A rotten environmental legacy is in the making
Though consumed by the day-to-day duties of office, deep in the mind of every American president must be questions about how his decisions will be dissected by historians in the decades and even centuries after he leaves office.
Presidents, especially those in their second term, usually turn a watchful eye to their so-called legacies. The inaugural address, Rose Garden ceremonies and tours aboard Air Force One all become staging grounds to mold images read by the future.
The issues that form presidential legacies are as diverse as the presidents themselves, yet they usually share a common vein — the betterment of humankind, peace and world stability, nurturing and expanding the U.S. and world economy and justice, here and abroad.
Though conservation was an idea that arrived on the scene roughly 100 years ago, it has also become one of the underpinnings of presidential legacies. Chief executives from both parties and of various political philosophies have dedicated at least some effort to improving the environment.
Theodore Roosevelt left one of the most enduring environmental legacies. He established 51 wildlife refuges, ushered through the Antiquities Act, which led to the designation of 18 national monuments, and set the stage for the establishment of the National Park Service. But in the world of modern presidents, Roosevelt is not alone.
Lyndon Johnson helped push through the landmark Clean Water and Wilderness acts and, with the assistance of Lady Bird Johnson, the Beautification of America programs.
Richard Nixon worked cooperatively with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to pass landmark environmental laws, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act amendments and several laws that protect and preserve the species we share the planet with.
He doesn’t always get credit for it, but Ronald Reagan oversaw the designation of more wilderness in the Lower 48 states than any other president, Democrat or Republican.
Bill Clinton established several national monuments and initiated the Roadless Area Conservation Rule to protect more than 50 million acres of America’s intact forests. Although he served only one term in office, the current president’s father, George H. W. Bush, worked with Congress to pass the far-reaching Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, which he signed despite the objections of utilities and industries.
The reason for the role of the environment in presidential legacies is easy to understand. Presidents, especially the wiser among them, recognize that safe water, clean air, and the protection of wilderness and other species besides our own are important to all people. That is why environmental accomplishments are listed in the biographical sketches of nearly every modern president and why they feature prominently in presidential libraries.
In the context of legacy and history, one has to wonder what is going through President George W. Bush’s mind today. His first administration implemented the most regressive environmental policies in American history. Whether it’s the decision to pull out of the Kyoto accords on global climate change, the thwarting of the Clinton administration’s roadless forest policy, the giving to antiquated power plants a pass on having to reduce their dangerous emissions of mercury — a reversal of one of his father’s policies — or efforts to gut the Endangered Species Act, nearly every aspect of the environment has felt the heavy hand of the Bush administration.
His policies have been so negative and so broadly damaging that one has to question if he can do anything now to avoid being characterized as the worst environmental president in American history. His early announcements that he plans to dedicate his second term to opening up a wildlife refuge in Alaska to oil exploration, easing Clean Air Act restrictions and ending habitat protections for salmon make one wonder if he even cares.
Bush’s environmental policies are troubling enough. Equally troubling is his active involvement in undermining the environmental legacies of his predecessors, including those of his father. Unfortunately for Americans and for the world, the impact of Bush’s environmental legacy will go well beyond the pages of a history book. It will be felt for generations in the health of humankind and in the loss of those places and species that we have shared this planet with for as long as we have existed.
Mike Dombeck is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He has served as chief of the U.S. Forest Service and director of the Bureau of Land Management, and is now a professor of environmental management at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point.
Bernalillo in the market for abandoned water rights in town
The town of Bernalillo is going water shopping but is looking no further than its own town limits.
Specifically, the town is scouting for residents willing to sell pre-1907 water rights associated with land that has not been irrigated in the last ten to fifteen years. These rights may have become surplus when family land was divided and went out of production, according to town administrator Lester Swindle.
After sixteen years without use, the rights can be considered abandoned. Selling the rights to the town would preserve the rights, help the community, and provide income for the current owners, he said.
The town would assume all costs related to researching and transferring the rights, Swindle added.
