Environmentalists are wasting no time in aiming their fire at former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, who this morning became George W. Bush‘s running mate on the GOP presidential ticket. Enviros are criticizing Cheney’s voting record in the House — he got only a 13 percent career approval rating from the League of Conservation Voters — and knocking his environmental record as current chair and CEO of the Halliburton oil company.

Cheney says cheese.

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While a representative from Wyoming from 1978 to 1989, Cheney cosponsored a measure to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling and, among other things, voted against reauthorizing the Clean Water Act and requiring industries to release publicly their records on toxic emissions.

In a hint of the Cheney deluge to come, the Sierra Club began blasting him on Monday, contending in a release that many of Halliburton’s plants produce great gobs of pollution. The group says that a company facility in Duncan, Okla., was in the top 20 percent of the dirtiest facilities in the United States, according to EPA data from 1997.

Other environmental organizations began circulating material concerning Cheney’s involvement with the Committee to Preserve American Security and Sovereignty (COMPASS), which is apparently affiliated with the conservative George C. Marshall Institute. Cheney and 12 other COMPASS members, nearly all of them heavyweights from the Reagan and Bush administrations, wrote a letter to President Clinton in 1998 to protest the Kyoto climate change treaty, concluding with the zinger that Kyoto appeared to be “nothing more than a ‘feel good’ public relations ploy.”

Welcome to the Club

It’s been a remarkable few days for Vice President Al Gore and his friends at the nonpartisan (hard to forget that, isn’t it?) Sierra Club.

First, when the news came down last week that the administration would not support breaching dams on the lower Snake River in Washington state to improve conditions for salmon, Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope was virtually alone among enviros in defending the VP’s preference for a “Salmon Summit” in which all “stakeholders” would come together to address the issue.

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“Gore could actually have this summit very early in his term and could move quite rapidly to breach the dams,” a hopeful Pope told the Washington Post.

The love-fest continued Saturday when the Sierra Club began spreading the word (this reporter got messages both at home and at work) that a full-throated endorsement was in the offing.

The endorsement officially took place Monday in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Debbie Sease, the group’s legislative director, said a poll of state chapters found almost unanimous support for the veep. Thirty-nine chapters said they were for Gore and just one spoke up for Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, a number that might come as a surprise to some Muck readers who have shown a great affinity for Nader.

Even Michael Dorsey — the Sierra Club board member who circulated an email last year describing the “Top Ten” reasons the group should not endorse the vice president — recommended backing Gore in the end. But lest anyone forget Dorsey’s dyspepsia, the Republican National Committee emailed copies of his old memo to reporters on Monday.

Meanwhile, a group calling itself Environmentalists Against Gore cropped up last week urging green voters to follow their consciences and vote against the vice president. Many of the 50 enviros listed as charter members of the group were high-profile types, including green icon David Brower, former Sierra Club director and a board member until earlier this year.

For his part, Gore happily accepted the Sierra Club endorsement Monday, warning of the extreme danger to the environment posed by a possible Bush administration and dismissing Republican attacks on his record and his book Earth in the Balance.

“I wear their attacks as a badge of honor,” Gore said.

Tommy, We Can Hear You

Speaking of the Sierra Club, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) is apparently none too pleased with the group for running an ad in his district faulting him for opposing an amendment the Sierra Club says would have lifted a provision that would block the EPA from enforcing standards for arsenic levels in drinking water.

An angry Tancredo uncorked on the House floor last Tuesday night: “Shortly [after the arsenic vote] the Sierra Club began to run ads in my district against me, essentially saying that I was for dirty water. This is the kind of corrupting influence, saying something like that which is, by the way, libelous. It is not just wrong, it is libelous. But they did it, and this is the kind of thing that Common Cause is talking about, and this is the kind of thing that should be stopped.”

Tancredo was referring to the fact that the Sierra Club paid for its recent round of advertising with money raised by its 527 Committee, which, until a law recently passed by Congress goes into effect, does not have to disclose any information about donors or expenditures. The Sierra Club has said it will comply with the new disclosure rules.

Where the Streets Have Bad Names

As if Gore weren’t getting enough heat over salmon and the administration’s non-decision on breaching the Snake River dams, Trevor Fitzgibbon and his friends at the Southeast Forest Project aren’t letting up on the veep either, demanding that he take a stand on the proliferation of chip mills in the Southeast and the forest clear-cutting that often accompanies them. (Read up on recent chip mill news.)

Last week in Nashville, tourism and recreation officials asked Gore and Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist (R) to step in and support a moratorium on the cutting, which is taking place across some 200 million acres of timberland, much of it privately owned and currently unprotected. The Nashville event went largely unnoticed, and Gore has not said anything about the chip mill issue as yet, but word is that a major newspaper is getting ready to publish a piece on the topic. (The Washington Post wrote about the subject last month.)

Fitzgibbon pointed to one particular irony of Gore’s silence on the issue thus far: The VP’s Knoxville campaign headquarters is located on Paper Mill Dr.

