The Bush Administration is proposing to sell more than 300-thousand acres of public forest land to raise money for schools in rural communities. Lawmakers, environmentalists and former Forest Service directors have come out against the plan, calling it short-sighted and shameful. The GLRC’s Erin Toner reports:
The Bush Administration is proposing to sell more than 300-thousand
acres of public forest land to raise money for schools in rural
communities. Lawmakers, environmentalists and former Forest Service
directors have come out against the plan, calling it short-sighted and
shameful. The GLRC’s Erin Toner reports:
The goal of the plan is to raise 800 million dollars for schools that have
lost money generated by timber sales, but lawmakers from both parties
say auctioning off forest land is short-sighted. Environmental groups say
it’s one of the latest attempts by the Bush administration to give oil,
timber and mining interests access to pristine natural areas.
Amy Mall is with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“These lands are part of America’s natural legacy. Some of them are really wild
areas where there is very high-quality wildlife habitat. They might be
areas where a lot of people recreate. They might go hunting or fishing.
Or they might just think that these areas should remain wild.”
An agriculture department official described most of the land proposed for sale
as isolated and expensive to manage.
Many groups, including environmentalists and industry lobbyists, are scrutinizing the presidential candidates' opinions on environmental policy. (Photo courtesy of georgewbush.com)
The presidential candidates haven’t spent a lot of time talking about conservation or the environment. On the campaign trail, nature has taken a backseat to the economy and security. In the first of four reports on the presidential and vice presidential candidates, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham looks at the environmental record of President George W. Bush:
The presidential candidates haven’t spent a lot of time talking about conservation or the
environment. On the campaign trail, nature has taken a backseat to the economy and security. In
the first of four reports on the presidential and vice presidential candidates, the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham looks at the environmental record of President George W. Bush:
President Bush doesn’t often use the words “environment” or “environmental.” He prefers
“conservation.” It’s part of his philosophy. He believes we should manage resources and believes
the government has tipped the scales too far in favor of preservationists at the expense of business and agriculture. On his Texas ranch, Mr. Bush likes to exercise by cutting brush to manage nature. It’s could be a metaphor for how he sees the larger issue. It seemed that way when he talked about his approach to the environment during the second debate.
“I guess you’d say I’m a good steward of the land. The quality of the air’s cleaner since I’ve been the President. Fewer water complaints since I’ve been the President. More land being restored since I’ve been the President.”
While President Bush believes he’s striking the right balance between conserving natural
resources and not regulating business excessively, many environmentalists think the Bush
Administration’s approach to environmental issues is way out of whack.
Betsey Loyless is the Vice President of Policy for the League of Conservation Voters. The LCV
keeps track of votes and issues and grades politicians on their decisions.
“League of Conservation Voters gave George Bush an “F,” the first “F” we’ve ever given out in
modern history to a president because his policies of anti-environmentalism spread across the
board of dirty air, dirty water, degrading our public lands and jeopardizing our energy future by
focusing on 19th century energy policies that don’t meet our 21st century needs.”
President Bush largely ignores criticism from environmental groups. He sees them as extremists.
On the campaign trail, he frames the debate about the environment in terms of finding a better
balance between the protecting the environment and keeping jobs.
“If we want to keep jobs here in America and expand the job base, America must be the best place
in the world to do business. That means less regulations on our business owners.”
You would think that would make business and industry-types happy. But even there, the
President has his critics. The free-market supporters are disappointed in George Bush. They feel
he should have stuck to the ideas he had when he was running for president four years ago: Roll
back regulations that some businesses say cost a lot of money with little benefit to the
environment. The Property and Environment Research Center – self-described as the center for
free market environmentalism – gave the President a “C-minus” grade on his mid-term report card
because the free-market thinkers believe the Bush Administration compromised its original
proposals to please environmentalists and ended up pleasing no one.
Even some in President’s own party are unhappy with the Bush administration’s dealings with the
environment. The group, Republicans for Environmental Protection, backed by former Republican
EPA Administrators and other prominent Republicans say the President got it wrong. Jim DiPeso
is the group’s Policy Director. His group believes the Bush administration could have done more to
protect the environment.
“Well, our board took a look at the issue and decided that President Bush had not earned our
support based on his record over the last four years. So, because we have a policy of not
endorsing Democrats, the only alternative that we had in order to express our disappointment was
simply to withhold an endorsement for the presidential race this year.”
But the majority of Republicans say the President is making progress on environmental issues.
Lynn Scarlett is one of the architects of the Bush environmental policy. She is Assistant Secretary
of the Department of Interior’s Office of Policy Management and Budget.
“This administration has the highest dollars ever expended by any administration going towards
environmental protection whether it’s on the pollution side and pollution clean up or on the land
management and conservation side. We have a number of new programs the President initiated.
So, there is an awful lot that is occurring that is getting results on the ground.”
President Bush believes the government should be partners with private landowners and
industry… encouraging them to be more environmentally friendly instead of relying on regulations
to mandate less pollution and better stewardship of the land. Environmentalists say that leaves too much to chance and the potential cost to the planet is too dear.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Heavy cleanup crews from the Genesee County Land Bank use chain saws, wood chippers, tractors and brute force to move piles of debris on the lot of an abandoned house on the north side of Flint, Michigan. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
Up until three years ago, rundown homes and abandoned lots were multiplying in the city. With the creation of the Land Bank, some people believe the city's image is beginning to turn around for the better. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
A next door neighbor to the abandoned house visits the cleanup crew. She has had to bear the eyesore and health risk next door for several years. The Land Bank currently has custody of about 2,800 properties like this in and around Flint. (Photo by Chris McCarus)
One community is fighting its problems of abandoned lands and unpaid property taxes. Those problems have led to a decaying inner city and increased suburban sprawl. The new tool the community is using is called a “land bank.” It uses a unique approach to try to fix up properties that otherwise often would be left to deteriorate. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:
One community is fighting its problems of abandoned lands and unpaid property taxes.
