Environmental Balance

George W. Bush's choice for Interior secretary already has sparked a small brush fire of concern. Gale Norton, former attorney general of Colorado, is known as someone who believes in listening to, and often deferring to, state, local, and private interests on issues of natural resources.

Critics anticipate Ms. Norton will throw the doors open to more exploitation of federally owned forests and mineral resources.

But hearing a wider range of voices in making such decisions doesn't have to mean less regard for conservation. As the lead article in today's Ideas section (page 11) points out, environmentalists and market-oriented thinkers are learning to work together.

Depleted fisheries can be helped back to health by giving fishermen economic incentives to conserve. Timber resources can be preserved by removing government subsidies encouraging their exploitation.

How might such thinking apply to the big decisions down the road for the Bush environmental team, such as whether to open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling?

The costs of that step, with its probable loss of pristine wilderness, will have to be weighed carefully. What are the options for increased domestic energy production with lower environmental costs? What can the country do to conserve current resources?

Most Americans, Republicans and Democrats, consider environmental protection a priority. Balancing those concerns with economic needs, property rights, and local interests will be a real test for the Bush team.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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