A Bored Walk Down Perk Place

Members of the Washington, D.C. City Council and several activist groups continue their tired push for statehood, claiming the city’s residents are entitled to two U.S. Senators, and pretending the founders had no reason to put the Capitol in a district that was not part of any state.

This week the Council debated new welcome signs for roads entering the District from Maryland.  In addition to the traditional “Welcome to Washington, D.C.,” some members propose replacing “The Nation’s Capitol” with cutesy slogans like “Unrepresented in Congress for over 200 years” or “Enjoy your stay and join our fight for statehood.”  Last year D.C. began issuing license plates emblazoned with the motto “Taxation Without Representation” – as if Congress has never paid any attention whatsoever to the needs of Washington, D.C.

The latest publicity scheme calls for renaming a portion of Pennsylvania Avenue –  the Nation’s Main Street – to call attention to the statehood demand.  A website set up by council members to solicit public suggestions produced such uninspired gems as “Statehood for DC Avenue” and “DC Demands Full Democracy Avenue.”

 All of this noise about Congressional representation for D.C. ignores several important facts and principles.

First, Washington, D.C. is a city, not a state.  It has neighborhoods, not counties.  Its politics are monolithic and its people share the same interests – including an interest in subsidizing everything they do with tax money from the rest of the country.

Second, Washington enjoys greater representation in Congress and all federal agencies than any other part of the United States.  The D.C. metro area has about 5.4 million residents, including 4 U.S. Senators and 5 Congressmen who live in its suburbs – and the other 530 Members of Congress and over 3,000 presidential appointees who spend most of the year there.  Any idea that the needs of Washington, D.C. have no voice in government would be laughable, if it were funny.

Third, Washington, D.C. is actually closer to “representation without taxation” than the other way around.  Consider that Congress subsidizes D.C. government to the tune of ¾ of a billion dollars every year – in addition to the taxes paid by residents – and the D.C. delegate in Congress sits on the Appropriations Committee to see that the money gets earmarked to all her favorite projects.  Last year America’s taxpayers spent $768 million on D.C. projects such as a $35 million Tuition Assistance Grant program, new charter schools ($62 million), homeless shelters ($19 million); a local sewer project ($20 million), $100,000 each for the Whitman Walker Clinic and the Youth Power Center, and $50,000 to fund upgrades at a Washington hospital.  These annual subsidies, of course, tell only a fraction of the real story, especially considering the tens of billions spent to build the city itself – and it is not built with cheap materials.  What other city can afford to eschew concrete, building its sidewalks of brick and its curbs of granite?  Where else are daily commuter roads maintained by the National Park Service, or traffic enforcement provided by U.S. Capitol Police?  Washington is a beautiful city with parks, open spaces, fountains, plazas, circles, and magnificent architectural masterpieces – all built by the entire nation’s taxpayers.

Fourth, the founders understood exactly why the seat of government could not be part of any State, as it would provide an automatic advantage to residents of that State.  In the sectional disputes that characterize a giant country – disputes that are as common today as in 1790 when Washington was founded – the balance of power is delicate and it is important.  Diluting the representation of all the other states to give a single city even greater hold – over a country it already dominates – would be a colossal mistake.

Finally, residents of the District have a much simpler choice.  If the issue is really about a vote in Congress as they claim, the easy fix is to give the non-federal part of the city back to Maryland (from which it was originally carved out).  That would almost certainly gain one additional congressional district for Maryland.  The Virginia portion of the original 10 square-mile tract was given back to that state more than 100 years ago, and that solution would still work today.  But if you suspect another agenda is at work, you’re right.  What is really at stake is nothing more than a partisan attempt to stack more Democratic votes in the U.S. Senate, which would be the result of statehood (for D.C. and also for Puerto Rico, another perennial proposal).  Like FDR’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court 75 years ago, it is an attempt to thwart the will of the people and the spirit of the Constitution.

