Is the government doing enough for the environment?

George John Mitchell is the American special envoy to the Middle East for the Obama administration. A Democrat, Mitchell was a United States Senator who served as the Senate Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995. He was chairman of The Walt Disney Company from March 2004 until January 2007, and was chairman of the international law firm DLA Piper at the time of his appointment as special envoy.

He is the Chancellor of Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  In 2006, he was asked by the Commissioner of Baseball to lead an investigation of the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional baseball.

In addition to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Senator Mitchell has received awards and honors including the Philadelphia Liberty Medal, the Truman Institute Peace Prize, the German Peace Prize and the United Nations (UNESCO) Peace Prize.In the Senate, he was closely associated with free trade and environmental legislation, and with aid to housing and education. He led the successful 1990 reauthorization of the Clean Air Act, including new controls on acid rain toxins. He was the author of the first national oil spill prevention and clean-up law. Mitchell led the Senate to passage of the nation's first child care bill and was principal author of the low income housing tax credit program. He was instrumental in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, landmark legislation extending civil rights protections to the disabled. Mitchell's efforts led to the passage of a higher education bill that expanded opportunities for millions of Americans. Senator Mitchell was also a leader in opening markets to trade and led the Senate to ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement and creation of the World Trade Organization.For six consecutive years he was voted "the most respected member" of the Senate by a bipartisan group of senior congressional aides. In 1994 George Mitchell declined an appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States in order to remain in the Senate and pursue the struggle for universal national health care.

  • Transcript


Question: Should the government be doing more for the environment?

George Mitchell: Well, I think it’s a fair, for me, statement to make-- obviously, he wouldn’t think it fair-- but I think the Bush Administration has been disastrous with respect to the environment. One of the really ironic things is that the Clean Air bill, which I mentioned earlier, would not have become law but for the support of the first President Bush. We tried throughout the Reagan presidency to move a Clean Air bill, but President Reagan was adamantly opposed and we couldn’t move it at all. But when the first George Bush took office, he said, publicly, he was for Clean Air legislation, so instantly the debate changed from, “Will there be a bill?” to “What will be in the bill?” We had a very lengthy process. I, and other senators, had a long negotiation with representatives of the President. We had a lot of disagreement on what ought to be in the bill. But there wouldn’t have been a bill without his support and he came up with some really good ideas: the CAP and training system was a proposal by the Bush Administration, not by members of Congress, not by Democrats. In fact, I argued to my Democratic colleagues in the Senate who were opposed to the proposal that we’re in a negotiation and we can’t have everything our own way, and that’s the nature of a negotiation. Here’s an idea, it may work, it may not, but the President feels strongly about it we ought to try it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll come back and see what we can do, and it’s actually worked quite well. So, one of the ironies of the current administration is that they really haven’t enforced the law as it was intended to be enforced, and they haven’t dealt with many of the other issues, of course- climate change and global warming being the most significant of them. So, it’s a real question as to how high a value Americans place on protection of the environment. I think there’s a general sense that they favor it, but it tends not to be an issue that is pivotal in how many people vote. There are other issues: the economy, the war in Iraq, a lot of other things, so it isn’t the highest-level issue, but I think it ought to be, particularly with respect to climate change.