The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

on the World Today

THE population of the United States soared by more than 20 million in the eight years of the Eisenhower Administration, and it is expected to rise by perhaps 25 million in the next eight years. This population explosion is the cause of many domestic problems in the United States, one of the most serious being the development and use of our natural resources. Not since the days when Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot first made America aware of the profligate use of its largely irreplaceable resources have there been so many reasons as there are today for better and more coordinated national policies.

Both party platforms devote considerable space to natural resources, but their difference in approach is striking. In microcosm, the differences reflect the larger division between the two parties on their economic approaches to the whole field of domestic affairs.

The Republicans’ “Building a Better America” platform contends that “the past seven years of Republican leadership have seen the development of more power capacity, flood control, irrigation, fish and wildlife projects, recreation facilities, and associated multi-purpose benefits than during any previous administration in history.” For the future, the GOP pledges to continue what it calls “teamwork between federal, state and private entities” as the essential approach to “sustained conservation and resource development.”

The Democratic document, entitled “The Rights of Man,” pledges to “reverse Republican policies under which America’s resources have been wasted, depleted, underdeveloped and recklessly given away.” The indictment covers the “no new starts” policy of the Eisenhower Administration on multipurpose dams, the limited atomic energy program, the minimal research into conversion of salt and brackish water, and what the Democrats term the giveaway of “priceless resources for plunder by private corporations.” The document says that “the states and local communities cannot go it alone,” that under a Democratic Administration there will be a return to regional development, of which the TVA is the great symbol.

Neither set of polemics is altogether accurate, yet both contain elements of truth. The Democrats may put too much emphasis on federal action, yet the Republicans probably rely too heavily on the financially overburdened states and localities. The central point is that much more must be done and done soon by either a Kennedy or a Nixon Administration. The probability is that more will be done, but that, regardless of which man wins the presidency, there will be a long battle in Congress on the extent of federal action.

In Spend and Survive, a book which attempts to make the federal budget understandable and meaningful in both the past and the future, David Demarest Lloyd concludes that the nation now spends $2.8 billion a year to develop its resources of land and water. Lloyd’s projection of what will be necessary by 1970, a mere decade ahead, is $5.6 billion. Of today’s expenditure, close to half is state and local money; in 1970, by Lloyd’s estimate, the ratio should be 3 to 2.5 in favor of federal money.

The water we need

The most pressing of our resources problems is water, its care and use. As Lloyd says, “Every big city is reaching out into its hinterland for more water; throughout the East new suburban and industrial development is driving water tables lower and reducing private supplies. The needs of the arid states are of course even more acute.”

The great untapped source of water is the inexhaustible supply of salt water plus the brackish water in areas of the West and East. The Interior Department long has conducted scientific research on how to remove the salt at an economical cost. The Democrats contend that the Republican Administration has discouraged this research; the Republican platform pledges “continued federal support for Republican-initiated research and demonstration projects” in this field. Here, if anywhere, is a clear division of approach between the parties, one akin to the division over development of power from nuclear energy.

The Republicans want the federal government to do only enough to help private industry make the scientific breakthroughs; the Democrats, in both these cases, contend that the overriding national interest calls for a full federal development program. The Republicans see government ownership as the end result of the Democratic approach; the Democrats contend that that is not the issue, that such critical national resources as water and atomic energy can be developed for the benefit of all only if the government acts on behalf of all the people.

Fresh water from the sea

The fact is that a great deal of excellent work has been done on water distillation, but most of it has been done outside the United States, where the economic incentive has been far stronger. A Glasgow firm, in fact, is now the world’s largest producer of sea-water conversion machinery. The Scottish firm of G. & J. Weir, Ltd., says it can purify sea water today for between 70 cents and $1.30 per thousand gallons, whereas the American aim in the Interior Department’s program is to get the cost down to 38 cents per thousand gallons for drinking water and 12 cents for irrigation use, the maximum prices for fresh water.

One giant Weir installation is now producing 2.7 million gallons of fresh water from the sea daily at Aruba in the Dutch West Indies. Another big plant is in operation in Kuwait in the Persian Gulf, but neither is economical by U.S. standards. They are justified by the necessity for fresh water in those two oil-rich spots, which can afford the high cost. Some experts feel that atomic energy, by providing cheap electricity for the heat distillation process, may be the real answer. Another method, called freezing separation, takes advantage of the fact that fresh water freezes more quickly than salt water.

