"THE ROCKIES MAY CRUMBLE..."
This is an article from the July 30, 1979 issue
Amid the tumult in Washington last week, some people may have missed what President Carter said about the environment. "We will protect our environment," he declared in his energy address. Then he added, "But when this nation critically needs a refinery or pipeline, we will build it." Behind the presidential rhetoric, the presidential meaning is clear: when they clash, Carter now will be more inclined to favor the imperatives of energy over those of the environment.
There has always been some trade-off between the two, of course. Developers are forever warring with environmentalists, one side giving ground here, the other there. The adversaries in this protracted battle have acquired a grudging mutual respect. Few apostles of growth fail to at least pay lip service to the desirability of preserving natural resources and protecting public health. And only the most naive environmentalists espouse a pastoral society utterly free of automobiles and air conditioning. The upshot is an uneasy accommodation in which economic growth occurs within a framework of institutions and regulations painfully—and imperfectly—worked out to protect the environment.
There is reason to fear that Carter might be on the verge of destroying that framework. In his speech he called for greater conservation of energy by such means as improved insulation of homes and for the harnessing of solar energy, both commendable objectives. But he also proposed a major commitment to the development of synthetic fuels. And to make sure that "nothing stands in the way of achieving these goals," he said he would ask Congress to create an Energy Mobilization Board empowered "to cut through the red tape, the delay and the endless roadblocks to completing key energy projects."
The most ambitious—and worrisome—part of the program is its emphasis on synthetic fuels. In urging that $88 billion be spent to achieve production of two million barrels of "synfuel" a day by 1990, Carter risks adding to the grave environmental problems already caused by such toxins as PCBs (SCORECARD, July 16). His program would increase the pollution of rivers and might well pose additional health hazards to humans. Because it would require wide-scale strip mining of coal and intensive excavation of shale, it also has the potential to disfigure vast areas of the West. At a briefing on the President's energy program last week in Washington, a member of the National Association of Manufacturers said, only half in jest, "We sure as hell better convince those people in Colorado that cross-country skiing is more fun than downhill skiing, because we're going to have to level the state."
One of the synfuels Carter is promoting is liquefied coal. As many as 16 plants may be built in, among other places, Utah, Montana and Wyoming. The biggest problem with converting coal into liquid fuel is that the process produces toxic waste, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a number of which cause cancer. These wastes would create risks for workers and would inevitably leach into ground water. Another concern is that great quantities of water would be required to process the staggering total of 100,000 tons of coal that would be used daily at each plant, further depleting already scarce water supplies.
Another synthetic fuel is shale oil. This probably would be produced at eight plants, most of them in Colorado. Roughly 1½ tons of shale must be cooked at temperatures of almost 900° to extract a single barrel of oil, and disposal of the spent rock is complicated by a "popcorn effect": when heated, the shale puffs up and increases in volume by 20%. Much of the rock would be dumped into canyons and during heavy rainfall would leach salt and large amounts of arsenic, both of which would find their way into rivers, conceivably making the water unsafe for drinking or agriculture.
One of the Energy Mobilization Board's apparent purposes would be to sidestep federal and state environmental laws. Russell Peterson, president of the National Audubon Society, was among the 136 people who met with the President during his stay at Camp David, but other prominent environmentalists had to be content with a briefing by White House assistant Katherine Schirmer following the energy speech. She promised that well-intentioned people would be put in charge of the synfuel program, prompting one listener to express a preference for a government of laws. According to an environmentalist who attended the meeting, Schirmer replied, "For energy, we're going to have government of men and women, not laws."
The Harvard Business School, which can scarcely be accused of an anti-growth bias, recently completed a six-year study that found development of synfuels to be a far less promising course than increased conservation and greater reliance on solar energy. That conclusion was reached partly on economic grounds; and indeed, there is substantial evidence that the cost and technological difficulties of developing synfuel to the point where it can possibly help ease the energy shortage will far exceed Carter's estimations. At the same time, he almost certainly has underestimated the potential rewards of conservation and solar energy.
Concern over the environment takes many forms, and even reasonable men may care little about, say, highway beautification or the survival of the snail darter. The threat to the environment and to human health inherent in Carter's energy program is not so easy to dismiss. The perils are of such magnitude that a tradeoff to allow the development of synfuels might not be worthwhile under any circumstances. With better energy alternatives available, it certainly isn't worthwhile. In the President's pledge to let nothing stand in the way of his energy policies, that one word—nothing—is chilling in its finality.
Though preferable to synfuel, energy conservation won't be painless—as the Administration's new restrictions on temperatures in non-residential buildings demonstrate. The emergency regulations require that buildings be cooled no lower than 78° but hospitals, hotel guest rooms, elementary schools and rooms containing equipment that might be damaged by heat are all exempt. "Physical therapy facilities" are also exempt but "purely recreational facilities" are subject to the restrictions.
Health clubs are feeling their way with the new rules. The manager of a Manhattan club that has cardiac patients among its clientele claimed last week that the facility was entitled to maintain a temperature of 72°. But he worried about the sauna, which he conceded was a "frill." In fact, saunas apparently fell under another new rule requiring that heat be turned no higher than 65°. A Department of Energy spokesman said that unless they can be shown to be therapeutic, saunas might have to close.
