DATELINE: WHITEWATER CANYON, Calif.
As David Myers scans the rocky slopes of this desert canyon, looking vainly past clumps of brittlebush for bighorn sheep, he imagines an enemy advancing across the crags.
That specter is of an army of mirrors, generators and transmission towers transforming Mojave Desert vistas like this one. While Whitewater Canyon is privately owned and protected, others that Mr. Myers, as head of the Wildlands Conservancy, has fought to preserve are not.
To his chagrin, some of Mr. Myers's fellow environmentalists are helping power companies pinpoint the best sites for solar-power technology. The goal of his former allies is to combat climate change by harnessing the desert's solar-rich terrain, reducing the region's reliance on carbon-emitting fuels.
Mr. Myers is indignant. ''How can you say you're going to blade off hundreds of thousands of acres of earth to preserve the Earth?'' he said.
As the Obama administration puts development of geothermal, wind and solar power on a fast track, the environmental movement finds itself torn between fighting climate change and a passion for saving special places.
The conflict began playing out almost a decade ago in places like Cape Cod, Mass., where a plan to place 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound has pitted energy-conscious environmentalists against local residents who fear harm to aquatic life and the view.
It has spread west to Mojave-area locales like flatland near the Ivanpah Valley, 130 miles northeast of here, where a proposal to install three clusters of 50,000 solar mirrors has prompted anxiety over the fate of endangered tortoises.
Terry Frewin, a local Sierra Club representative, said he had tough questions for state regulators. ''Deserts don't need to be sacrificed so that people in L.A. can keep heating their swimming pools,'' Mr. Frewin said.
For traditional environmentalists, industrial intrusions have always been anathema. They have fought such encroachment since John Muir opposed the dam that inundated the Hetch Hetchy Valley next to Yosemite almost a century ago. Similar opposition governs today's campaign against drilling in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
At a national level, that strategy is meshing with support for new policies intended to change how electricity is generated, how cars are made and how people live. ''It's not enough to say no to things anymore,'' said Carl Zichella, a Sierra Club expert on renewable power. ''We have to say yes to the right thing.''
So environmentalists like Mr. Zichella and Johanna Wald, a lawyer and longtime ecowarrior at the Natural Resources Defense Council, have joined an industry-dominated advisory group that makes recommendations to California regulators on where renewable-energy zones should be created.
''We have to accept our responsibility that something that we have been advocating for decades is about to happen,'' Ms. Wald said. ''My job is to make sure that it happens in an environmentally responsible way.''
The nation's new interior secretary, Ken Salazar, called this month for a task force to map potential energy sites. To counter those efforts, Mr. Myers has proposed that Congress put hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land in the Mojave Desert off limits as a national monument. The monument would stretch from Joshua Tree National Park to the National Park Service's Mojave Preserve and would include the Sleeping Beauty Mountains.
The domain would encompass 960 square miles that the Wildlands Conservancy donated to the federal Bureau of Land Management for safekeeping plus a few hundred more.
Last week, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, also proposed a national monument to protect much of the same land.
''I'm a strong supporter of renewable energy and clean technology, but it is critical that these projects are built on suitable lands,'' said Mrs. Feinstein, who heads a subcommittee that oversees the Interior Department budget.
There is particular urgency to the hunt for renewable-energy sites in California. A 2006 state law requires utilities to produce 20 percent of the California's electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
The goal is already a stretch, experts say, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to increase it to 33 percent. Getting there will mean rapid construction of plants and power lines.
To balance that goal against guarding the habitat of endangered species like the desert tortoise, Mr. Zichella, Ms. Wald and other environmentalists have shuttled between Sacramento, San Francisco and desert communities to learn about the specifics of power grids, solar technologies and desert ecosystems.
They are not always greeted warmly.
''We're environmentalists,'' said Jim Harvey, whose Association for a Responsible Energy Policy represents a coalition of activists in the Mojave area. ''These people, who are supposed to be sitting next to us, are sitting across from us.''
Mr. Harvey's group says that rooftop solar panels could be vastly expanded in heavily populated areas around Los Angeles. With energy conservation that would make desert clusters of solar plants unnecessary, it says.
Mr. Zichella and others counter that a wide embrace of expensive rooftop panels will be slow in coming. ''The most prudent course is not to put all our renewable eggs in one basket,'' Mr. Zichella wrote recently.
