Starving the National Parks Bush administration leaves America's natural wonders $600 million short
Coming to a park near you: "service level adjustments."
If you're planning to head to a national park for an upcoming holiday, you'd better have a backup plan; budget cuts mandated by the Bush administration could
drastically reduce services and operating hours at parks throughout the system.
Sorry, did we say "cuts"? Make that "service level adjustments due to financial constraints." Park superintendents were instructed "not to directly indicate that ‘this is
a cut'" in internal Park Service memos that have been released by the Coalition of Concerned National Park Service Retirees. Northeast Region superintendents, for
example, were cautioned to "be sure that adjustments are taken from as many areas as is possible so that it won't cause public or political controversy."
Recommended "adjustments" to cope with a $600 million budget shortfall include: "Close the visitor center on all federal holidays, eliminate lifeguard services at...guarded beaches, eliminate all guided ranger tours...[and] close the park every Sunday and Monday."
Ironically, the Park Service was simultaneously joining with the travel industry in a "See America's National Parks" campaign. "You can't engage in large-scale efforts
with the travel industry to ramp up visitors to the parks," says Denny Huffman of the retirees group, "and then at the same time pressure superintendents to cut
It's all a far cry from George W. Bush's 2000 election pledge to "restore and renew" the National Park System. Some $50 million of the Park Service's budget woes
stem from increased Homeland Security duties: protecting dams, borders, and national landmarks. But the Bush administration has not gone to Congress for the
additional funds needed to pay for security and other increased costs, and Park Service personnel have been warned not to complain.
After Park Police Chief
Teresa Chambers publicly revealed how budget cuts had weakened her operation (arrests are down and traffic accidents up), she was charged with "lobbying" and
"commenting on budget discussions," and ultimately suspended last December. Her removal (which is being challenged) "sent a clear message to park
superintendents," says Jeff McFarland of the Association of National Park Rangers: "You may lose your job for telling the truth about your park budgets."
— Lauren Sommer
For more on the parks' budget, see "National Park Rangers ‘Endangered' " at www.npca.org.
President Bush likes to brag about his efforts to "leave no child behind." But his administration stops short of protecting children from accidental poisoning.
Each year, more than 15,000 kids under the age of six mistakenly ingest rat poison. So in the late 1990s the EPA proposed a pair of simple safeguards:
Rodenticides would have to contain a bittering agent–already used by agrichemical giant Syngenta to discourage tasting of its rat poison Klerat–and a dye to aid in
Manufacturers balked at the added cost, and they soon found an understanding ear. The Bush administration dropped the new safety requirements by "mutual
agreement" with industry.
Also on the chopping block was a report documenting how rat poison endangers wild animals. (The same chemicals are used by farmers to keep rodents from
munching on grain.) As the Washington Post reported in April, the EPA responded to industry complaints by softening its description of a fatal poisoning of deer and
eliminating this statement: "[These] incidents depict how toxic rodenticide balls can be even to large animals." It's not hard to smell a rat in that. – Jennifer Hattam
For The Record
"We were not doing it to improve the image of the Forest Service–we were doing it to help us explain complex questions. We are not very good at taking
technical language and boiling it down."
— Jack Blackwell, the U.S. Forest Service's regional forester in California, explaining why he paid a public-relations firm $90,000 to promote a plan that
would triple timber cutting in the Sierra Nevada.
Razed and Confused
The Forest Service drew plenty of criticism for hiring flacks to help sell the public on its Sierra Nevada logging plan. More trouble ensued when the plan was
unveiled in January. It had a catchy name, "Forests With a Future," and an appealing promise: increased logging would reduce fire risks and protect communities.
The details, however, were less rosy: Logging on 11 national forests would nearly triple, and older trees up to 30 inches in diameter could be axed.