The restriction on heat may cause further inconvenience next winter, but for now, the 78° limit on air-conditioning was naturally commanding more attention. In sweltering Houston, Ken Crowley, owner of the Fondren Tennis Club, an indoor facility previously cooled to about 70°, said, "It's a steam house at 78°. If I'm held to the letter of the law, it will destroy me." In Los Angeles, ex-Dodger Pitcher Al Downing emerged from a workout at the Holiday Spa to say, "The weight room was an oven." And Alan Culver, manager of Los Angeles' new Racquetball West Club, predicted that warmer temperatures would cause "tremendous damage" to the racquetball industry. Claiming that the most desirable temperature is 68°, he said, "People are going to have heat stress."
Concern also was expressed at the Seattle Kingdome, where the sensitive computer system that runs the scoreboard could malfunction if temperatures are too high. By contrast, few complaints were heard at Houston's Astrodome, although some spectators at Astro games could be seen fanning themselves—a throwback to the city's days of outdoor baseball.
Many people were doing an admirable job of coping. Instead of simply raising the temperature to 78°, Dominick Paino, manager of the Houston Indoor Tennis Center, turned it up by stages, to 74° one day, 75° the next. The intent was to acclimate customers to higher temperatures, and the strategy seemed to be working; Paino received no complaints. Gary Shull, the manager of the Woodside Racquet Club in Westwood, Kans., noted cheerfully that after playing tennis in 78° temperatures, members were receiving less of a jolt when they stepped into 90° weather outdoors than they used to. What were members saying? Several of them patriotically asked Shull to please turn off lights in the steam room when it wasn't being used.
At dawn last Saturday, John Veitch, Calumet Farm's trainer, walked into his barn at Belmont Park and, as usual, went directly to Alydar. He noticed a slight swelling in the horse's right hind ankle. X rays revealed a hairline fracture of a sesamoid. The fracture is expected to take three months to mend, by which time the year's major races will be over. Alydar, a 4-year-old, was scheduled to go to stud next year. Because of his injury, the decision was made to retire him now.
Alydar will forever be associated in the public's mind with Affirmed, to whom he finished second by a total of less than two lengths in each of last year's Triple Crown races. Racegoers loved him, and Veitch thinks he knows why. The trainer says, "Barbers and bartenders and guys who sold papers admired the fact that he dug in and fought his heart out all the time. I remember going to pick up my laundry last August at Saratoga. I said, 'How much is that?' The laundryman said, 'The only thing I want is a picture of Alydar.' "
DO AS I SAY...
In keeping with what he calls a century-old family tradition, Maryland Governor Harry Hughes is planning a two-week beach holiday this summer in Delaware. This hasn't prevented Hughes from making a radio commercial in which he assures residents of Delaware and other neighboring states, "Whatever you want to do this summer, you can have more fun doing it in Maryland."
LEAVE IT TO BEAVER
What was described as the first major auction of North American trophy mounts ever held in New York City took place recently at Manhattan's Christie's East. The collection, owned by Yale's Peabody Museum, originally belonged to A. C. Gilbert, who besides being an accomplished hunter was a gymnast, magician, Olympic pole-vault champion, Yale Medical School graduate, and inventor of the Erector set, a toy construction kit popular with generations of children. The 107 trophies brought $20,000, the highest price being $4,000 for a fully mounted brown bear.
One of the satisfied customers was a Dayton businessman named C. (for Charles) Beaver Boyer III. Over the years Beaver Boyer has acquired 24 beaver paperweights, a dozen toy beavers and scores of sculptures and photographs of that industrious animal, and he will tell you that the beaver was the mascot of the Montreal Olympics, that Ipana toothpaste used the beaver as its symbol and that there's a nice place opening in Vail, Colo. called Beaver Trail Resort. At the New York auction he paid $66 for a mounted beaver head that he plans to display in his living room or office. And to think that for only $6 he could have had a white-tailed deer head.
BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA
T shirts went on sale in Bloomington, Ind. last week with the words FREE BOBBY KNIGHT on the front and REMEMBER SAN JUAN on the back. Knight himself was showing no signs of forgetting San Juan, where his U.S. basketball team beat host Puerto Rico for the gold medal in the Pan-American Games and where he is scheduled to stand trial on Aug. 22 on charges of assaulting a policeman. In an interview with The Indianapolis Star's Dave Overpeck on his return to Bloomington, the Indiana coach said, "I clapped when Puerto Rico got the silver medal because that's for second place. That's how I feel about the whole place—it's second-rate."
THEY SAID IT
•Burch Riber, general chairman of the LPGA tournament in Mason, Ohio, where Nancy Lopez and her husband have bought a condominium near one owned by Tom Seaver and his wife: "Nancy's probably a drive and a five-iron from the Seavers. For anyone else it would be a drive and two three-irons."
•Digger Phelps, Notre Dame basketball coach, asked by old grad Carl Yastrzemski when his team was finally going to win a championship: "Funny, I was about to ask you the same question."