The United States already include several historical quirks.  For instance, Rhode Island is essentially a county, separated from Massachusetts Bay Colony because of religious differences between Roger Williams and the Puritans.  And West Virginia was separated from Virginia in complete violation of the U.S. Constitution during the Civil War because of strong Union sentiments there.  But no such national catastrophe plagues modern-day residents of the nation’s capitol.

In fact, D.C. residents have no desire to give up the many perks of living in Washington, from the right to in-state tuition at colleges in every state to the heavily subsidized subway system.  If they seek a more appropriate name for Pennsylvania Avenue, they ought to consider calling it Perk Place.  Then residents can pass GO, collect $200, and ponder the benefits of living in a world-class city built by the hard work and tax money of the entire rest of the country.

Lies, Damned Lies and Campaign Ads

There is nothing new about nasty campaign ads, but people across America express increasing disgust with negative tactics that often leave voters with no good choices.  Tired of voting for the “lesser of two evils,” voters would rather feel proud to support public officials they like.  Sadly, after year-long campaigns that saturate radio and TV with negative messages about candidates, many voters tell pollsters they simply hold their nose and cast a vote they are not proud of, because the alternative was worse.

I am a product of the political system that uses negative ads “because they work.”  My 2004 campaign for Congress in Colorado’s 3rd District was the top targeted House race in America that year, with over $8 million spent by candidates, parties, and especially outside interest groups – nearly all of it on negative messages.  My campaign was both victim and perpetrator of the nasty, negative, and misleading ads that form most modern campaigns.  More than one voter threatened me, “If I hear one more of those stupid commercials, I’m voting for no one!”  Every candidate hears similar frustrations.

Voters who make that threat rarely mean it.  Although they know many of these ads are over-the-top, the negative images clearly have an effect, as any pollster will attest.  Candidates not only monitor their popularity ratings, but also their “negatives” – the number of people who will not vote for them because of some negative perception, often created by ads financed by their opponent, or by outside interest groups.  Yet these frustrated voters may be onto something more substantive than they realize – an actual solution to the problem.

Thousands of private organizations print ballots for officers that include “none of the above,” but very few governments do so (among States, only Nevada).  Robert’s Rules of Order require that these votes be counted to determine the total number of votes cast, to ensure the winner received a majority of the eligible votes.  But if “none of the above” wins, there is no generally accepted procedure.  In Nevada, the next closest vote-getter is declared the winner.  But what if such a result actually required a new election?

Think about this: if both political parties knew their candidates might be so damaged by nasty ads that neither could win, they might be more hesitant to sink to such depths.  A sort-of “mutual assured destruction” system might emerge, in which neither side wanted to be first to “go negative” with their campaign messages, knowing the other side would respond in-kind and thus dangerously lower public opinion of both candidates.  Both parties seek to nominate their best, and would be loath to see them destroyed, lest they have no better choice on deck.

“None of the above” could be more than just a wasted symbolic vote.  Since our government derives its power “from the consent of the governed,” it would be an actual refusal by voters to be governed by either candidate.  Numerous other writers – from the Wall Street Journal to Ralph Nader – have advocated a “none of the above” choice, but it has generally been amusingly viewed as a solution without a problem.  But for those who think negative advertising has diminished our democratic process, perhaps there really is a serious reason to consider that option.

The Clothes Have No Emperor

The Deepwater Horizon accident and the resulting oil leak is a tragedy on many levels, costing the lives of 11 workers, displacing hundreds of others, costing an entire region jobs and tax revenue, and beginning an environmental catastrophe that will take years to heal.  Watching the reaction of politicians, business leaders and the media has made the whole spectacle worse, if that’s possible, and prompting many to wonder, “Who is in charge?”

