Nixon's Report on Energy Conservation, and Problems in the National Parks

A look at Nixon's 1972 energy report, and problems caused by overuse of the National Park System.
by Mike Kiernan
November/December 1972
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Traffic is taking a toll on the National Park System.
PHOTO: SREEDHAR YEDLAPATI/FOTOLIA


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Nixon and the 1972 Energy Report

Stop the manufacture of inefficient electric appliances. Require that all new buildings be fully insulated. Prohibit the sale of inefficient air conditioners. Require that intercity freight be moved by rail. Shift intercity passengers from air to ground travel and urban passengers from automobiles to mass transit. Compel industry to upgrade its processes and equipment. And finally, to get the job done, levy an energy tax.  

The above may sound like a rallying cry for environmental activists, but it's actually a summary of numerous suggestions made in an energy report that the Nixon administration quietly made public last month.

Coming as it does at a time when industry is waging a massive ad campaign to convince the public that only the rapid development of new sources of fuel can save the nation from an impending energy crisis, the report is potentially embarrassing because it offers another alternative: the rational management of energy use.

Huge amounts of energy, now wasted, can be conserved . . . as much as the equivalent of 7.3 million barrels of crude oil daily by the year 1980. This is equal to about two-thirds of the projected oil imports for that year. In cash, it means a savings of $10.7 billion annually.

"We recognize that our analysis is not complete and that many of the measures we suggest may ultimately prove unacceptable," says Bob Kupperman, chairman of the 11-man team which wrote the study. "But even if we realized only half or a third of the savings we feel is possible, it would still help mightily in managing the energy crisis."

The President himself has said nothing of the report, and Kupperman stresses that it is not a policy-making study. "We are only making suggestions," he says. Still, even those who are highly critical of Nixon's energy policies have told MOTHER the paper is a "hopeful, if cursory, first step" in turning America around on the energy question.

"There is nothing new or earth shattering here," said Wilson Clark, who has studied energy problems for Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups. "We've been saying it all along. What's significant is that now the government is agreeing with us that we can all live on less energy and still preserve the same standard of living."

In homes and businesses, the proposal that would lead to the largest energy savings is improved insulation. Within a decade, say the authors, proper insulation and construction practices could reduce space heating and cooling requirements by 20 percent . . . a savings of two quadrillion BTU's a year.

Among other suggestions:

Energy consumption of each gas and electric appliance should be stated on the nameplate, on the price tag and in every advertisement in which the selling price is mentioned.

Inefficient air conditioning units should be banned. Today the worst air conditioners draw about twice the amount of electricity drawn by the best for equivalent cooling.

Fluorescent lamps should replace incandescent bulbs. Fluorescent lamps are three times more efficient and an inexpensive compact fluorescent bulb should be developed to fit into a common mazda socket.

The energy report's most controversial and important suggestions center on the transportation sector of our society. The government, says the study, must champion the idea of mass transit. In the paper's words, government must "stimulate the development of sufficiently fast, safe, inexpensive, comfortable, convenient and reliable mass transit systems to draw passengers away from automobiles and airplanes." The study recommends that the use of the automobile should be further discour aged by parking and road tolls, priority bus lanes and traffic control.

In effect, then, the report calls on the President and Congress to reverse current policy that favors transport by car and airplane . . . and it points up an often ignored contradiction that exists between efforts to conserve fuel on the one hand and reduce automobile pollution on the other.

If auto emission standards are enforced, reason the authors, less fuel will be conserved. The answer: develop electric vehicles that operate on coal or nuclear power rather than petroleum. In this way, the United States' diminishing reserves of oil can be preserved.

Hard hitting as it is, the recently released energy study shies away from detailing the abuses of industry and utilities in the same way it takes on the transportation interest. No doubt the authors decided that the auto, trucking, highway and oil interest were challenge enough for this small study.

Finally, granted that huge savings are possible, are they likely? The authors are realistic. "In light of the variety of powerful special interest groups," they say, the huge savings outlined are not likely "until a very sizable constituency favoring decisive action" emerges.

