| In the modern era the United States struggles to weigh concerns
over the world's environment, such as greenhouse gas emissions
and ozone depletion, with the drive for economic development.
Modern issues such as these, along with sprawl, endangered
species protection, nuclear waste storage, environmental
cleanup, pesticide and chemical impacts as well as many others
make modern environmental policy increasingly complex and
Layer Depletion / CO2 Emissions
One of the ongoing issues (and debates) in US
environmental policy is the restriction of carbon dioxide
emissions and their contribution to the depletion of the
ozone layer. Many scientists contend that increased carbon
dioxide emissions, associated with the use of fossil fuels
such as coal and oil, are contributing to an
increase in global climate temperature.
International agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol
are targeted at reducing levels of the greenhouse gases.
However the administration of George W. Bush rejected US
participation in the Kyoto agreement in 2001, much to the
disappointment of European allies (all of whom signed the
agreement) and US environmental groups.
As new families formed after the return of American
servicemen serving in World War II, they began to leave the
overcrowded cities for the growing suburbs ringed them.
The initial wave of suburban growth of the 1950's was
exemplified by areas such a Levittown, Penn. (pictured
right). The planned,
cookie-cutter sameness of the Levittown houses offered quick,
affordable housing to a growing American middle-class. The new
construction of highways via the Eisenhower Federal
Highway Bill offered the new suburbanites an eased commute
into the urban business centers.
As suburban growth has continued seemingly unchecked for half
a century, many have begun to
the impact these communities are having as they stretch further
and further into the countryside. The associated issues
surrounding continued suburban growth have been termed sprawl. The main
issues focus on encroachment on wild lands, depleting
water resources and the associated costs of extending
power, sewage and municipal services to these
more far-reaching, less densely populated regions. The city of
Denver, Colorado serves as a classic example of the
sprawl issues. Suburban growth around Denver has stretched into
the outlying forested areas (making these areas susceptible to
forest fires), water resources are stretched thin as new
communities are built even amid tight regulations on water
usage, and the associated costs of the new municipalities
services have increased property tax rates for all of the
greater Denver area.
Forest Fire and
The first few years of the 21st century have seen some
of the largest and most costly forest fires ever in the
western states (Oregon, California, Arizona, Colorado).
The resulting debate over forestry policy has been critical of
past fire prevention efforts. For the greatest part of the past
century forestry official (within the Department of the
Agriculture) have actively worked to prevent and contain
forest fires. Recently a policy of prescribed burns has been
attempted, either setting or allowing controllable fires in an
effort to thin fuel within the forests in order to make a larger
wide-spread fire less likely. Logging restrictions and a
ban on roads in federal forest lands have been criticized for
contributing to the problems by allowing a build up of burnable
materials. Compounding these issues has been the growth of
suburban sprawl (see above) onto the edges of the once
unoccupied forest lands, making these communities susceptible to
fire damage and placing a greater demand on the forestry service
to contain blazes. Future programs look to increase logging on
federal lands and perhaps restrict the growth of communities
along the edges susceptible forests.
Alternative Energy Resources
For much of American history we have been nearly
entirely dependent upon fossil fuels (oil, gas,
coal) for energy. However as use of fossil fuel resources
have been proven to contribute to air pollution (ex. smog),
acid rain and global warming (via depletion of the
Earth's ozone layer), development of alternative energy sources
has become a priority. Many also advocate energy sources as a
way of reducing American reliance on imported oil.
most commonly discussed alternative energy resources are those
deemed to be renewable such as solar,
wind and geothermal. Solar power (via the energy
found in sunlight) has grown in Southwestern US and new windmill
farms are slated for construction in New York State along the
shores of Lake Ontario. Both of these resources are considered
renewable due to the fact that no resource is used up in the
power production process.
Other initiative as electric and hybrid automobiles
(those running on traditional gasoline, supplemented with
electric powered motors) and fuel cell technology (power
cells that generate power by a chemical process that uses no
fossil fuels) are being developed in order to curb fossil fuel
use as well as reduce harmful emissions. States like California
have lead these cleaner fuel initiatives, with programs such as
the one that requires 10% of California cars sold be zero-emission
(nonpolluting) by the year 2003.