  • Is it Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who inelegantly announced that with his boot on the neck of BP, if they couldn’t stop the leak soon he would push them aside and do so himself (but after 2 months has still not done so)?
  • Is it White House Environment Czar Carol Browner, who told a press conference that while BP was doing the actual work, “we are in charge” (but who cannot make a decision between contradictory environmental laws)?
  • Is it the President, who criticized Salazar for using harsh words, and then said he was meeting with experts to find out “whose ass to kick” (but who thus far has been content with reorganizing a minor agency, changing its name from MMS to BOE)?
  • Is it the congressional committee members who spent an entire day yelling at BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward, while continuing to ban drilling at easier locations throughout the United States?
  • Is it the news media, where in-depth investigative reporting has focused mainly on oily pelicans, the President playing golf, and the BP chief executive watching yacht races?
  • Is it BP, whose experts after 2 months cannot find a way to stop the leak, but refuse outside assistance (even from noted Hollywood oil spill experts like James Cameron and Kevin Costner)?

 Sadly, the honest answer is: no one is in charge.  Lots of politicians are wearing the clothes of power, but where is the emperor?  Who is making decisions on what technology to try next, whose expertise to ask for, or how to streamline the bureaucracy and get decisions made?  Alas, no one.

Consider that environmental laws have stopped the use of chemicals that disperse the oil slick because such “dispersants” are harmful in other ways.  At the same time, burning the oil while it’s still floating at sea has been used only very sparingly because of the impact on air quality standards.  Similarly, the sand berms that might stop the oil from reaching wetlands and beaches (requested by state governors) were stopped for weeks because that requires an extended permitting process.  Morning news shows have featured dozens of products (from specialized foam to sawdust) touted for their ability to soak up oil, all of which have been referred to a BP committee that has received over 65,000 suggestions, but apparently can’t decide whether to use any of them.

Here is the problem: spilling oil is illegal; allowing oil to wash up on shores is illegal; burning oil at sea is illegal; dumping sawdust or foam into the ocean is illegal; dumping piles of sand into the ocean without permits is illegal; and the use of large quantities of chemical dispersants is illegal.  Believe it or not, this is a common problem with our nation’s environmental laws.  You can’t have a pile of old tires or batteries on your property – and you are not allowed to dispose of them.  This contradictory mess of well-meaning regulations results in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t quandary.  In many instances it actually hurts the environment.  But in a catastrophe of this magnitude, it is inexcusable.

Someone, somewhere, needs to take charge and make it clear that the nation will do whatever it takes to stop this leak, stop the oil from reaching the shore, and clean up the mess that’s already out there.  Someone needs to make a clear decision on how and where America will get the energy upon which its economy absolutely depends.  Someone needs to decide to allow drilling where it is easier, cheaper, and fixable when something goes wrong.

We hear strong words about this every day.  But instead of making such vitally important decisions and taking whatever heat comes with it, our political leaders are rearranging the desks of minor bureaucrats and posturing to see who can appear toughest on TV.  The “never waste a crisis” mentality has provided the impetus to stop all drilling (as if that is any answer), perhaps hoping Americans will stop driving cars if the price of gasoline goes high enough.

Just to make sure that happens, Congressional leaders have slipped a massive oil tax increase into the current tax “extenders bill.”  Hidden on page 138, the proposed language would raise taxes on oil from 8 cents a barrel to 49 – an increase of 612 percent!  If nobody notices the tax increase, Americans will simply blame BP when the price of gas at the pump goes up.  And that is politics, not leadership.

Plenty of people in politics wear the clothes of power and surround themselves with the trappings of government authority.  Is there an emperor in there somewhere?  A good friend once compared Washington, D.C. to a log floating down the river with a thousand tiny ants – every one of whom thinks he’s steering.  Who really is?

Lassie Lynx Come Home!

The government says lynx won’t cross a road, a pipeline, or a ski area.  But mountains, rivers, and plains don’t seem to be a problem.