A reconciliation between the two environmental camps seems likely. As national and state targets mandate more and more renewable-energy projects, many say, environmentalists will have an incentive to work jointly to broker solutions with politicians and the energy industry.
''We are learning and understanding the trade-offs between things, and they are hard,'' said Pam Eaton, deputy vice president of the public lands campaign of the Wilderness Society, who has been working to bridge gaps between environmentalists.
''You've got the short-term impact of a project versus a long-term problem, which is climate change,'' Ms Eaton said.
In the Mojave, the biggest fight centers on high-voltage lines that are needed to reach areas where energy will be produced. The likely spots are separated from customers by two large national park properties, several wilderness areas and military bases like the Twenty Nine Palms Marine Corps reservation.
Finding a route for a project called Green Path North, which traverses those installations, fragile ecosystems and angry communities, has been difficult. One path ''goes right between my house and the mountains,'' Mr. Harvey said.
That is the kind of strife that Mr. Zichella and Ms. Wald are trying to ease.
Aware that internal debate is unavoidable, Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, suggests a greater effort to balance competing priorities.
''What you have to do,'' Mr. Pope said, ''is show that you've done the best job you can.''
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The New York Times March 24, 2009 Tuesday
Late Edition - Final
Planning a Colossal Shift on Pollutants
BYLINE: By KATE GALBRAITH and FELICITY BARRINGER
SECTION:Section A; Column 0; National Desk; NEWS ANALYSIS; Pg. 16
LENGTH: 1027 words
The Environmental Protection Agency, about to declare heat-trapping gases to be dangerous pollutants, has embarked on one of the most ambitious regulatory challenges in history.
The move is likely to have a profound effect across the economic spectrum, affecting transportation, power plants, oil refineries, cement plants and other manufacturers.
It sets the agency on a collision course with carmakers, coal plants and other businesses that rely on fossil fuels, which fear that the finding will impose complex and costly rules.
But it may also help the Obama administration's efforts to push through a federal law to curb carbon dioxide emissions by drawing industry support for legislation, which many companies see as less restrictive and more flexible than being monitored by a regulatory agency. And it will lay a basis for the United States in the negotiations leading up to a global climate treaty to be signed in Copenhagen in December.
Once made final, the agency's finding will pave the way for federal regulation of carbon dioxide, methane and other heat-trapping gases linked to global warming.
In practical terms, the finding would allow quick federal regulation of motor vehicle emissions of heat-trapping gases and, if further actions are taken by the E.P.A., it could open the doors for regulatory controls on power plants, oil refineries, cement plants and other factories.
On Friday, the E.P.A. sent its finding to the Office of Management and Budget for review, according to a Web site that lists pending federal rules. Once the budget office clears the finding, it can be signed by the E.P.A.'s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson. There is also likely to be a public comment period on the proposed finding, but there is wide expectation that it will be put in place.
Some policy makers greeted the agency's action as the first step in a new approach to climate change.
''This finding will officially end the era of denial on global warming,'' Representative Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who leads a select committee on global warming, said in a statement.
But Bill Kovacs, a specialist on global warming issues with the United States Chamber of Commerce, said that an endangerment finding would automatically provoke a tangle of regulatory requirements for businesses large and small.
If finalized, the finding by the agency could lead to a vast extension of its reach. Much is unknown about the details of what the E.P.A. is proposing, including how stringently the agency would regulate the emissions and how it would go about doing so.
But in February, Ms. Jackson indicated she was aware the agency could be stepping into a minefield by issuing such a finding. ''We are poised to be specific on what we regulate and on what schedule,'' she said at the time. ''We don't want people to spin that into a doomsday scenario.''
Experts said Monday that the E.P.A.'s action would put pressure on Congress to pass federal legislation that could supplant the agency's plan or guide how it was carried out. A federal bill is preferred by many environmentalists and policy makers, as well as by industry.
John D. Walke, a senior lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he welcomed the agency's decision but hoped it would ultimately lead to federal legislation.
''For some period we may have parallel efforts of Environmental Protection Agency pursuing or even adopting regulation while the eventual main show will be in Congress,'' Mr. Walke said.
Still, many doubt that legislation to cap emissions can pass this year, in the midst of a recession and at a time when carbon dioxide emissions are down because production is lower.