The PR firm the Forest Service hired, OneWorld Communications, prepared a glossy brochure that explained how "historically the forests of the Sierra Nevada had
fewer trees and less underbrush," which kept wildfires small. "Today's forests, dense with green, may seem beautiful, but in fact are deadly." A series of photos
labeled "1909" to "1989" showed the progression. There was just one problem: The 1909 photograph, which purported to illustrate historic Sierra Nevada
conditions, was actually taken in Montana's Bitterroot Valley–after it had been logged. — Jennifer Hattam
By The Numbers
Percent of all babies born in the United States each year that are exposed to dangerous levels of mercury in the womb: 15
Rank of coal-burning power plants among the largest sources of mercury emissions: 1
Number of new coal-fired power plants that have reached the planning and permitting stages since President Bush took office: 94
Number of miles of Appalachian streams damaged by mining waste: 1,200
Size of buffer zone, in feet, that federal rules currently require between mining operations and waterways: 100
Size of buffer zone, in feet, proposed by the Bush administration: 0
Acres of California's Giant Sequoia National Monument that would be opened to logging under a U.S. Forest Service proposal: 64,000
Amount taxpayers would pay to subsidize the logging: $14,000,000
Estimated number of unwanted pregnancies prevented each year under the Cairo agreement, which promotes family planning,
prenatal care, and women's education worldwide: 187,000,000
Number of countries, other than the United States, that voted against reaffirming support for the Cairo agreement in March: 0
In Okinawan legend, the dugong is a sacred messenger from the kami, powerful nature spirits who dwell in the surrounding seas. But these gods seem no match for
the U.S. Marines.
With help from the Japanese government, the Marines plan to build a 1.5-mile-long floating base off the east coast of Okinawa. Construction would take place over
a coral reef that supports nine endangered species, including three types of sea turtles and the dugong, a relative of the manatee, whose Okinawan population
numbers fewer than 50.
Although an environmental review will occur later this year, activists expect it to be perfunctory. (Under Japanese law, such assessments do not require a "zero
option," that is, the possibility of not building the base.) Environmental groups on both sides of the Pacific have sued the U.S. Department of Defense to stop the
project, hoping to succeed where the kami have failed. — Jeff Shaw
10 Reasons to Stop Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, is intent on supersizing U.S. communities, whether they like it or not.
After the Inglewood, California, city council rejected its proposal to build a "Supercenter" as big as 17 football fields, the company financed a ballot initiative to
overturn the decision. (Signature gatherers were paid more than Wal-Mart employees.) The company shelled out $1 million on the campaign, producing glossy
mailers that promised new jobs for Inglewood's predominantly black and Latino youth.
With one-tenth of that budget, community groups, unions, and religious
leaders worked to educate Inglewood residents about Wal-Mart's shortchanging of employees and the environment. In the end, Wal-Mart paid $230 per vote to
lose by a three to two margin.
Is Wal-Mart trying to muscle into your town? Here are ten arguments to beat it back:
Wal-Mart Supercenters, with their big-box design, remote locations, and sprawling parking lots, increase automobile pollution.
Wal-Mart's strategy of undercutting local businesses destroys traditional, walkable, transit-friendly downtowns and neighborhood shopping areas.
One Wal-Mart Supercenter can cover up to 1.2 million square feet with pavement. This can create major drainage problems, leading to flooding and ground
subsidence. In 2001, Wal-Mart paid a $5.5 million settlement for violating storm-water-discharge laws at 17 stores.
This May, Wal-Mart agreed to pay a $3.1 million settlement for violating the Clean Water Act due to shoddy construction practices at 24 stores in nine states.
Wal-Mart has a history of labor-law violations, including unpaid overtime, discriminatory hiring practices, and illegal use of undocumented workers.
A new Wal-Mart Supercenter with a grocery facility can put two area supermarkets out of business and all their employees out of work. In California, the mere
threat of 40 new Supercenters is driving down working conditions in the grocery industry.
Wal-Mart tries to place itself above the law. Its initiative in Inglewood would have exempted the project from local zoning, planning, and environmental rules.
