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

article image
PHOTO: SREEDHAR YEDLAPATI/FOTOLIA
Traffic is taking a toll on the National Park System.

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.