The E.P.A.'s move is the latest in a flurry of proposals that signal its determination to break from the Bush administration, which infuriated environmentalists by sidestepping the issue of regulating heat-trapping gases.
Earlier this month, the agency proposed creating a greenhouse-gas emissions registry, which would require industries -- including oil refineries and cement makers, as well as utilities and pulp and paper manufacturers -- to report how much pollution they were emitting.
The endangerment proposal is another step. In 2007, the Supreme Court ordered the E.P.A. to determine whether carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases qualified as pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Ms. Jackson, the agency's administrator, suggested to The New York Times in February that she hoped to act on emissions of heat-trapping gases by early April, before the second anniversary of the court's ruling.
The Bush administration had stalled in complying with the court order, opting for more study of the issue, although there was wide consensus among E.P.A. experts that a determination that carbon dioxide was a danger to the public was supported by scientific research.
Asked about the E.P.A.'s move, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, emphasized the importance of going through Congress. ''The way to deal with greenhouse gases,'' Mr. Gibbs said, ''is to work with Congress in order to put together a plan that deals with this and creates a market for renewable energy.''
There are several reasons that there is a widespread preference for a legislative ''cap-and-trade'' approach to regulating carbon dioxide emissions, as opposed to E.P.A. regulation.
A central reason, said Paul Bledsoe of the National Commission on Energy Policy, is that Congressional action is less subject to litigation and could not be easily overturned by a new administration.
But a deeper concern among the industry is that regulation by the E.P.A. is a blunt tool. The agency's regulatory powers have previously been applied mainly to pollutants that do damage on a regional level, like nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons.
By contrast, carbon dioxide, methane and other heat-trapping gases that the E.P.A. proposes to regulate do harm on a global scale.
''The act does not deal well with an emission that's virtually ubiquitous and travels through the atmosphere,'' said Carol Raulston, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, a coal industry group.
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The New York Times March 23, 2009 Monday
Late Edition - Final
Common Sense to the Rescue of Policy
BYLINE: By MICHAEL IGNATIEFF.
Michael Ignatieff is the leader of the official opposition in the Canadian Parliament.
SECTION: Section C; Column 0; The Arts/Cultural Desk; BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Pg. 4
LENGTH: 1062 words
How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy
By Leslie H. Gelb
334 pages. Harper. $27.99.
Few Americans know the inner world of American foreign policy -- its feuds, follies and fashions -- as well as Leslie H. Gelb. He served Lyndon B. Johnson in the Pentagon and Jimmy Carter in the State Department. He was a foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times and president of the Council on Foreign Relations. ''Power Rules'' builds on that lifetime of experience with power and is a witty and acerbic primer for moderate pragmatists.
His chief targets are ideological dogmatism and imperialist hubris. America should be unafraid to exercise power, but it must be mindful that power's reach usually exceeds its grasp. According to Mr. Gelb liberal Democrats should stop apologizing when they use American power, and conservative Republicans should stop believing that no problem can resist the application of American force. Both need to understand that power is wasted when it's used unwisely. The chief missing ingredient in United States foreign policy, he argues, is common sense.
Common sense for Mr. Gelb means an anti-utopian, evidence-based, pragmatic, moderate foreign policy focusing on achievable goals, rather than unattainable and hubristic master strategies like trying to foster democracy in countries where you can't drink the water.
We can't drink the water in Afghanistan, and Mr. Gelb advises that America should abandon ambitions of state or nation building there and concentrate instead on eliminating Al Qaeda. Military force alone can achieve little. To marginalize Al Qaeda and deny it sanctuary, America needs to find someone -- President Hamid Karzai or a democratically elected successor -- who can make the deals with southern Pashtun tribal leaders that might pull them away from the Taliban and from Al Qaeda. Engaging India, Iran, Pakistan and Russia will help provide Afghanistan the minimum external guarantees it needs to survive as a state, while cunning alliance building by the Afghan government with local tribal leaders in the south may help isolate the insurgents and drain away their popular support.
Surging the United States military into the south of Afghanistan will help chiefly as a political demonstration of commitment. It tells the insurgents the West is there to stay, at least until political stability is irreversible.
Even these pragmatic and modest goals may not be attainable. America, Mr. Gelb fears, is ''at the point of declining as a nation and a world power.'' It still has no competitor at the top of the power pyramid, but its long-term dominance is being eroded by unmet challenges. No country with a debt America's size, he points out, has ever remained dominant for long, and no country with schools as lacking in rigor as America's has much hope of dominating a global economy for long either.
