old family farm back home in Tennessee, right along the Caney Fork River that Al talks of so wistfully, Gore owns another farm -- less bucolic but far more profitable -- that he prefers not to talk of at all. This chunk of farmland is rich in zinc, and it was sold to Al in 1973 in a sweetheart transaction by Armand Hammer. "Mr. Green" turns out to be a zinc miner! As a buy-product, he also turns out to be a polluter -- some environmentalists say that run-off from the mine is getting into his beloved Caney Fork.

Gore draws annual zinc royalties that have totalled some $400,000 since he acquired the land from Occidental, and Gore has also mined more than half a $million dollars in campaign funds from Occidental since he became vice president -- including $50,000 that came after one of Al's infamous telephone solicitations from the White House, and another $100,000 wad that rolled in after Occidental's CEO had enjoyed two nights in the Lincoln Bedroom.

These cozy connections caused industry eyes to roll when it was announced that Occidental had won the bidding on Elk Hills. Writing in "The Nation," Alexander Cockburn reports that Occidental was viewed as a bankruptcy waiting to happen until it got its hands on this sensationally profitable oil reserve.

Normally, the Dept. of Energy would decide whether a national asset like Elk Hills, the military's largest strategic fuel reserve, should be sold off. Instead, Gore arranged for a private consulting firm named ICF Kaiser International to make this assessment.

Guess who was chairman of ICF Kaiser? Al's old pal, Tony Coelho. "Oh, ye cynics," wail Gore staffers, asserting that Occidential's good fortune on EIk Hills was all on the up-and-up. Nevertheless, the Energy Dept has refused to release documents pertaining to the deal.

Again and again on environmental issues, Gore has deferred to money -- to Appalachian coal companies, to Florida developers, to oil drillers in Alaska, to timber giants in national forests, to Occidental Petroleum (yet again) in Colombia (see the Lowdown, July 2000).

Gore also deferred to money in his campaign, relegating pollution issues to the back burner. Here's a cause [ defending the environment ] that has Gore's name on it, that the broad public actually cares about. Never mind that Gore doesn't really walk the walk, he could still talk the talk and hammer Bush, who is as defenseless on environmental issues as an armadillo wandering out on the Interstate.

But Gore won't even be a rhetorical advocate, fearing that he might give a case of those bad ol' jitters to his contributors.

Gore means well, but that by itself DOESN'T MEAN SQUAT [ emphasis added ]. Whenever his good intentions clash with the moneyed interests, as they must at a presidential level, Gore's a money man.

Remember, the opposite of courage is not cowardice -- it's conformity.