Dear EarthTalk: I understand that there are a number of bills before Congress right now that seek to turn over public lands to destructive commercial and recreational activity. What can be done to stop this assault on the land that belongs to all the people? -- Astrid Cameron, New York, NY
Yes, more than a dozen bills are under consideration in Congress right now that seek to open up more of our public lands to development and resource extraction. Ranging from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to mining in the Grand Canyon to reversing the 2001 “Roadless rule,” they amount to what the Wilderness Society is calling an “unprecedented siege on America’s wild places.”
|More than a dozen bills are under consideration in Congress that
seek to open up more public lands to development, resource
extraction and destructive recreational activity, including
permitting motorbikes, snowmobiles and ATVs into millions of
wild acres now protected against the noise and emissions from
such vehicles.Credit: iStockPhoto/Thinkstock
Probably the most offensive bill is the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act, proposed by California Republican Kevin McCarthy in the House (H.R. 1581) and Wyoming Republican John Barrasso in the Senate (S. 1087). It calls for releasing tens of millions of acres across the American West and beyond from development restrictions instituted by the Clinton administration’s 2001 Roadless Area Conservation initiative (the “Roadless rule”) that set aside almost 60 million acres of public land as untouchable.
The bill aims to release areas deemed not suitable for wilderness designations—including some “Wilderness Study Areas” on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property and many still inaccessible areas within National Forests—from restrictions set forth under the Roadless rule. It directs these areas to be managed instead according to principles set forth under a 1960’s Multiple Use/Sustained Yield Act that allows for development and resource extraction on lands that don’t have significant conservation or scenic value.
The Wilderness Society is fighting hard against the new legislation, which it calls “The Great Outdoors Giveaway.” The group claims the bill would undermine decades of land protection work supported by the vast majority of Americans. “It gives polluters and developers, who already have access to 76 percent of all national forests and BLM lands, access to even more of America’s vanishing wilderness,” reports the group. “This bill is a blank check for polluters to ruin the air we breathe and water we drink.”
Some similar bills now before Congress include the Border Patrol Takeover Act, which aims to end clean air and water protections in natural or wilderness areas on or near U.S. borders; the Motorize Our Wilderness Areas Act, which would allow motorbikes, snowmobiles and ATVs into millions of wild acres now protected against the noise and emissions from such vehicles; and the End the National Monuments Act, a call to strip the President of his authority to designate new national monuments by executive order.
Conservationists aren’t the only ones opposed to opening up more public lands to the axe and drill. The 2012 Conservation in the West Poll conducted by researchers at Colorado College found that upwards of 85 percent of voters in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming support conservation and oppose more development on their public lands. No matter their political leanings, most voters polled believe that conservation helps create and protect jobs in their states and that private companies shouldn’t be allowed to develop public lands if public enjoyment or access is compromised.
CONTACTS: The Wilderness Society, www.wilderness.org; Conservation in the West Poll, www2.coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies/conservationinthewestsurvey_e.html.
Dear EarthTalk: I read somewhere that our various systems for collecting, distributing and treating water are very energy intensive and, as such, contribute significantly to global warming. How does that happen and what can we do to correct such problems? -- Marina Shaw, Monroe, CT
|According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the collection,
distribution and treatment of drinking water and wastewater in the
U.S. uses up significant amounts of energy and releases some 116
billion pounds of carbon dioxide each year -- as much global
warming pollution as 10 million cars on the road.
It’s true that the collection, distribution and treatment of drinking water and wastewater in the U.S. uses up significant amounts of energy and releases some 116 billion pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year—as much global warming pollution as 10 million cars on the road—according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nationwide, around four percent of power generation is used for water supply and treatment, but in certain drier parts of the country that number is far higher. For instance, in California the water sector is the state’s largest energy user, accounting for some 19 percent of total electricity consumed there.
The key to staving off water emergencies is to use less. “Reducing water consumption saves energy because less water needs to be treated and pumped to end users,” reports the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Moreover, when energy use is reduced, water is saved because less is needed in the operation of power plants.” Some thermoelectric power plants, for example, use some 100 billion gallons of fresh water each day, which translates into 25 gallons to produce each kilowatt-hour of electricity.
Another way to reduce waste is by fixing leaky aging water pipes throughout the U.S. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that many drinking water systems across the country lose as much as 20 percent of treated drinking water each year due to leaks in their pipe networks. Making a concerted effort to fix these systems would go a long way toward preserving our aquifers.
Water waste can also be reduced significantly if new buildings and developments integrate so-called “low impact design” concepts into the planning stages, whereby the landscaping surrounding structures is designed to mimic the natural hydrology of the site, including strategically placed native plants, rain barrels, green roofs, porous parking lots and roads, etc. The idea is to retain rainfall on site where plants and soil can filter pollutants out naturally or where it can be re-used in gray water applications (such as for landscape irrigation or water for toilet flushing). Especially parched parts of the country can recycle and reuse wastewater on a larger scale to avert the costly importation of more fresh water.
Much water is also wasted in agriculture. Farmers can help by adopting any number of efficiency measures at their disposal, mostly in the realm of efficient irrigation technologies. “Switching from flood irrigation to drip irrigation, for instance, can increase water use efficiency as much as 40 percent,” reports NRDC, adding that even small changes can mean a 10-15 percent gain in water use efficiency on farms.
And everyone can do their part by turning off the water while brushing teeth or shaving and limiting the length of showers and the amount of lawn watering we do. Beyond these little things, home- and business-owners should consider investing in water fixtures that meet the EPA's more rigorous water efficiency “WaterSense” standards (look for labels accordingly). To qualify for the label, fixtures must be at least 20 percent more efficient than current standards specify, while performing as well or better than less efficient counterparts. The price of WaterSense fixtures may be slightly higher, but most consumers will make up the difference quickly if they are replacing older inefficient faucets, taps or toilets.