Wal-Mart's tremendous buying power can force suppliers to cut costs to the point where they outsource American jobs, close factories, and move abroad.
Wal-Mart now imports over half of its products, up from only 6 percent in 1995.
When manufacturing moves abroad, the environmental costs of shipping products to the United States can be huge.
Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton said in his autobiography, "If some community, for whatever reason, doesn't want us in there, we aren't interested in going in
and creating a fuss." In practice, however, the chain won't take no for an answer. — Amanda Shaffer, Abby Wheatley, and Robert Gottlieb
It's easy to profit by plundering, but the Rainforest Action Network has convinced two of the world's largest financial institutions that protecting the earth is a better
investment. In January, Citigroup adopted new environmental guidelines that include investing in renewable energy and ending its financing of logging in
primary tropical rainforests. Four months later, Bank of America topped its rival, adding protections to intact temperate and boreal forests and committing to reduce
greenhouse-gas emissions in both its internal operations and its investment portfolio.
RAN targeted Citigroup over a four-year period with demonstrations outside its Manhattan headquarters and print and television ads urging people to cut up their
Citigroup credit cards. One full-page ad in the New York Times showed images of rainforest destruction and asked, "Did you know that someone is using your
Citigroup credit card without your authorization?"
Bank of America came on board after RAN turned its attention to ten banks it terms the "Liquidators" because their lending policies are helping transform natural
resources into quick cash. The rest of these institutions, including J. P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo, are now being challenged to meet or beat the standard set
by Bank of America.
At the World Bank, which provides nearly $20 billion annually in loans and assistance to over 100 countries, pressure has come from within. A Bank-commissioned
report recently recommended that the agency cease financing coal projects, and phase out funding for oil projects by 2008. Written by a former environmental
minister from Indonesia, the report deems these projects incompatible with the Bank's mandate to fight poverty and improve living standards in the developing
RAN spokesperson Paul West is encouraged by these developments, which add to the longtime sustainable-lending commitment of smaller banks like ShoreBank
Pacific in Washington State and the Netherlands-based Triodos Bank.
"Pressure on the industry is bearing fruit," says West. "But financial advocacy is still in its infancy, and the scale of the issues facing us demands further action." — Silja J. A. Talvi
Just before last Christmas, a bumblebee made an early appearance near London. That may not sound newsworthy on its own, but steadily warming temperatures are
causing a variety of animals and plants to show up earlier in the year. On average, bumblebees emerge from hibernation two to three weeks sooner than they did 25
Concerned about the mismatches such life-cycle changes could cause–birds hatching before their food sources appear, for example–the Woodland Trust
and the British Association for the Advancement of Science are asking UK residents to record their first sightings of spring species. For more information, visit
Last year, scientists at Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory measured record levels of carbon dioxide, a key contributor to global warming, in the atmosphere. (Data
from the observatory, located atop an 11,000-foot volcano, are valuable because few human activities occur nearby that might affect results.) While the United
States still emits more CO2 than any other nation, increased burning of fossil fuels in China and India may also have contributed to the recent rise.
Over three-quarters of Greenland is covered with ice, so when it starts to melt, there goes the neighborhood. Professor Curt Davis at the University of
Missouri—Columbia recently calculated that the higher-elevation portions of ice sheets in the country's southeast are thinning at the rate of four inches each year.
The region's coastal outlet glaciers are diminishing even more rapidly, losing three to six feet of ice annually.
The tropical and subtropical regions of the Atlantic Ocean are getting saltier. According to a study published in the journal Nature late last year, higher average global
temperatures are evaporating more ocean water from the hotter parts of the world. That water vapor eventually condenses at the poles, where the oceans are
becoming less salty. The imbalance disrupts the flow of water north and south in the Gulf Stream, which affects air temperature. If the evaporation continues at its
current pace (or accelerates), winters in northern Europe could cool by 9 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit within half a century.