In 1943 “Lassie Come Home” was an international box-office sensation, a Technicolor tear-jerker about the long, difficult journey home of a dog separated from his owner by hundreds of miles of wild country, bad weather and mean men.  They’re still making sequels, story books, and TV shows 60 years later.  But Lassie’s dramatic journey into the hearts of millions was nowhere near as impressive as the recent trek home of a Canadian lynx named “BC-03-M-02” – and Hollywood didn’t even notice.

Maybe the Colorado Division of Wildlife could have found more marketable names when some 200 Canadian lynx were introduced into the State as a way to recover an extinct population in the Southern Rockies (hindsight is always 20-20).  Movies, books, and TV shows could have highlighted the incredible achievements of these amazing animals – and “BC-03-M-02” would not have been the only star.  His accomplishment should be legendary by now: he was captured near Kamloops, British Columbia in 2003, brought 1,350 miles to Southern Colorado and released into the wild to find his own way.  And he did.  Tracked by a radio collar every step of the way, he settled in, ate well, found a mate, and sired at least two litters of kittens before disappearing off the radar in 2007.

No one was surprised when he vanished.  Numerous other lynx in this experiment had died: a few starved to death, several were shot by mean men, a few hit by cars, and some turned up dead for no apparent reason – perhaps some just lost the will to live with so much regulation and government meddling.  But many others established large territories and wandered brave distances, to the everlasting embarrassment of the U.S. Forest Service.  That agency had claimed these remarkable cats would only eat snowshoe hares, so their population would rise and fall with the rabbits – but these lynx eat snowshoe hares, other rodents, squirrels, prairie dogs, birds, and even an old lady’s dog in Durango.  The government said ski areas would destroy lynx habitat – but one of the cats actually lived on a ski slope through an entire winter season and apparently enjoyed it.  The government said lynx couldn’t live further south than Colorado – but several have moved to New Mexico, apparently unaware of the state line.

Most shockingly, the Forest Service said lynx would not/could not cross open areas greater than 100 yards; they would only survive in dense forests where there were no people – but no one told the lynx.  Thanks to radio collars, the real behavior of these animals is now well documented.  Some crossed the San Luis Valley, one was recaptured after crossing the Great Plains to Wakeeney, Kansas, and several have been tracked north across Wyoming and even Montana.  But the Oscar goes to lynx “BC-03-M-02,” which had not vanished forever, but literally trudged all the way back to Canada – without a GPS system.

The cats have survived well in Colorado, despite the stubborn existence of towns, roads, vehicles and 5 million people.  The Forest Service theories were not based on science, of course, but on their desire to use lynx as an excuse to halt ski area expansion, close roads, ban snowmobiles, stop logging, mining, oil and gas exploration, and grazing. 

We brought lynx back to Colorado for a simple reason – environmental decisions ought to be based on science, not political agendas.  People can argue about the desirability of snowmobiles, ski areas, ranching, logging and energy production – arguing is recreation for westerners.  But those disputes are not really about the lynx – they continue to eat, sleep, drink, and make kittens, as if completely unaware of this flurry of activity on their behalf.  The poor animals are simply caught in the cross-fire because of the awesome regulatory power of the Endangered Species Act, the biggest tool in the toolbox for stopping human activity.  So in Colorado we decided to recover the species, so they would no longer be threatened – nor would our use of the national forests.  Today, Colorado’s healthy lynx population is among the great success stories in the history of conservation, though the government can’t admit it.

The classic tragedy in this story is lynx “BC-03-M-02.”  He made the amazing expedition of over 1,200 miles, but almost within sight of his destination back in Kamloops, he was caught and killed by a trap near Nordegg, Alberta on January 28, 2010.  Only a couple reporters have noted the significance of that journey, but there is still time for Hollywood to catch up.  The good news, of course, is his two litters of kittens – at least 6 in all – whose existence provides hope for the first of many sequels: “Son of BC-03-M-02.”

Rain, Rein, or Reign?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a broad and complex mission to control air and water pollution, hazardous waste, chemicals, radiation, and a wide range of other environmental hazards.  Does that include rain?

