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Gore Vows to Go Extra Mile on Road Ban

Politics: Going beyond Clinton proposal to protect national forests, vice president would also curb logging and further protect Alaska's Tongass.

May 31, 2000|MICHAEL FINNEGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MILWAUKEE — In a move to boost his image as a champion of environmental protection, Al Gore on Tuesday promised a broad expansion of the Clinton administration's plan to curb road construction and logging in national forests.

The vice president also softened his attacks on his rival for the presidency, Texas Gov. George W. Bush. After weeks of relentless assaults on Bush, Gore is focusing instead on his personal biography and his positions on such key issues as the environment.

"If I am entrusted with the presidency, it will be a national priority to preserve these roadless areas as they are--no ifs, ands or buts about it," Gore told a group of environmental advocates at a campaign stop on Lake Michigan.

President Clinton has made preservation of the nation's wilderness a priority as he seeks to define his legacy. He has proposed banning road construction in about one-quarter of the national forests, the 43 million acres where no roads have been built.

But environmentalists have criticized the plan because it would not prohibit logging. They've also complained that it would not apply to the largest national forest, the Tongass in Alaska.

Gore, however, proposed a ban on logging in the forests covered by Clinton's plan, along with full protection of the Tongass from both road-building and logging.

"Our Forest Service must seek long-term preservation, not commercial development," Gore said. "And if you elect me president and stick with me, it always will. I guarantee it."

Gore's announcement is sure to displease the timber industry, which has already characterized Clinton's proposals as too restrictive.

Gore's pledge to expand forest protection came after the League of Conservation Voters, one of the nation's biggest environmental groups, endorsed him for president at a war memorial here.

Deb Callahan, the league's president, called Gore's promise to protect the Tongass "music to our ears."

"It's one of the great wild areas of this continent, and it's been a big battle to protect it," she said.

More than 4,000 miles of roads already wind through the Tongass, the nation's only temperate rain forest. Under a program promoted by Alaska's congressional delegation, U.S. taxpayers subsidize logging in the forest. Over the next four years, 400 miles of federal logging roads are scheduled to be built through the Tongass.

After praising Gore's efforts to fight pollution, Callahan unleashed a blistering attack on the environmental record of Bush.

"Under a Bush administration, we could have oil and mining tycoons running the Department of Interior, and we could see chemical company executives running the [Environmental Protection Agency]," said Callahan, who worked on Gore's 1988 presidential campaign.

Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett said Gore was "relying on his old tactics of a negative campaign. This time, he's hiding behind surrogates that are former Gore staffers."

In recent weeks, Gore has slammed Bush's record on the environment. But in an interview in his limousine on the way to the Milwaukee airport, he declined to discuss Bush's record, referring instead to Callahan's remarks.

Instead, he turned to his own record, saying he wants the American people to get to know him better.

"Even people who know me as vice president don't really know who I am, what I'm proposing, what I'm about, what my positions and experiences are," Gore said in the interview. "That's true of most all candidates who run for president--nothing unusual about me."

In his speech, Gore recalled that his mother delivered "shocking news" about pollution to him and his sister after reading Rachel Carson's landmark "Silent Spring," which exposed the dangers of pesticides.

He also said his father taught him about soil erosion on the family's farm in Carthage, Tenn.

Gore's campaign stop in Milwaukee came as the Sierra Club is running television commercials attacking Bush's environmental record in Wisconsin and three other swing states in the presidential campaign, Michigan, Ohio and Missouri.

Gore has had to walk a fine line on the environment, trying to appeal to a traditional Democratic constituency on the issue while trying to avoid being painted as anti-business.

In the Democratic primaries, the Friends of the Earth political committee embarrassed the vice president by endorsing his Democratic rival, Bill Bradley. The group faulted Gore for doing too little to protect the ozone layer of the atmosphere, saying he had done "poorly on his signature issue."

The League of Conservation Voters describes itself as the political arm of the environmental movement. It has 60,000 members but claims to be the voice for 9 million members of conservation and environmental groups nationwide.

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