The town already requires developers of lands being annexed into the town to transfer related water rights. Developers of the former Price's Dairy property transferred eighty acre-feet of annual rights to the town as part of the approval process for their subdivision with another eighty-acre-feet expected to come in with the second phase of the project.
An acre foot is a standard irrigation measurement equaling about 326,000 gallons, the volume of water needed to cover one acre with one foot of water.
Burning up our future: Why we need a hydrogen-energy economy
In the name of energy we suffer the indignities of rising prices and shortages. We warm the climate, deplete the ozone layer, pollute our air, poison our environment with acid rain, dump tons of mercury into our oceans each year, and wage wars. As Americans, we also cultivate a dangerous dependency on foreign sources of fossil fuels that weakens our national security.
Where is the world getting its energy? According to the Energy Information Administration, worldwide consumption comes from petroleum (39 percent), coal (25 percent), natural gas (22 percent), renewables, (primarily hydroelectric, 8 percent) and nuclear (6 percent). By 2020 the world will be burning 120 million barrels of oil a day. Natural gas consumption will expand from ninety trillion feet in 2001 to 176 trillion cubic feet in 2025. By 2020 we’ll be pumping 9.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide, the primary culprit in global warming, into what remains of our atmosphere.
How long will the party last? At current rates of consumption, we have forty-five years of oil reserves, seventy years for natural gas, and somewhere around two hundred years for coal.
Every day,according to the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, we spend the energy equivalent of three gallons of oil, twenty pounds of coal, and 221 cubic feet of natural gas for every man, woman, and child in America. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population we consume 24 percent of the world’s energy. By comparison, China’s population, 20 percent of humanity, consumes 10 percent of the world’s energy.
Yet all the while, as we acquire, defend, and use up the finite supply of fossil fuels, while we burn it up and deny it to future generations, we steadfastly turn a blind eye to an unlimited fuel supply, oceans of it, the same fuel that powers the sun.
That fuel is hydrogen. Hydrogen bound with oxygen makes water. Hydrogen does not exist naturally on earth and is found only in compound forms such as water, methane, coal, and petroleum. Hydrogen is a clean-burning fuel that can be made from water, but it takes energy. So the question becomes: how do we make hydrogen fuel without burning up more fossil fuels?
There’s a furnace 93 million miles away. A very small portion of the energy radiated by the sun—one part in two billion—strikes the earth. Just one day of that solar energy is enough to supply all of the U.S. energy needs for one and a half years. We have the technology to capture and use solar energy to produce electricity and clean-burning hydrogen.
Hydrogen is in use today. Prototype cars and buses using fuel cells run on liquid hydrogen are on our streets. Fuel cells using hydrogen for heating systems are sold in Europe.
If we think ahead—before we run out of oil and other fossil fuels—we can move toward a clean-energy economy based upon renewable fuels.
David Slawson is CEO of Stirling Energy Systems, a solar-energy company based in Phoenix, Arizona.
Pipeline safety notes
Many people are unaware that Placitas is on a major interstate pipeline corridor. Underground pipelines tend to be out of sight and out of mind. However, if we are to minimize the risk of an accident, the National Transportation Safety Board recommends that we all know a few things about the pipelines in our area.
In October, we had a reminder of the importance of public education about pipelines. A Kinder Morgan pipeline blew a relief valve and lost 772 barrels of carbon dioxide (that’s 32,424 gallons). In the annals of pipeline incidents, this was minor. But it highlights the reason for knowing where pipelines are, what they contain, and what we can do to keep ourselves safe in the event of an accident.
What do these pipelines carry and where are they?
Five large pipelines traverse Placitas on their way from the Four Corners to the southeast corner of the state. Three are owned by Enterprise, of those, two (twelve- and ten-inch) carry natural gas liquids, e.g., butane, ethane, and propane, and one (eight-inch) carries refined products, e.g., gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel. One (thirty-inch) is owned by Kinder Morgan and carries carbon dioxide. One (sixteen-inch) is owned by Shell and was formerly approved for crude oil. Shell’s project proposal to convert this pipeline to refined products has for the moment been abandoned and the line is currently idle.