Apparently so.  The EPA has proposed a new initiative to “rein in the rain,” as Americans for Prosperity aptly puts it.   The agency is proposing requirements “including design or performance standards, for stormwater discharges from, at minimum, newly developed and redeveloped sites.”  No later than November of 2012 the EPA says it will publish final regulations controlling “stormwater runoff.”

To me, that looks like treating the symptoms, rather than the causes, of the outrageous impacts of rain.  Apparently rain has a tendency to create water on the ground and on buildings, which then runs in a downhill fashion toward streams, rivers, and ultimately oceans.  Clearly that cannot be allowed to continue unchecked, at least not without some regulation to insure that the water runs off correctly, meaning in smaller amounts.  But if the government is truly concerned about too much stormwater, and its disastrous propensity to run downhill, wouldn’t it be smarter to regulate the rain itself?

The new regulations may dictate the design of roofs, parking lots, streets, curbs, gutters, storm drains, pipes, and a host of other construction features involving drainage.  Notice that the intent is to regulate such facilities for new construction “at minimum,” meaning they may also decide to implement new regulatory standards for already existing cities, towns, neighborhoods, roads, and even homes.  You may have thought you were merely letting rainwater run off your place, but no – you are “discharging” it.  On purpose.  You need an EPA permit for that.

The cost of implementing such new federal regulations on every new development in the United States can only be guessed, but will be staggering, and unnecessary.  Instead, I think the government ought to go directly to the source of these problems and regulate rain.  All this expense on individual developments would be unneeded if it didn’t rain so much to begin with, so why treat symptoms and not the cause?

If you are skeptical of the government’s capacity to regulate a natural phenomenon like rain, you are clearly not paying attention.  Research over the past few years, upon which many government programs now rely, focuses on the astounding ability of people to change the weather, and even the overall climate of the Earth.  EPA is moving into regulation of naturally occurring gases like carbon dioxide (perhaps we will soon be required to stop breathing) precisely because our lifestyle is said to affect the weather.  Another case of treating symptoms, not causes.  So why not focus all these regulatory efforts directly where it would count the most and simply make it rain less where stormwater is an issue, perhaps redirecting that rain to areas where it is needed, such as the arid West?

It is not clear how long the reign of the current federal regulators may last, but maybe while they’re in power they will figure out how to rein in the rain – before it’s too late.

How many government officials does it take to replace ALL your light bulbs?

Light bulb jokes have been popular for many years as a way to poke fun of stereotypes.  I remember several old ones about how many Republicans it takes to change a light bulb, especially popular during the early Reagan years.  It took one to screw in the bulb, one to steady the chandelier, one to claim the bulb wasn’t truly needed, and one to reminisce about the old bulb.  When I went into state government, there was a joke about how many bureaucrats it takes to change a light bulb, and the answer was, “Who said anything about change?”

But this newest joke is no joke at all.  Every single American will have to change ALL the light bulbs in their homes because by 2014 the incandescent bulbs we use today will no longer be sold.  The breakthrough invention of Thomas Edison that brought civilization out of the whale oil age – the light bulb that itself became our iconic image to illustrate a good idea – has been banned by federal law.

Question: How many government officials does it take to change ALL the bulbs? Answer: 37,221. Here is the breakdown:

  • 1 former Vice President to jet around the world convincing everyone that our use of light bulbs was helping destroy the planet;
  • 30 of Al Gore’s friends who are members of the UN‘s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the 2,000 “scientists” who work for them, publish studies and (as we now know) fudge the data to make global warming appear worse than it is;
  • 500 employees of United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) in Nairobi, and 188 Members of the World Meteorological Association, who jointly created the IPCC and publish literature on our impending doom ;
  • 314 Congressmen and 86 Senators who responded by voting for the 2007 “Energy Independence and Security Act,” which requires incandescent light bulbs to be phased out by 2014;
  • 400 legislative staffers who advise those 314 Congressmen and 86 Senators on energy issues;
  • 257 staffers who work for the 4 House Committees that wrote the bill;
  • 127 staffers who work for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and majority Whip James Clyburn, the leaders who pushed the bill through the House;
  • 245 staffers who work for the 3 Senate Committees that worked on the bill;
  • 60 employees of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Majority Whip Richard Durbin, who led the bill through the upper House;
  • 1 President to sign the bill into law;
  • 12 White House Council on Environmental Quality staffers who advised the President to do so;
  • 18,000 employees of the EPA and 15,000 DOE workers who are now finalizing the regulations for phasing out Edison’s miracle through their joint “Energy Star Program.”

Part of the EPA and DOE work is to help us figure out what to do with the old bulbs (besides reminiscing).  We can simply throw them away when they burn out.  But not the new bulbs, the Compact Fluorescent (CFL) bulbs – they must be recycled carefully, because they contain mercury.  In fact, here is the government’s official advice about what to do if one accidentally breaks: everyone must immediately leave the house by some other route, turn off all heating and air conditioning, air out the house for at least 15 minutes, then clean up the glass and put it in a sealed container (they suggest a mason jar).  Next you must throw away any clothing or bedding that may have touched any of the broken glass.  Finally, the “next several times you vacuum,” you still have to open windows and shut off all ventilation.

Few people argue that the new CFL bulbs are more efficient, use less electricity, and last longer.  I use them myself.  But some people don’t, citing the different colors and visual effects of fluorescent lighting.  Personally, I don’t care what kind of bulbs people use in their own homes – I guess that’s why we have big government.

After Edison had tried and failed 9,000 times to find the right material for a light bulb filament that would glow but not burn, he finally found the right combination and changed our world.  It took years of hard work by a team of two dozen assistants.  That’s why Edison sometimes said genius is “10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.”  We can only speculate about what he would have thought of today’s government banning his crowning achievement.  In 1879, it took 24 people to invent the incandescent bulb, and in our time about 37,221 to ban it.  So which has advanced further: science or government?





More Snow, Please!

The federal government is famous for its inability to handle ordinary problems, but its reaction to snow is the ultimate example.  At this writing, Washington, D.C. is being hammered by its second large snow storm this week and everything is shut down again – schools, government, trains, planes and automobiles.  One local TV commentator acted like he had never seen snow, thundering, “Ridiculous amounts of snow – this is just insanity!”  My favorite snow story so far was the announcement about an hour ago that throughout the metro area, the roads are now so dangerous that they are suspending SNOWPLOW operations.  It’s snowing hard and a bit windy, much like we see on Vail Pass every day for a couple months of every year.  But while Colorado deals with it routinely, in Washington it’s now too dangerous even for a snowplow!

Among the casualties are a series of hearings scheduled this week by various congressional committees, all of which have been cancelled.  The most ironic was a hearing announced by Senator Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  The committee has not been very involved in the debate on global warming since the death of the cap-and-trade bill last year, but Chairwoman Boxer was about to correct that oversight.  She had announced that this Thursday the committee would hold a hearing about the public health warnings related to global warming.  Some scientists have been warning that our destruction of the planet may lead to increased malnutrition, “encourage the spread of disease-carrying insects and worsen floods, droughts and storms.”

I couldn’t help smiling at that last part.  Is it possible that global warming is making even winter storms worse?  If so, there may yet be a positive impact from our use of fossil fuels, aerosol cans and flatulent cows.  Perhaps one unintended result is a periodic shutdown of government.  Former Senator Howard Baker famously observed that the decline of democracy began when they air conditioned the Capitol building, thus ending what used to be half-year legislative sessions.  A New York Judge in 1866 coined the often-repeated quip that “no man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”  Maybe more severe snowstorms are just what America needs to recover its sense of freedom and personal responsibility.