— Jennifer Hattam
Turning on the Cruise Control
New laws for luxury liners
Lovely scenery, the clink of champagne glasses, and all-you-can-eat buffets lure millions of Americans aboard cruise ships each year. Belowdecks, however,
torrents of filth are flushed into the ocean, defiling the marine environments the tourists came to enjoy.
Some 180 cruise ships currently ply U.S. waters, with dozens of new ones launched every year. Carrying upwards of 3,000 passengers and crew, each vessel
produces about 30,000 gallons of raw sewage a day–as much as a small city. But because these ships aren't held to municipal sewage-treatment standards under the
Clean Water Act, the oceans are getting a raw deal. Currently, luxury liners can dump sewage once they are three miles offshore, and can release other wastewater
almost anywhere except in Alaskan waters.
Pressure from environmental groups has led Congress to consider the "Clean Cruise Ship Act," which would expand the "no discharge" zones in America's coastal
waters, prohibiting the dumping of sewage or wastewater closer than 12 miles from shore. Heavily touristed Alaska adopted a mandatory dumping-disclosure law in
2001, establishing effluent standards and requiring regular sampling; Washington State accepted a voluntary cleanup agreement in April; and California legislators are
considering an outright ban on dumping. Activists in Alaska are now pushing for a ballot initiative to require cruise ships to apply for wastewater-discharge permits,
and to impose a $50-a-head tax on passengers to pay for onshore infrastructure improvements.
The underlying problem, says Teri Shore of Bluewater Network, is that the popularity of the cruise industry has outstripped efforts to regulate it. But for luxury liners,
the party may soon be over.
— Amy Ettinger
Water can be controversial in the United States. But in some of the world's thirstier places, the discussion is not just about dams and pollution, but about life itself.
In Israel, for example, water is so precious that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has announced he is willing to give weapons to Turkey to get an ample supply. Under an
agreement signed in March, Israel will import 50 million cubic meters of water per year for 20 years from Turkey's Manavgat River. Israeli tankers capable of
transporting the massive amounts are being built. The weapons Turkey will get in exchange will be worth about $50 million.
Sharon has described water as "a stark issue of life and death" for his people, saying that the Six-Day War in 1967 was ignited not by border disputes with Syria,
but by that nation's attempt to divert water from the Jordan River. The prime minister's new trading scheme will surely be another explosive factor in a region long
mired in conflict.
— Marilyn Berlin Snell
From Dell and Back A corollary to Moore's law–that computing power doubles every 18 months–is that there are an awful lot of outdated computers out there.
Some 250 million are expected to be obsolete by 2005, and many of them will end up in landfills, leaking toxics (see "The Hidden Life of Computers," July/August
Now, after pressure from shareholders and the San Francisco—based As You Sow Foundation, PC-giant Dell has agreed to institute a comprehensive
recycling program. For $5 to $15, Dell computer owners can send their old machines to the company, where they are "demanufactured," with the raw materials
either reused or safely disposed of. In Maine, legislators are considering a comprehensive computer and television recycling law that would make manufacturers
responsible for the recycling of products that bear their names.
New Nukes? No new nuclear power plants have been ordered in this country since the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster (see "Ways & Means," March/April), but
two giant consortia of power companies are now competing to lead the second nuclear boom. The two groups, which include some of the nation's largest energy
and engineering companies, responded to a simplified application process promoted by the Bush administration.
To help meet the administration's goal of getting a
new U.S. nuke built by 2010, the Department of Energy is kicking in up to $300 million to pay for the streamlined process. Should the groups' general applications
be approved, the first new nukes in a generation could quickly follow.
EPA's Happy Talk Following revelations that the EPA deliberately downplayed air-quality concerns in the wake of September 11 (see "Ways & Means,"
January/February), a dozen Manhattan residents and Ground Zero workers have filed a class action suit against the EPA and then-administrator Christie Whitman.
The suit charges the agency with "a shockingly deliberate indifference to human health."