Monday, February 1, 2010

Open Letter on the Environment

Perhaps it’s time we took a less sentimental and sophomoric view of our foundational natural resources, which are the very source of our national strength, the starting point for a great nation, and address these issues as a primary concern, rather than as an after-thought. Why not map out a strategy up-front for using our nation’s natural resources that will be sustainable for generations to come.

No longer can we allow a self-serving cabal of environmental activists to hijack national environmental policy. We need a pragmatic approach and firm leadership on environmental issues that will allow a thoughtful nation to gain measured access to these vital resources.

Developing a plan for expanding alternative energy sources is laudable, but not new. This has been discussed and yearned for during the past quarter century. We have the technology, but not the economic will to deploy it. Unfortunately, federal and state policy on this issue has shifted with the winds and there has been insufficient traction for establishing a truly viable business sector, and very little balanced leadership.

Meaning there has been changing tax policy, shifting research emphasis and lopsided legislation. To make alternative energy a greater resource for the nation, there needs to be bedrock policy that doesn't shift every time there's a new chairman of a congressional subcommittee. We need to build a viable, cohesive alternative-energy sector that turns a profit.

Clean water will be the next global battleground. Where is the U.S. in its clean water policies? Does the federal Clean Water Act need to be amended to reflect today's realities? Where do the waters of the United States end and the waters of the states begin? What about private water rights? Where are we in our development of clean water technology, conservation and infrastructure? What is the strategy for deploying clean water technology to Third World Nations and how can or should the United States help abroad?

And then there are the trees. Congress set aside national forests to assure the nation a reliable supply of lumber so we would not be held hostage for wood, a basic, renewable commodity. Later the recreational value of the forests was recognized and added to federal law, but has been used to block active management of federal lands. Please look at the costs for fighting wildfires and determine if that seems a wise use of taxpayer dollars.

The forests must be actively managed to remain healthy and, at a minimum, that means access and harvesting. Attempting to lockup federal lands as a playground for the elite, (very few inner-city children go tramping around in Wyoming, but their parents pay for those lands through taxes) at the expense of the practical needs of the nation and the vitality of the resource itself, is unacceptable. There has got to be a no-nonsense, hard-headed plan for managing our federal lands, which is lacking right now.

Clean air is vital, no news there. The question is how do we regain and then maintain it? Where are we with technology? Is there a measured, viable plan for assuring the quality of the nation's air? The Clean Air Act is busted and needs a tuneup.

What we have now are piecemeal, expensive and over-reaching laws without a strategic framework. And then there's the whole issue of Global Warming. How will this concept be addressed? Forget about "Inconvenient Truths." Let's just stick to the real truths and get to work on policies that actually work without breaking the bank.

And, then there are other issues related to the environment-- transportation, land use, ports, fisheries, wildlife populations, invasive species, public access, resource management, minerals and mining, along with agriculture. When we talk about the biggest issues facing our nation, shoring up the bedrock, while addressing the more short-term problems of the economy, health care and Middle East conflict, is the place to start.

Consider for a moment what is needed in the Middle East -- clean water, food, transportation, electricity -- all related to orderly access to natural resources and a healthy environment. Enabling the people of Iraq and Afghanistan to secure these things has got to be the goal, the reason for sending all these beautiful, young Americans to die there. If not, why? If the answer is oil, then we’re back to natural resources and the environment again.

My ideas for the environment are simple. Start by showing firm leadership for managing our nation's bedrock, while addressing the issues of the day. America is its environment and our resources cannot be treated as an afterthought. To do so is to miss the point. Without a healthy, well-managed environment, we’re merely the dispossessed.