Global Earth-Care Efforts Escalate
Environmental calendar will be busy with legislative efforts and conferences
FOLLOWING 1990's Earth Day hoopla, the new year will be one of major maneuvering - and some key decisions - on the environment. In the United States, the focus will be on water resources, toxic waste management, endangered species, energy production and conservation, transportation-related pollution, and wilderness protection. Internationally, global warming, whaling, ozone depletion, and biodiversity are among the topics of intensified debate.Skip to next paragraph
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The underlying theme to all of these issues (and more) is how mankind treats the Earth on into the 21st century. Much of what happens will be with an eye toward the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (``ECO '92'') to be held in Brazil in mid-1992 - 20 years after the last major global environmental gathering.
From spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest of the US to depletion of third-world rain forests to cleaning up pollution-choked industrialized cities in Eastern Europe, the discussion centers on jobs and a better way of life for people versus protecting natural resources. Balance and harmony are the goals; debate and dissent are likely to mark the process as developed and developing economies assert their interests.
US energy strategy
The Persian Gulf crisis has renewed interest in US energy policy, specifically a growing reliance on imported oil. For 18 months, the Energy Department has been working on a national strategy. Proposals are now before the White House, and a draft plan is scheduled to be announced shortly. Among recommendations likely to relate to the environment: tax credits for increased oil and gas drilling, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as well as loosened restrictions on nuclear power plant construction.
``This will be something that environmental groups will strongly fight,'' says Bill Roberts, legislative director of the Environmental Defense Fund. Instead, environmentalists are pushing for stiffer auto-efficiency standards - which failed to pass by just three votes last year - and other ways to emphasize conservation over production.
``Improving fuel economy would address a myriad of environmental problems,'' argues the Sierra Club in its report on the 101st Congress. ``It would cut carbon dioxide emissions, which cause global warming, decrease air pollution, reduce the number of oil spills, and prevent the need to drill in environmentally sensitive areas.... It would also save consumers money at the gas pump and help reduce US dependence on foreign oil, thereby reducing our trade deficit.''
Related to this is the scheduled rewriting of the federal highway bill, which hasn't been amended since 1983. Uncle Sam spends $14.5 billion a year on highways, much of it on an interstate system begun in 1955 and now largely completed. Since transportation accounts for half the oil consumption and 25 percent of ``greenhouse gases'' in the United States, there will be a push to use some of that money to encourage such things as special lanes for high-occupancy vehicles.
After more than a year of legislative wrangling, Congress and the White House last year finally agreed on a new Clean Air Act (the first in 13 years) designed to reduce pollutants that cause acid rain and other atmospheric evils. This year, most provisions of the Clean Water Act expire. Billions of dollars have been spent on sewage treatment, but other problems - agricultural runoff and combined sewer overflows, for example - have yet to be adequately addressed.
The Enviromental Protection Agency's scientific advisory panel also recommends that the ecology of wetlands as wildlife habitat be considered in drafting a new Clean Water Bill, as well as protection of human health. ``Like the canary in the coal mine, fish and wildlife are often the harbinger of impact on humans,'' says Sharon Newsome of the National Wildlife Federation. ``And we don't look at this close enough.''
Just as important as the Clean Water Act (and with the potential for just as much controversy) will be the rewriting of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, scheduled to begin early this year. The act deals with hazardous and other solid waste, and Sen. Quentin Burdick (D) of North Dakota, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, intends to make it his top priority.