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If you call yourself an environmentalist, it's pretty discouraging to pick up a newspaper these days.

Thanks to new GOP majorities in both Congress and the state Legislature, an extraordinarily reactionary agenda is being implemented by our elected officials. For example:

Up in the northwest corner of Colorado, Moffatt County commissioners, taking advantage of the new political realities, just notified the Feds that they're taking over and reactivating 1,000 miles of "roads" over federal lands that the BLM had closed years ago.

These roads (mainly old mining roads, four-wheeler tracks and rough trails) were closed to protect the lands from the casual destruction inflicted by off-road vehicles. But up in Moffatt County, the locals feel that they have a God-given right to rip the hell out of those fragile and beautiful lands, even though they actually belong to the American people.

By contrast, the crusty Republicans who serve as county commissioners in Delta County refused to permit coalbed methane development, despite pressure from the state oil and gas commission and their industry allies. Since coalbed methane extraction is right up there with unregulated strip mining in the environmentalist pantheon, that's good news. Unfortunately, the Legislature, the oil and gas commission, the governor, and the oil companies are working together to bypass the commissioners. Although why the companies care about Delta County is a mystery, since...

The Feds, in cahoots with ever-pliable state officials, have swept aside any barriers to coalbed methane development in the northeastern Wyoming. As we noted last May, the Feds, who retain virtually all of the mineral rights there, have handed the industry the right to drill 38,000 coalbed methane wells, without compensating landowners. Never mind that the land is, by virtue of the methane wells, rendered virtually worthless for ranching -- sort of hard to raise cattle without water, and well development inevitably fouls groundwater.

Meanwhile, we can expect all kinds of water buffalo legislation from our intrepid representatives in the statehouse. Ostensibly, it'll be to protect us from the drought. In fact, it'll serve the simple purpose of providing the infrastructure to accommodate another two or three million folks, whom the business/development community would like to see move to the Front Range in the next few decades.

Which brings us to ask a simple question: Why? Why is it in our interest, as citizens of Colorado and of the United States, to support rapid population growth in the arid West as a means of attaining prosperity?

Clearly, it's not. By increasing population, we degrade our environment, deplete our resources and lessen our quality of life.

And although population growth has been constant and unremitting, and although much of that growth has been artificially nourished by government policies, its intrinsic desirability is rarely a subject of serious political debate.

Listen to the campaign speeches of our current crop of Council/mayoral candidates. They're spewing the usual assortment of harmless clichs: they're for "managed growth," "business-friendly" policies, "cutting red tape," "property rights" and "planning for the future."

But ask 'em some hard questions, e.g.: "What will you do when the next severe drought comes, and there are 200,000 more people, and there's no place to go for more water?" or " What's the maximum population that the Pikes Peak Region can sustain?" and see what happens.

I'll tell you what'll happen -- they'll give you a polite smile, a blank look and answer somebody else's question.

They're not bad people -- what the heck, Dr. Eastburn even wants to give low-income seniors (that's me, Doc!) cheap prescription drugs. But they don't want to think about gloomy, distressing stuff.

They'd like to pretend that Colorado Springs is like Los Angeles in the late '40s, about to enter an era of boundless optimism and unparalleled prosperity.

They'd like to think about preserving open space, building downtown baseball stadiums and getting the economy back on track.

They'd rather not think about a compromised environment, a perilous future and an unsustainable economic model.

But it's time to look at the world as it is, not as we wish it would be. This is the simple truth: Unless we want the population of this city and this state to double or triple within the lifetimes of today's young adults, we have to make policy changes now. And that means electing folks that are willing to face facts.

That said, who do you vote for? Perky newcomers, hypocritical ex-democrats, ambitious wanna-bes, developer suck-ups, or tired retreads?

Dunno -- but since we're electing a mayor, four at-large Council members and two district seats, I say take one from each category...


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