Spaghetti Midwestern

Returning to our tour of the 2000 political battlefields, we take a run around the critical Midwestern states.

Illinois: Like virtually every state in this region, Illinois will be enormously competitive at the presidential level. Whichever way the Midwest states go — they tend to vote together — will likely determine the next leader of the free world. Bush leads in most early polls, but handicappers tend to give Gore an edge here.

There are no high-profile statewide races in Illinois but there are two important House races. The most competitive will take place in the open 10th district where Mark Kirk (R), formerly chief of staff to retiring Rep. John Porter (R), will square off again
st state Rep. Lauren Beth Gash (D). So far the two candidates have agreed on one high-profile environmental issue in the suburban Chicago district — removing 5,600 tons of nuclear waste from a ComEd facility and moving it to a storage site to be built at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

President Clinton has vetoed a bill to create the Yucca Mountain facility and Republicans had hoped to hang the issue around Gash’s neck, but the Democrat has said she would vote with Republicans on shipping the waste out of Illinois and into Nevada.

The other competitive House race in Illinois pits Rep. Lane Evans (D) against former television anchor Mark Baker (R). Baker nearly beat Evans in 1996, then fared slightly less well in 1998. There is little reason to believe he will succeed this time unless Bush defeats Gore so handily in Illinois that some marginal Republicans are swept into office.

Indiana: Should Gore select popular Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) as his running mate, this state could tilt toward Democrats. But that’s not likely to happen, so Indiana should remain one of the more competitive states in the nation, with Bush slightly favored.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R) is expected to win reelection, but the Indiana governor’s race could be a tight contest. Gov. Frank O’Bannon (D) is favored, but Rep. David McIntosh (R) is running a spirited and well-organized challenge and most handicappers give him a solid shot at knocking off the incumbent. That would be bad news for most enviros. McIntosh came to Washington in the sharply conservative class of 1994 and compiled an 8 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters in 1998.

O’Bannon, for his part, has already signaled that he will make the environment an issue in the campaign, telling the Democratic state convention earlier this month: ”Four years ago, I stood before you and pledged as governor to keep the economy strong, to improve our schools … and to protect our environment. And I’m happy to say we did it.”

But O’Bannon has taken his share of whacks from enviros. Jeff Stant, director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, recently criticized the governor for not doing enough to address fish kills on the White River and for failing to adequately staff the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Iowa: No gubernatorial or Senate race in the Hawkeye State this year and, for the first time in several cycles, the House races should be fairly quiet as well. So the real action will take place at the presidential level, where Gore is favored but Bush is likely to be competitive.

Michigan: Perhaps the best political state in the nation this year, Michigan has a hot Senate race, a great House race, and should go down to the wire at the presidential level.

The Senate battle pits class of 1994 freshman Spencer Abraham (R) against popular, moderate Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D). Abraham began his career as something of a firebrand but has moderated his tone, if not his voting record, in recent months. Despite that shift, Abraham is a top target of enviros, and both the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters have made it clear they will spend a good deal of money trying to defeat him, highlighting his support for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, among other things.

The key House race in Michigan will be the 8th district battle to replace Stabenow. The campaign for this Lansing-area district features two popular state senators, Dianne Byrum (D) and Mike Rogers (R). Byrum is the slight favorite based on her larger electoral base within the district, but this race is too close to call.

Minnesota: Another big Senate race here as Republicans hope to save Rod Grams, perhaps the most vulnerable incumbent in the nation. One of the most conservative members of Congress, Grams rated a 0 from the League of Conservation Voters.

Democrats may be slightly hamstrung in Minnesota by their late Sept. 12 primary. The nomination is far from settled as trial lawyer Mike Ciresi (a favorite of Washington insiders because he can fund his own campaign) battles state Sen. Jerry Janezich. The primary has taken a nasty turn of late as anonymous emails have circulated criticizing Ciresi’s law firm for representing corporate polluters and other unsavory interests. Ciresi has said that he did not personally represent any of the named companies.

Ohio: Again, all eyes will be watching how this state votes for president. With the state Democratic Party in disarray, Bush has to be considered the favorite, but both candidates will camp out in the state through November.

The top House race in the state will take place in Columbus for the seat being vacated by former Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich. State House Majority Leader Pat Tiberi (R) starts as the favorite in this Republican-leaning area but Democrats are extremely high on their candidate, Columbus City Council member Maryellen O’Shaughnessy. O’Shaughnessy had held a fund-raising advantage over Tiberi in the first quarter of the year, but recent campaign finance reports show that her money lead has evaporated.

Wisconsin: This state should be solidly in Gore’s column by now, but some polls actually show Bush ahead. Beyond the presidential campaign, there is little other action in the state this year.

Tune in Next Time …

… when Muckraker goes live from the Republican convention in Philadelphia. Also, we bring you the skinny on the search for a new Greenpeace USA president and the latest on the effort to keep new roads out of the remaining roadless areas in America’s forests, arguably the biggest enviro issue remaining before the Clinton administration. Which green groups have been the stars on this issue and which have lagged behind?