The pipelines enter our area in one broad swath north of Sundance subdivision on Santa Ana Pueblo land and then they cross BLM land to reach Albuquerque’s Placitas Open Space. At this point, four of the pipelines begin to take a more northerly route. They enter Placitas Ranchettes subdivision, traverse Cedar Creek subdivision, cross Las Huertas Creek, and then parallel Camino de la Rose Castilla. Finally, they cross Diamond Tail subdivision and head southeast toward the East Mountains. The fifth pipeline (Shell) heads slightly south, eventually meeting up with Camino de Las Huertas and passing just north of the Elementary School, crossing the parking lot of the community center and then heading uphill to cross the Sandia Mountains.
Why does the NTSB think the public should be educated about pipelines? What could we possibly do about them?
Knowing how to recognize a leak and what to do (and not to do) can be the difference between a simple cleanup and a community tragedy. Pipeline accidents are infrequent; the Placitas area has averaged one every other year over the last ten years. Pipelines carry hazardous materials that are safe only when properly contained; if they spill, serious accidents can occur.
Natural-gas liquids are especially dangerous. When they leak they form a cloud that can look like a mist or fog. That mist can explode with even a tiny spark. If you see a fog near the pipelines, don’t drive near it. Don’t use a cell phone. Leave the area on foot.
Refined products are also dangerous; they may appear as a dark spot on the ground, or a geyser of liquid shooting high in the air. Again, avoid sparks; do not drive a car near the spill, quickly leave the area on foot, and don’t use a cell phone.
Carbon dioxide is probably the least dangerous of the materials running through these pipelines; while a large spill could settle in low areas and cause suffocation, there has never been a fatality from a carbon-dioxide pipeline spill.
Once you are well away from the spill, call 911 to report it. Do not try to get close to the pipeline signs to get the phone number to call—since there are multiple pipelines it would be easy to get the number for the wrong company and delay the emergency response.
Other than recognizing spills, is there anything else I should know?
There are several things. First and perhaps most importantly, New Mexico requires that you notify New Mexico One Call, 1-800-321-ALERT, before excavating. That phone call will inform all owners of underground utilities of your excavation plans. There is no charge for this service; within two days they will come mark their lines. If you don’t call and you damage underground utilities, you can be fined. If you damage a pipeline and don’t report it, it can be a felony. Don’t take chances, especially in a community with large hazardous pipelines. Call before you dig!
Second, don’t assume that the pipeline is immediately under the sign. The sign may have fallen and been put back in the ground by someone other than the pipeline company. If you need to know exactly where the pipeline is, call the number on the sign and the company can send someone out to locate it for you.
Third, don’t assume that shallow excavation is safe because the pipeline would be deeply buried. There is no requirement that depth of cover be maintained, so a pipeline can legally be quite close to the surface. In our community, one pipeline is even exposed in some areas.
Fourth, the most common pipeline accident occurs on distribution pipelines (the ones that bring gas to your home for cooking and heating). For those pipelines, the most common causes of accidents are excavation and motor vehicles striking aboveground facilities. You can prevent these accidents by calling before you dig and locating your gas meter far from your driveway.
Fifth, the most common cause of accidents on transmission pipelines (the ones that traverse the country carrying large quantities of materials) is corrosion. Although laws and regulations have recently been strengthened, it is estimated that fewer than 15 percent of the nation’s transmission pipelines are required to be inspected.
What if I want to learn more?
If you have a question about a specific pipeline, you can go to a Web site operated by the federal Office of Pipeline Safety at http://220.127.116.11/publicsearch/, and input your location to learn who operates pipelines in your area and how to contact the company. The OPS home page is at http://ops.dot.gov/. If you want to know more about what is being done to make pipelines safer, go to the Pipeline Safety Trust Web site at www.pstrust.org/. Or call me in Placitas: Bert Miller, President, Citizens for Safe Pipelines, 771-8358.
Placitas Recycle Center increases services, volume
The Placitas Recycle Center went to a weekly schedule last November, and all indications are that it has been a great success. Business is booming. In particular, since the center started accepting mixed paper, it has collected an enormous amount of recyclable materials. As a result, patrons of the center will notice a new trailer with large cardboard boxes to collect the mixed paper.