President Obama can't hope to achieve much overseas, Mr. Gelb argues, unless he first rebuilds at home: better health care, decent education, less dependence on foreign oil and less of the even more deadly dependence on foreign creditors.
Reckoning with the limits of American power is not a new challenge. Tiny states like Cuba have defied America for 50 years, Mr. Gelb says, and ideologically resolute ones like Iran have bested it for 30. What is new is the painful discovery that although America can win any pitched battle it fights, it cannot stop any moderately cunning terrorist from inflicting terrible casualties on its soldiers and civilians.
Asymmetric threats are new, but they can be met by adapting doctrine, training and equipment. Military superiority remains an essential component of American power -- Mr. Gelb is against cuts in defense spending -- but force must be the servant of politics and diplomacy, not its master. Unless the threat of military force is backed by what he calls a ''power package'' of diplomatic threats and political inducements, force alone can rarely achieve its goals.
Mr. Gelb's favorite test case of success in the application of the power package is Libya. Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had felt the wrath of Reagan's jets, so the application of force concentrated his mind. But it was the package of political inducements offered by President George W. Bush that persuaded him to stop supporting terrorists and abandon his nuclear ambitions.
At the same time America needs allies and partners to get anything done. Both Britain and the much despised United Nations were helpful in bringing Libya into the fold. America has to realize it can't achieve its goals without allies, and its allies need to accept that they can't solve problems without American leadership.
Nothing will happen on global climate change, for example, unless the American administration forms a green coalition among the next most powerful countries in the world: China, India, Russia and the Europeans. Canada, my country, ought to be on the list -- it's an energy superpower, supplying almost a quarter of United States energy requirements, and it's also a green energy pioneer -- but it merits not a single mention in ''Power Rules.'' The point here is not to carp, but to reinforce Mr. Gelb's own message: America can't afford to ignore friends.
Mr. Gelb says he believes in problem-solving coalitions, but he doesn't want Gulliver tied down by the United Nations or other multilateral bodies. Indeed, he seems allergic to creating new multilateral institutions.
Case-by-case problem solving has the virtue of lowering global expectations -- and fears -- of American power, but Mr. Gelb's approach may miss the particular challenge of our current situation. It also forgets when America showed greatness. America's true glory days were moments of institution building, when Roosevelt and then Truman created the United Nations, NATO and the Bretton Woods financial system.
Talk of Bretton Woods II may be overambitious, but some new global architecture of financial regulation and oversight, or at least more effective coordination of national regulation, is going to be necessary once we touch bottom in this financial crisis. American financial misrule may have gotten us into this mess, but it will be American leadership that will have to dig us out, with the help of solvent allies with good banking systems, like Canada's, among others.
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The New York Times March 22, 2009 Sunday
Late Edition - Final
Eating Food That's Better for You, Organic or Not
BYLINE: By MARK BITTMAN.
Mark Bittman writes the Minimalist column for the Dining section of The Times and is the author, most recently, of ''Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating.''
SECTION: Section WK; Column 0; Week in Review Desk; Pg. 3
LENGTH: 1182 words
In the six-and-one-half years since the federal government began certifying food as ''organic,'' Americans have taken to the idea with considerable enthusiasm. Sales have at least doubled, and three-quarters of the nation's grocery stores now carry at least some organic food. A Harris poll in October 2007 found that about 30 percent of Americans buy organic food at least on occasion, and most think it is safer, better for the environment and healthier.
''People believe it must be better for you if it's organic,'' says Phil Howard, an assistant professor of community, food and agriculture at Michigan State University.
So I discovered on a recent book tour around the United States and Canada.
No matter how carefully I avoided using the word ''organic'' when I spoke to groups of food enthusiasts about how to eat better, someone in the audience would inevitably ask, ''What if I can't afford to buy organic food?'' It seems to have become the magic cure-all, synonymous with eating well, healthfully, sanely, even ethically.
But eating ''organic'' offers no guarantee of any of that. And the truth is that most Americans eat so badly -- we get 7 percent of our calories from soft drinks, more than we do from vegetables; the top food group by caloric intake is ''sweets''; and one-third of nation's adults are now obese -- that the organic question is a secondary one. It's not unimportant, but it's not the primary issue in the way Americans eat.
