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On Earth Day 2010, what we need in all our environmental policies is a little more balance and common sense.
I represent a large part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and have served on the Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands since 1989. All through this time we have been told there is a multibillion-dollar maintenance backlog in our national parks.
But the problem is, the Park Service has always hired too many chiefs and not enough Indians, so a lot of labor ends up being done by friends groups and hiking clubs.
Another problem is that we have created far too many parks at the federal, state and local levels, so we cannot take good care of what we already have.
Almost all politicians love to create parks, but we have so many now that we cannot use all of them unless our people somehow found a way to go on permanent vacation.
Also, we keep taking more land off the tax rolls at the same time all the schools, police and other agencies are telling us they need more money.
There is much misunderstanding about the environment in this country today. If I went into almost any school and asked the children if there are more trees today than 100 or 150 years ago, they would almost certainly tell me there are a lot fewer trees.
Yet Bill Bryson, in his book A Walk in the Woods, about hiking the Appalachian Trail, wrote that New England in 1850 was 70 percent open farmland and 30 percent woods.
Today the proportions are exactly reversed. Probably no area in the developed world has undergone more profound change in just a century or so, he added.
My own state of Tennessee in 1950, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel, was 36 percent in forest land, while today it is almost 55 percent in forests.
I also serve on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. We have been told for years that all of our infrastructure projects take three times as long because of all the environmental rules, regulations and red tape.
The average road project now takes 10 years. A runway at one of our major airports took 14 years from conception to completion, but only 99 construction days because of environmental delays.
These delays triple or sometimes even quadruple costs, placing great burdens on taxpayers and preventing other projects from being done.
Now jobs and the economy are the great concerns. Caving into environmental radicals has caused millions of jobs to go to other countries over the past 30 or 40 years.
College graduates end up working as waiters or waitresses or in other low-paying jobs. Unemployment is too high, but underemployment may be even higher.
Environmentalists need to realize that only in a free market, free enterprise system can we generate the excess funds to do the good things for the environment that everyone wants done.
Many socialist countries are terrible polluters because they do not even have enough money to feed, clothe and house their people, much less worry about the environment.
The environmental movement is in danger of being marginalized because it is drifting very far to the left.
Columnist Charles Krauthammer put it best when he wrote recently: socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, manager and technocrats.
On Earth Day 2010 we should not let environmental extremists control the agenda for the nation.
If we do, the federal government will become even more of a ruler rather than a servant, and the little guy and the smallest farms and businesses will get hurt the most.
Rep. John Duncan is a Republican from Tennessee.