Located on Highway 165 just east of I-25, the Recycle Center has served the Placitas area for over a decade, helping to reduce the amount of trash that ends up in landfills. The Placitas Recycling Association estimates that use of the center by local residents in 2004 kept nine tons of mixed, office, and white paper, forty-one tons of cardboard, sixty-six tons of newspaper, two tons of aluminum, and three tons of plastic out of the landfill.
Landfills are wasteful, and expensive to replace when they fill up. Recycling is an effective way for residents to help preserve the fragile New Mexico environment, especially as more people discover the charms of the Land of Enchantment.
The Placitas Recycle Center is open every Saturday from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. The center accepts cardboard, newspaper, all forms of office and mixed paper, aluminum, clear and translucent No. 1 and No. 2 plastic, laser and ink-jet printer cartridges, and bagged shredded paper and polystyrene peanuts. Unfortunately, the center still cannot accept glass or tin cans, and it is no longer taking telephone books.
Cardboard packing boxes in good condition and shredded paper and polystyrene peanuts are available on request for reuse as packing material. “Reusing these items is even better than recycling them,” notes Len Stephens, board president. “Anyone who can put these materials to good use is encouraged to drop by during our Saturday operating hours and pick up whatever they need.”
The Placitas Recycle Center is staffed 100 percent by volunteers. Anyone interested in volunteering a couple of times a year can call John De Graauw at 771-9549. For more information, visit the association's Web page at www.placitasrecycling.com.
Heard Around the West
Hunting is coming to the Internet. A Texas entrepreneur plans to offer online hunting that isn't virtual—it will have real impact. John Underwood, an auto-body estimator, wants to import exotic animals, including wild pigs, Barbary sheep, and Indian blackbuck antelopes, to his 330-acre ranch. There, he'll set up Web cams connected to the trigger of a .22 caliber rifle. All viewers have to do, says the unenthusiastic Earth Island Journal, is pay a fee, and then it's "ready, aim, double-click."
"Sir, step away from the helicopter," was the message a California man received after he made two emergency helicopter landings near Bishop, California, during one of the worst snowstorms of the winter. Pilot Pascal Brandys refused to wait: he took off from Mammoth Airport in the midst of swirling snow and fog, but was forced down almost immediately onto the center divider of U.S. 395, reports the Inyo Register News. Brandys then tried to lift off as soon as the fog lifted a bit, only to get forced down again by poor visibility. This time, he landed the helicopter on a shoulder of the same highway. The police officer who ordered the pilot not to take off a third time said he almost missed seeing the aircraft because of the blowing snow. There were no injuries, said reporter Jon Klusmire, "except for the bruised ego of the pilot."
What if you had a water leak of monstrous proportions and didn't know it? You might rip through 1.4 million gallons of water and owe the city more than $10,000. That's what happened to homeowner Leslie Schofield in Bellevue, Washington. The leak sprang from an outside hose running to a boat dock, reports The Seattle Times. The city says it expects full payment.
In its annual Get Out of Town! feature, the Tucson Weekly tells a bunch of people to do just that. Targets of the paper's sarcastic advice include an "overpaid" broadcaster, a tanning joint calling itself the Bada Bing that "cooks your skin into cancer," the ersatz-Italian Olive Garden chain, and homeowners who share a tendency to install outdoor lights so bright they make everything look like a Hollywood set. Tucson is hailed all over the country for its Dark Skies Ordinance, says the alternative paper, so why do people "light up their yards like the all-night parking lots of the twenty-four-hour grocery?" Those folks should "shift on those high beams and get out of town."
Don't mess with the Buddha: a three-foot-tall statue of Buddha was taken from the patio of Honga's Restaurant in Telluride a year ago, but now it's back, having brought nothing but bad karma to the three thieves. The men confessed that once the statue was ensconced in their Denver home, things began to go wrong, such as a serious mold spreading throughout the house. "They hoped to reverse the bad karma by returning the purloined item," reports The Telluride Watch.
Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (firstname.lastname@example.org).