To eat well, says Michael Pollan, the author of ''In Defense of Food,'' means avoiding ''edible food-like substances'' and sticking to real ingredients, increasingly from the plant kingdom. (Americans each consume an average of nearly two pounds a day of animal products.) There's plenty of evidence that both a person's health -- as well as the environment's -- will improve with a simple shift in eating habits away from animal products and highly processed foods to plant products and what might be called ''real food.'' (With all due respect to people in the ''food movement,'' the food need not be ''slow,'' either.)
From these changes, Americans would reduce the amount of land, water and chemicals used to produce the food we eat, as well as the incidence of lifestyle diseases linked to unhealthy diets, and greenhouse gases from industrial meat production. All without legislation.
And the food would not necessarily have to be organic, which, under the United States Department of Agriculture's definition, means it is generally free of synthetic substances; contains no antibiotics and hormones; has not been irradiated or fertilized with sewage sludge; was raised without the use of most conventional pesticides; and contains no genetically modified ingredients.
Those requirements, which must be met in order for food to be labeled ''U.S.D.A. Organic,'' are fine, of course. But they still fall short of the lofty dreams of early organic farmers and consumers who gave the word ''organic'' its allure -- of returning natural nutrients and substance to the soil in the same proportion used by the growing process (there is no requirement that this be done); of raising animals humanely in accordance with nature (animals must be given access to the outdoors, but for how long and under what conditions is not spelled out); and of producing the most nutritious food possible (the evidence is mixed on whether organic food is more nutritious) in the most ecologically conscious way.
The government's organic program, says Joan Shaffer, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, ''is a marketing program that sets standards for what can be certified as organic. Neither the enabling legislation nor the regulations address food safety or nutrition.''
People don't understand that, nor do they realize ''organic'' doesn't mean ''local.'' ''It doesn't matter if it's from the farm down the road or from Chile,'' Ms. Shaffer said. ''As long as it meets the standards it's organic.''
Hence, the organic status of salmon flown in from Chile, or of frozen vegetables grown in China and sold in the United States -- no matter the size of the carbon footprint left behind by getting from there to here.
Today, most farmers who practice truly sustainable farming, or what you might call ''organic in spirit,'' operate on small scale, some so small they can't afford the requirements to be certified organic by the government. Others say that certification isn't meaningful enough to bother. These farmers argue that, ''When you buy organic you don't just buy a product, you buy a way of life that is committed to not exploiting the planet,'' says Ed Maltby, executive director of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance.
But the organic food business is now big business, and getting bigger. Professor Howard estimates that major corporations now are responsible for at least 50 percent of all organic manufacturing and marketing (40 percent if you count only processed organic foods). Much of the nation's organic food is as much a part of industrial food production as midwinter grapes, and becoming more so. In 2006, sales of organic foods and beverages totaled about $16.7 billion, according to the most recent figures from Organic Trade Association.
Still, those sales amounted to slightly less than 3 percent of overall food and beverage sales. For all the hoo-ha, organic food is not making much of an impact on the way Americans eat, though, as Mark Kastel, co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, puts it: ''There are generic benefits from doing organics. It protects the land from the ravages of conventional agriculture,'' and safeguards farm workers from being exposed to pesticides.
But the questions remain over how we eat in general. It may feel better to eat an organic Oreo than a conventional Oreo, but, says Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University's department of nutrition, food studies and public health, ''Organic junk food is still junk food.''
Last week, Michelle Obama began digging up a patch of the South Lawn of the White House to plant an organic vegetable garden to provide food for the first family and, more important, to educate children about healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables at a time when obesity and diabetes have become national concerns.
But Mrs. Obama also emphasized that there were many changes Americans can make if they don't have the time or space for an organic garden.
''You can begin in your own cupboard,'' she said, ''by eliminating processed food, trying to cook a meal a little more often, trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables.''
Popularizing such choices may not be as marketable as creating a logo that says ''organic.'' But when Americans have had their fill of ''value-added'' and overprocessed food, perhaps they can begin producing and consuming more food that treats animals and the land as if they mattered. Some of that food will be organic, and hooray for that. Meanwhile, they should remember that the word itself is not synonymous with ''safe,'' ''healthy,'' ''fair'' or even necessarily ''good.''
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The New York Times