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The Planet


The Planet, October 1995, Volume 2, number 7


  • Population and the Planet: Will Congress Connect the Dots?
  • Pennsylvania Streams are Mining's Dumps

Population and the Planet: Will Congress Connect the Dots?

As the U. S. Senate considers significantly reducing foreign assistance dollars in the name of balancing the budget, population activists warn that the global implications of such a move could he disastrous.

Currently, foreign aid accounts for about $20 billion, or 1 percent of the overall federal budget. Overseas humanitarian and development programs receive only one-third of that amount, yet they have become the first and most visible targets for major reductions-- largely due to the efforts of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) in the Senate and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) in the House.

So far, legislation has been proposed that would cut international sustainable development programs by nearly one- half, eliminate the population program account of $585 million, cancel funds for the United Nations Population Fund and private voluntary family planning organizations, and prohibit funding to any organization that provides abortion services or information.

Karen Kalla, director of the Sierra Club's International Population Program, said U.S population assistance overseas costs each American citizen less than $2 annually, and that global efforts have reduced average family size by nearly one-half in 28 countries. If family planning programs continue at current levels they are projected to hold back population growth by more than 4 billion people by the year 2100; by 6 billion if programs are strengthened.

George Klein, steering committee chair of the Club's International Population Campaign, maintains that exponential population growth is a national security issue with high long-term costs. "I'm motivated by my 15 year-old daughter," he said. "Her generation faces environmental problems we can't solve without getting control of our numbers."

Worldwide, 90 million people are added each year, and today's population of 5.7 billion is expected to double again in just over 40 years. More than 95 percent of this growth occurs in the developing world, and in countries that are often politically volatile and poor.

The Foreign Assistance Appropriations bill is expected to go to conference this fall, when the differences between the Senate and House versions will be ironed out. President Clinton has vowed to veto any foreign aid bill that reduces the administration's capacity to effectively engage in international affairs" -- including family planning programs. Kalla said an outpouring of public support for population assistance is the key to ensuring the president makes good on his promise.

To take action: Urge your representatives to make sustainable development and population assistance a top priority of foreign policy, with programs that provide basic health care, including reproductive health and family planning.

Pennsylvania Streams are Mining's Dumps

In Pennsylvania's coal-rich hill country, mining industries have found that valley filling--using local streams as dumping grounds--is the most cost-effective way to dispose of waste.

Valley filling involves relocating or diverting a stream so that coal refuse can be piled and buried in its place. The stream may be encased in pipes under the coal refuse or routed around the waste.

"In this case, filling means killing," said John Wilmer, legal chair of the Club's Pennsylvania Chapter. ''I be streams can't be used by insects, fish, wildlife or humans, and because headwaters are often eliminated, they may dry up.

Wilmer said recent amendments to sections of the Pennsylvania Coal Refuse Disposal Control Act that allow valley filling may cause irreparable damage to state waterways. One amendment passed by the state legislature grants the state power to issue permits to relocate or divert streams to dispose of coal refuse. Wilmer said this measure violates the federal Clean Water Act, which prohibits destruction of the existing uses of a stream. Another amendment would breach the federal Endangered Species Act by allowing such disposal in sites known to contain threatened or endangered species.

Opponents of valley filling also say it is illegal in Pennsylvania because the state amendments allowing it have not been submitted to the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) for approval as required. "What's more," said Wilmer, "the state is now reviewing permit applications for a practice that will devastate the ecology of this region."

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