U.S. growth policies called harmful | VailDaily.com

U.S. growth policies called harmful

Allen Best

Preston Utley/Vail DailyFormer secretary of the interior Bruce Babbit says government has for too long made development a priority over environment in the West.

GOLDEN, Colo. – Bruce Babbitt, the secretary of Interior in the Clinton administration, says he hopes to reframe the debate about federal intervention in the West and the rest of the country.The federal government, he says, has been a relentless agent of development in the nation. It sped up the settlement of the West in the 19th century by subsidizing operations of the railroads and, in the 20th century, by subsidizing construction of dams and other water operations. More recently, it has subsidized development by building the interstate highway system. In doing this, he says, the federal government often did not understand the consequences.Now, he wants to see the federal government go the other direction, improving environmental preservation by getting more deeply involved in broad-based land-use planning, a power usually assumed to belong to states.

“It’s really about land use. Not a park here and a park there. It’s about landscapes,” he said during a stop in Golden on a tour promoting his new book, “Cities in the Wilderness: A New Vision of Land Use in America.”Babbitt, a former governor of Arizona and one-time presidential candidate, drove a federal policy that yielded dozens of new parks and other specially protected public lands during Bill Clinton’s second term as president.He said an example of the government’s single-mindedness was the taming of the Mississippi River in 1927. Following that great flood, the federal government began building dams on upstream rivers, first at Fort Peck, on the Missouri. The result has been a tamed Mississippi that, as is explained in John McPhee’s book, “The Control of Nature,” deposits less sediment in its delta. The delta is now receding, providing less buffer to New Orleans and other cities from hurricanes. It was, says Babbitt, a single-minded development.Babbitt also takes aim at industrial agriculture in a chapter in his book entitled “What’s the Matter With Iowa.” Fields are planted right up to the edge of creeks, displacing vegetation and animals that depend on the creebanks.

This is not just the result of the market economy, he said. Federal farm policy encourages product to the exclusion of environmental values. The result, he said, is that the Midwest has effectively become a desert.In his vision, Babbitt would also make “public purposes” the overarching purpose of public lands. As such, he would allow grazing on no landscapes in the Sonoran Desert and other landscapes that receive less than 10 inches of annual vegetation.Global warming was described by Babbitt as one of the great issues of our times. He says he foresees the federal government finally addressing the threat after the election of 2008 – because, he suggested, Arizona Senator John McCain will be the next president. Departing significantly from other Republicans, McCain has loudly warned of the dangers of global warming.But reduced burning of fossil fuels is only part of the answer, said Babbitt. He believes that nuclear power must be part of the solution, he says.

He also supports a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions as proposed by McCain and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman in their Climate Stewardship Act, a bill that was narrowly defeated by the Senate last year.Vail, Colorado