Once the Senate EPW Committee reschedules its hearings, its Members may restart the discussion of cap-and-trade, and other schemes to make Americans live in smaller homes, travel less and generally lower our standard of living.  The process of transferring our national wealth to third-world nations will continue under the ludicrous guise of improving the environment.  Nothing good can come of that.  For now, the good news is that government remains closed, probably for the rest of this week, and possible into next week (it’s supposed to snow again Monday).  With any luck, the snow will go on for another month – and the country remains temporarily safe.

Their Forests Good – Our Forests Bad

The next global warming conference should not be held in Copenhagen, but in Arizona.

I don’t know if anyone else remembers the Grand Canyon Visibility Transport Commission, but I still recall the brain damage inflicted by 5 years of advisory committee meetings in the early 1990’s.  The group, reporting to the EPA, analyzed and conducted major studies to find out why the air across the American Southwest was so hazy.  It was created because of the dire concern that power plants, cars and other pollution sources were fouling the air in some of America’s most scenic postcards, including the Grand Canyon.

One early study found astounding evidence that the largest episodic contributor to regional haze was neither cars nor power plants, but smoke from fires on federal lands – many of the fires set on purpose by land managers to clear overgrown brush and trees (“prescribed fires”).  When the Commission made its final recommendations to the EPA in 1996, it simply did not know what to do with that information, because the fires were considered important by federal officials and environmental groups, who had promoted the study because they thought it would help stop the growing use of fossil fuels.  The studies did not support the desired conclusions, so the Commission nevertheless recommended the predictable regulations and, with respect to federal land fires, simply said ways should be found to make fires smoke less, and the public should be educated about how important such fires are.  In other words, we should limit fossil fuel use precisely BECAUSE we should NOT limit the wildfires that actually cause much of the problem.

During the 14 years since that report was issued, federal lands have contributed more smoke and haze than could have been imagined at the time.  In Colorado alone, forest fires in 2002 produced more particulate pollution that all of man’s activities in the West since the beginning of time.  The recent California fires are even worse for clean air and visibility.  And the failure to manage our national forests to prevent such catastrophic fires has gone from alarming to appalling.  The death and destruction of our priceless and irreplaceable national forests should bring shame to the activists who worked so hard to eliminate all timber management.  On the contrary, today’s OMB wants to cut the timber management program in half.  The result is overgrown forests, choking for water and unable to fight bark beetles and other pests, leaving billions of trees dying, falling down, and burning in massive unnatural fires that destroy entire landscapes, foul vital watersheds, and pollute the air.  Even worse, from a global warming perspective, fires belch out the very greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) that live healthy trees absorb.

I was reminded in December of the Grand Canyon studies because of the bizarre difference in the way our government approached the forest crisis in Colorado, and the global warming “crisis” in Copenhagen.  Warned that the Forest Service no longer has the resources to thin forests in the Rocky Mountains to a more natural condition and help restore forest health, federal officials debated the matter for two years, and in December finally decided they could afford another $40 million, enough to scratch the surface in one small part of these forests (the part where people built trophy homes).  But when warned that the United States might be blamed for not doing enough to stop the destruction of South American rain forests, the Administration committed $2.5 Billion to that effort without batting an eye.

Apparently South American forests are considered vitally important in the effort to capture carbon dioxide and prevent further global warming – but forests in the United States are far less important to that effort.  If you were cynical, you might suspect the real agenda is less about either global warming or forest health, and more about redistributing wealth.

What is Environmental Justice?

“Equal justice under law” is more than a quaint expression engraved on the portico of the Supreme Court building.  It is a worldview that is central to our American culture.  It is also a cornerstone of the conservation movement, but you wouldn’t know it by watching the angry activists that form so much of the modern environmental lobby.