The President, of course, is not on record encouraging a public outcry for the conservation of energy. Last August the paper was stamped "confidential", and there was considerable doubt whether it would be made public. Only when an industry newsletter, Oilgram, disclosed the study's contents to its subscribers did the administration give the go-ahead to publish . . . without fanfare.

The Impact of Traffic in the National Parks

When Yellowstone was named by Congress as the world's first national park in 1872, only the hardiest pioneers had ever really seen the place and the rest of the country was still in the horse-and-buggy age.

Now you can't find a parking place at Old Faithful. Yosemite Valley is hazy with air pollution. The Grand Canyon echoes with sonic booms. Pollutants are oozing into the Everglades. Acadia in Maine is paved over with concrete. And the Great Smoky Mountains have such terrible traffic jams that rangers have had to install the first national park traffic light there.

These are some of the problems dealt with in a new paper, NATIONAL PARKS FOR THE FUTURE, published by the Conservation Foundation, a tax-exempt Washington, D.C.based environmental group.

The Foundation undertook the study for the National Park Service—which runs the show at the peoples' parks—and the National Parks Centennial Commission, created by President Nixon to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the parks.

The report makes some pretty bold and blunt suggestions. For starters, it recommends "an immediate moratorium on road building, parking lots and other auto-oriented improvements" in the national parks. If they had their druthers, the authors say, automobiles would be banned from every unit of the park system. Since that's not feasible today, they suggest that the Secretary of the Interior appoint a special commission to study the whole problem of private cars in the parks and alternate transportation methods. In Yosemite, for example,. an experimental program limits the use of cars and provides propane-powered buses to haul people around. "Automobiles can destroy our national park heritage just as surely as they have made our cities inhumane and dangerous to limb and lung and have desecrated much of the metropolitan countryside," the study concludes.

Sydney Howe, the Conservation Foundation's widely respected president, points out that the first national park was founded "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people". But now enormous numbers of people—undreamed of in the 19th century—are inundating the parks and damaging their natural qualities. Howe believes nature's wonders can be maintained only if public use is "sensitive and sparing". He says:

"By and large, the human numbers that now crowd the parks will not exceed natural carrying capacities if people enter and use their national parks on nature's terms. " Howe also sees in the park system "opportunity for vast public benefit from infusion into the nation's life of basic environmental appreciations". How to accomplish these lofty goals? Among the report's major recommendations:

The National Park System, which includes some 285 units covering about 30 million acres, should reassert its traditional role as "conservator of the timeless natural assets of the United States" and should give people "a distinctive recreational opportunity based on natural values". This means get rid of the golf courses, tennis courts, plush hotels, fancy bars, gas stations, grocery stores, trinket shops and popcorn stands that clutter up too many of our parks . . . and put such facilities outside the park boundaries. More land should be designated as wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act, and hunting and fishing should be stopped or restricted.

National parks should be used as "a, showcase of man's proper stewardship of land, water and air". Park programs should dramatize ecological relationships, regulations should reinforce the environmental ethic in terms of waste disposal and care of camping areas and the National Park Service should be an outspoken advocate of environmental education and reform.

The Park Service should get out of the history, culture, arts and sciences business and go back to preservation and recreation. Such specialized programs in the parks should be turned over to the Smithsonian Institution or the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities or, maybe, a separate government agency.

A system of urban-area parks should be established within striking distance of big cities, where most of the nation's people live. Land could be purchased through a $100-billion "Buy Back America" program funded by a capital gains tax on sales of undeveloped lands and an excise tax on recreational vehicles and equipment (like trailers, campers, trail bikes, boats, camping gear and sporting goods).

Wilderness preservation should be the main goal of national parks management. Minimum facilities construction should be the basic philosophy of park accommodations. Private concessioners should be phased out. Primitive-area camps should be set up to give city-dwellers a taste of the wilderness experience.

Perhaps the study is best summarized by its cover, which shows a lovely green grove of tall, leafy trees . . . with the jagged gray teeth of an urban skyline rising up out of the forest floor. Fat City has come to America's hinterland. That stark vision of tomorrow, says the study, is one we've got to prevent.


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