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Monday, March 14, 2005

The United States and its Fiscal Future - Part 7: Natural Resources, Energy , and the Environment

The last few years, we have seen a rising numbers of problems in our country regarding our natural resources. The recent energy grid collapse in the northeastern and midwestern states, along with the rising prices in oil and natural gas are just a few of the concerns that have affected us all, directly or indirectly. The quality, cleanliness, and availability of resources such as water maybe in question, as experienced in the areas suffering severe draughts. Approximately 36 states expect some type of water shortage in the next 10 years. Air pollution, although very improved in the past decades, has become a concern, raising questions about current standards.

The relevance of existing programs as they relate to today's conditions is essential to determining the balance between supporting the needs of today's economy with our stewardship obligations to the next generations. Most of these programs were created decades ago. Our long term goal should be to reconcile consumption with the need to protect resources to sustain the future.

Energy consumption has grown significantly in the last decade and it is expected to increase 30% in the next 20 years. Currently, consumption is about 790 billion gallons of gasoline per year. Our nation is extremely dependant on oil products. Multiple energy crisis have occurred and our systems remain perpetually at the mercy of supply/demand imbalances. It is not a matter of if, but when, that our nation will have to explore alternative sources of energy. Without a sustainable source of energy for the 21st century, energy markets will continue to experience the turmoil of the recent past.

Also called into question is the federal assistance provided to agriculture, in view of the current fiscal deficits. The agricultural sector has changed dramatically from when these subsidies were instituted and a reexamination of their appropriateness today is not unwarranted. U.S. agriculture today is dominated by small number of agribusiness giants and global farming operations, whereas at the time the subsidies were created, we lived in a largely rural nation.
The giants provide over 70% of the nations fiber and food, and they account for a majority of the $60 billion in exports.

Environmental cleanup is another issue that is costly and at times unrealistic. A current estimate puts the cost of cleaning the following:
1) radioactive wastes accumulated for over 50 years
2) unexploded ordnance, discarded munitions, and contaminated military sites
3) hundreds of thousands of Superfund and other hazardous waste sites creted by private
sectors,
at around $500 billion. It is also estimated that some of these sites will take up to 70 years to be fully cleaned, if possible at all. The enormity of the task, its cost, mixed with the current fiscal constraints the nation faces, calls into question whether existing cleanup standards are realistic.

We are slowly destroying the environment. The current Administration, which has the worst environmental record in recent memory, has not done enough to protect our interests. The level of contamination and the cost of the cleanup has gotten so ridiculous that with current technologies it seems unreasonable to attempt it. Hopefully in the future we will have developed better ways to clean our environment from the waste of civilization.

For more information on Part 7 visit www.gao.gov or go directly to the report:
21st Century Challenges: Reexamining the Base of the Federal Government

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