The founders of the nation’s first great conservation movement – Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, John Wesley Powell, and others – pioneered the notion of “environmental justice,” but it’s not what you think.  That’s because the term is so commonly abused by the POE’s (people opposed to everything).  In their oft-stated view of “environmental justice,” it seems the concept requires that we lock up public lands from the public, stop the production of energy, live in smaller homes and quit traveling.  We have to scale back our lifestyle, they argue, because our use of the planet Earth is destroying it.  To these organizations, environmental justice means the natural resources have rights just as important as our own and must be protected – from us.

That is almost exactly opposite of what Roosevelt and the other early conservationists intended.

The progressives of the last century who created national parks and national forests did so for three primary purposes.  First, these lands supplied the natural resources necessary to build a prosperous society, including lumber, water, minerals and recreation.  Second, the use of such resources must be monitored and regulated to ensure they are also available to future generations.  Those first two purposes are to this day the basis of the divisive – and litigious – nature of environmental disputes.  But there was a third purpose, too, found throughout the writings, lectures and letters of Roosevelt and the others.  That purpose was to ensure that these resources belong to everyone, not just one segment of the society.

The trees in national forests do not belong just to timber companies, nor minerals on public lands only to mining companies, but to everyone, they argued.  Similarly, public lands are open to everyone, not just the ranchers with grazing permits.  Believe it or not, this theory was highly contentious at the time.  Perhaps we need that debate again.

Today’s environmental lobby would close most public lands to all but the hearty few able to walk there and lucky enough to live nearby.  They would allow the national forests – one of the greatest legacies of the early conservationists – to die and burn before allowing anyone to cut a tree.  And they would lock up all our energy resources, perpetuating our dependence on foreign oil.  In their view, America’s resources may belong to everyone, but not everyone gets a seat at the decision-making table.  Those who seek preservation for the future – without any use by our generation – are more in charge of the debate than ever.  But do public resources belong only to environmentalists?  That view may seem like “equal justice under law,” but only if you think some of us are more equal than others.


Global Warming Did It!

Yesterday CBS aired an updated version of a 2007 “60 Minutes” story about the catastrophic forest fires that have become so common in the West. The story featured interviews with a federal official in charge of managing “hotshot” firefighting crews, and an interview with a professor at the University of Arizona. Both explained that these fires are beyond anything ever seen in the West, and both were quick to blame it all on global warming.

The story made only a very brief mention of the Forest Service’s 100-year policy of complete fire suppression, and quoted the federal official saying the result is “a huge buildup of fuel in these woods.” But then the focus of the discussion shifted entirely onto global warming, as if the Forest Service policy would have produced no such result if only global warming had not happened. It is a convenient way to avoid placing any blame on the overzealous environmental campaign to stop all cutting of trees in America. It is convenient – but wrong.

The fact is that the average temperature on Earth increased about 1 degree in the past century (as the “60 Minutes” story correctly pointed out), but that trend has not continued during the last decade. If the result of such minor warming had been to dry out the forests in the way these activists claim, there would also be dramatic decreases in recent snowfall. But that has not occurred. In fact, snowpack is back up – way up – across the Rocky Mountains in the past three years (along with colder temperatures). Yet we are not seeing huge increases in river flows, and that is for the exact same reason as the fires – too many trees.

Forest managers ended the historic role played by wildfires a century ago, but they also drastically reduced thinning and clearing about 20 years ago – about the same time these massive, catastrophic fires began. As a result, western forests that historically averaged 30-50 trees per acre now have more than 900 in many places. The trees are weaker, competing for water with a massive overgrowth of brush and grasses – all drier than normal. None of this is natural, nor are the resulting catastrophic fires.

To absolve forest managers and politicians (and ourselves) from any and all responsibility for these giant fires by blaming global warming may feel good, but don’t kid yourself. If every American were to stop traveling tomorrow, move into smaller houses without air conditioning, and get rid of their cars, the forests would still be overgrown tinderboxes ready to become towering infernos with the first lightning strike or errant cigarette. Nothing will change that until someone with a chain saw gets serious about thinning the forest back to a more natural condition.