They’ve led to a decaying inner city and increased suburban sprawl. The new tool the
community is using is called a “land bank.” It uses a unique approach to try to fix up
properties that otherwise often would be left to deteriorate. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:
(sound of work crews operating wood chipper)
Cleanup crews are sending downed branches through a wood chipper on a vacant lot.
They’re also removing tires, used diapers, car seats, sinks, old clothes and dead animal carcasses.
The workers are from the Genesee County Land Bank in Flint, Michigan. They’re trying to
make abandoned property useful again. Dan Kildee is the Genesee County Treasurer and the brains
behind the land bank. He thinks this new approach can recover unpaid property tax money and help
improve the Flint Metro area.
“The community gets to make a judgment on what we think we should do with this land. We get
to take a deep breath.”
Empty lots and rundown homes have been multiplying for a generation. That’s left the city of
Flint in a terrible economic state. But the land bank is beginning to change things.
Until just three years ago, Michigan was like most other states. No one had come up with
a solution. The state would auction off a city’s tax liens. Then conflict between the tax
lien buyer and the property owner could go on for up to seven years. In the meantime,
properties were left to neglect and often vandalized.
Under this new program, the treasurer’s office forecloses on a property and hands it over
to the land bank, which acts as the property manager. The land bank might then demolish
a house; it might throw out the owner and let a tenant buy it; or it might auction it off
to the highest bidder. A private investor can’t just buy a tax lien. He has to buy the
property along with it and take care of it.
The land bank is financed in two main ways: through fees on back taxes and through sales
of the few nicer homes or buildings the land bank acquires that bring in relatively big
profits. Treasurer Dan Kildee says it makes sense to take that revenue to fix up old
properties and sell them to people who deserve them.
“There is no system in the United States that pulls together these tools. Both the
ability to quickly assemble property into single ownership of the county, the tools
to manage it and the financing tools to develop that property.”
The land bank program hopes to change the perception of Flint. As thousands of abandoned
homes, stores and vacant lots become eyesores, people and their money go other places,
usually to build more sprawling suburbs. The perception that people are abandoning the
inner city then speeds up that abandonment. Many people who can afford to leave the city do.
And those who can’t afford to move are left behind.
According to data gathered by the research group Public Sector Consultants, Flint has the
state’s highest unemployment and crime rates and the lowest student test scores.
Art Potter is the land bank’s director. He thinks the downward spiral can be stopped.
When it is, those folks in the central city won’t have to suffer for still living there.
“Even though the City of Flint has lost 70,000 people in the last 30 years, the people who
are still here deserve to have a nice environment to live in. So our immediate goal is to
get control and to clean these properties now.”
Urban planning experts are watching the land bank approach. Michigan State
University’s Rex LaMore says Flint is typical of Midwestern cities whose manufacturing
base has shrunk. Private owners large and small have left unproductive property behind.
As the land bank steps in, LaMore says it’s likely to succeed and become an example that
other municipalities can follow.
“They can begin to maybe envision a city of the 21st century that will be different than
the cities of the 20th century or the 19th century that we see around the United States.
A city that reflects a more livable environment. So its an exciting opportunity. I think
we have the vision; the challenge is can we generate the resources? And the land bank model
does provide some opportunity to do that.”
But the land bank is meeting obstacles. For example, the new mayor of Flint who took over
in July canceled the city’s existing contracts. A conservative businessman, the mayor is
suspicious of the city’s past deals. They included one with the land bank to demolish 57
homes. This has slowed the land bank’s progress. Its officials are disappointed but they’re
still working with the mayor to get the money released.
(sound of kids chatting, then lawn mower starts up)
The weeds grow rampant in a neighborhood with broken up pavement and sometimes
no houses on an entire block. It’s open and in an odd way, peaceful. Like a
century-old farm. It’s as if the land has expelled the people who invaded with their bricks,
steel and concrete.
In the middle of all the vacant lots, Katherine Alymo sees possibilities.
“I’ve bought a number of properties in the auctions from the land bank and also got a side
lot acquisition from them for my house. My driveway wasn’t attached to my house when I
bought it. And it was this huge long process to try to get it from them. But they sold it
to me for a dollar. Finally.”
And since then, she’s hired people to fix the floors, paint walls and mow the lawns.
She’s also finding buyers for her properties who want to invest in the city as she has.
Together, they say they needed some help and the land bank is making that possible.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris McCarus.
Sewage overflows during heavy rains have long been implicated in illnesses in people. For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency has come up with an estimate of just how many people are getting sick from swimming at contaminated beaches. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
Sewage overflows during heavy rains have long been implicated in
illnesses in people. For the first time, the Environmental Protection
Agency has come up with an estimate of just how many people are getting
sick from swimming at contaminated beaches. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
The EPA estimates that somewhere between 3,500 and 5,500 beachgoers get sick
every year when untreated sewage is flushed into rivers, streams and lakes
by heavy rains. The EPA’s Ben Grumbles says the report is another reason
for cities to fix their aging sewage systems – despite the high cost.
“And it can literally add up to hundreds of millions, a couple of billion dollars, for
very large cities, to fix the problem for the long-term.”
Grumbles says many communities can avoid that bigger expense by investing
in new technologies to better manage existing systems – and keeping pipes
well-maintained and free of debris.
Environmental groups say they hope legislators are listening. Congress just reduced
the fund from which communities can get loans for sewer projects by 500 million dollars.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tracy Samilton.