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The Planet

Carbon Dioxide Debuts as Pollutant

By John Byrne Barry

When the Clean Air Act was signed into law in 1970, not even environmentalists considered carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

After all, green plants need carbon dioxide to live and grow. And unlike other by-products of burning fossil fuels, like nitrogen oxides, which contribute to respiratory problems and acid rain, carbon dioxide has no direct health dangers.

But it does accumulate in the upper atmosphere and, over the past century, has become the largest single contributor to global warming.

In March, a bipartisan group of legislators, led by then-Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, introduced the Clean Power Act of 2001, S. 556, which would cut power-plant emissions of four major pollutants, including carbon dioxide, by 2007. The announcement came a day after President Bush reneged on his campaign promise to introduce a four-pollutant power-plant bill. Jeffords, now an Independent and chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, opened hearings on the bill in July.

While requiring that carbon dioxide emissions be cut to 1990 levels (as specified in the Kyoto global warming treaty) is the most notable provision of the bill, it also sets tough new limits on nitrogen oxides, sulfer dioxides and mercury.

The "4P" (for four pollutants) bill would require a 75 percent cut in nitrogen oxides emissions from 1997 levels, a 75 percent cut in sulfur dioxide levels from Phase II of the Acid Rain Program and a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions from 1999 levels.

It would require the cleanup of the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants, which were "grandfathered" in by the Clean Air Act and allowed to pollute up to 10 times the amounts of more modern plants.

"No other single source of industrial pollution causes as much damage to our health and the environment as these old plants," said Ed Hopkins, director of the Club's Environmental Quality Team. "The Clean Power Act won't just make our air healthier to breathe, it will help curb global warming."

Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) have introduced a House version of the bill, H.R. 1256, called the "Clean Smokestacks Act."

Take Action:
Urge your senators to support the Clean Power Act and your representative to support the Clean Smokestacks Act. Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. See more information on Club's Web site.

'Pay to Play' Fee Demo Should End

By Jenny Coyle

A trial "pay to play on public lands" policy set to expire two years ago has become the Energizer bunny of government regulations: it keeps going, and going, and going....

When Congress approved the Fee Demonstration Program in 1996, it gave the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service authority to collect fees at 50 sites each. That number has since been increased to 100 sites per agency. In areas where the fees are collected, the public must pay to park, picnic, backpack - in some cases just walk into a national forest.

"The program, which piggybacked as a rider on an appropriations bill, supposedly was a two-year test of public acceptance that should have ended in 1998, given the public outcry of indignation," said Sunny Sorensen, chair of the Club's Fee Demo Subcommittee. "Now it seems another extension is on the horizon."

Before Congress adjourned in August, the House passed an Interior Appropriations bill to extend the program through Sept. 30, 2006. The Senate version, however, included no extension. In September, the House/Senate conference committee will hammer out a final version.

The Sierra Club opposes the fees for several reasons.

"Since a portion of the fee is retained at the site where it was collected, the program encourages agencies to favor activities and partnerships that generate income rather than manage the public's natural resources for long-term ecological health," said Sorensen. "Fee demo is a move to make public lands private, which precludes social equity. Studies show that low-income visitors stay away from public lands where fees are charged."

Take Action:
Urge the chairs and other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to extend the fee demo program for no more than one year. Call your senator if he or she is on the committee; otherwise call the two chairs. All can be reached by calling the capital switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Majority chair Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.); minority chair Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska); members Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Ben Nighthorse-Campbell (R-Colo.), Robert Bennett (R-Utah), Patrick Leahey (D-Vt.), Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Conrad Burns (R-Mont.).

New Farm Bill Rewards Good Stewards of the Land

Every summer, the Mississippi River sends a plume of nitrogen and phosphorus - runoff from upstream agricultural operations - into the Gulf of Mexico and depletes oxygen levels in the water, killing sea creatures and creating a "dead zone" the size of New Jersey.

A bill being considered by Congress, and backed by the Sierra Club and sustainable-farming groups, would encourage farming practices that reduce such farm runoff.

The Conservation Security Act (H.R. 1949 in the House and S. 932 in the Senate) would reward farmers and ranchers who adopt environmentally friendly plans for the management of their land. "The Sierra Club has worked on every farm bill since 1985, but this one has a new approach; it's not a regulatory or punitive measure that comes down on farmers for not practicing conservation," said Bob Warrick, a Nebraska farmer and chair of the Club's Agriculture Committee. "Instead, it gives farmers and ranchers an incentive for voluntarily doing the right thing."

Participants would develop a plan to implement environmentally friendly practices, along with a schedule. The plan would include details such as runoff management, contour farming, wetland and wildlife habitat restoration, pest management and soil conservation.

In return, they'd receive federal payments based on the expected environmental benefits, the cost of implementing the plan, income forgone due to land-use adjustments and other factors. Grants to assess progress at the farm, watershed, regional and national levels would also be available. "As a farmer and rancher, I can finally get some financial assistance for the conservation practices I've installed - the buffer strips for wildlife and the wetlands for waterfowl," said Warrick. "This will help the family farm compete against the large operations and practice conservation at the same time. The better the steward, the bigger the reward."

Warrick said the bill would also remove the temptation some farmers feel to sell out to developers - and that helps curb sprawl.

Take Action:
Contact your senators and representative and ask them to support the Conservation Security Act - S.932 and H.R.1949, respectively. Tell them the bill will help family farmers promote responsible farming practices, curb sprawl and keep pollution out of the nation's waterways.

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