Neither salt-water conversion nor electric power from the atom is the pressing necessity in the United States that it is in many other parts of the world. In each case, the Eisenhower Administration has recognized the value abroad but has generally proceeded according to the economics involved at home. The Administration has not been willing to make any decision to develop the scientific potential in either of these fields solely on the basis of possible benefit to our foreign relations and in disregard of our own needs and the cost to the United States.

In effect, the Democrats promise to make such decisions, though they do not put it so bluntly. And the Republicans contend that their approach will, in the end, be just as productive, with far less cost to the federal Treasury.

The demands of increasing population

Another point of Democratic-Republican difference has been evident in the problem of sewage disposal. President Eisenhower vetoed a Democratic measure to give the states and local governments more federal funds to meet this elementary necessity, which has a major bearing on river and stream pollution. Likewise, the Eisenhower Administration has done very little in the increasingly important area of air pollution. California has begun to attack the auto-exhaust pollution issue, but there has been no pressure from Washington for a nationwide effort to stop the fouling of the air by more millions of cars every year.

Both parties pledge to do more for the National Parks, and here the Republicans already have done a great deal. The Democrats are critical because fees to the public for their use have been raised, but the increase in fees is not unreasonable as a whole. Part of the problem ahead is how to extend those park systems located in the rapidly sprawling suburban areas where land prices are skyrocketing. The population explosion also presses on the national forests, on the wildlife refuges, and on other sanctuaries.

Another facet of the national resources problem is the nation’s minerals. Here there is urgent necessity for more work to make use of low-grade reserves and less argument whether government or industry should do it. But the problem of marginal mines often gets out of the resources area into foreign policy because of efforts to halt the inflow from abroad of such minerals as lead and zinc. A balance is indeed hard to strike, and neither party has found a formula. Generally, members of Congress from the mining states abandon party lines to join together on such an issue as subsidizing by one means or another these marginal mining operations. Both parties pledge a long-range minerals policy, but only strong White House leadership here, as in arriving at a national fuels policy, can put the general public interest ahead of sectional or industrial interests.

Strictly speaking, the problems of suburbia are not a national resource problem. Yet, as the population becomes even more urbanized, and as the great metropolis spreads for hundreds of miles along the East Coast from Maine to Virginia, and in other belts in the nation as well, suburbia does intrude on some of our most important resources: the beauty of the landscape, the farms of our countryside, the open spaces of park and river.

How all these areas are to be connected and the problems of road and rail traffic solved without bulldozing the last green tree is now left almost entirely to the hardpressed states and to the multiple local jurisdictions within the states.

No one can quarrel with the Democratic platform statement that “a thin layer of earth, a few inches of rain, and a blanket of air makes human life possible on our planet.” The problem, now, as it has been ever since man began to overcome nature, is to preserve the necessary elements of earth, water, and air in proper form to sustain a growing population. There is today often violent disagreement on the means and methods; fortunately, there is general agreement on the necessity.

Presidential interregnum

Until the ratification in 1933 of the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution, the interregnum between the election of a President and his taking office lasted from November until March 4. Now the period ends on January 20, but it still presents problems of the transition. This will be especially so this winter, in light of pressing foreign policy problems in every quarter of the globe.

Both Vice President Nixon and Senator Kennedy will be in a position to move quickly once Inauguration Day arrives. The Vice President, of course, is part of the current Administration and therefore privy to its inner secrets and most highly classified information. The problem is more acute for Kennedy, but he has set up long-range policy planning groups to cope with it.

The basic work is being done by a group headed by Paul Nitze, a Republican turned Democrat who headed the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff under Truman, with assistance on foreign policy problems from Adlai Stevenson. The Nitze group, actually the brain child of Senator Henry M. Jackson, who has been investigating these past months national security policy-making machinery, covers both military and foreign policy problems. The hope is to provide Kennedy, if he wins the election, with some plans and programs to submit to the new Congress soon after inauguration, thus taking full advantage of the first hundred days, in which any new chief executive can expect a congressional honeymoon.

Both Kennedy and Nixon have felt that Khrushchev will quickly try to test the new President’s mettle, perhaps just after the election and before Eisenhower leaves office. This could be a very troublesome and difficult period. Of course, it would be far more difficult if Kennedy wins than it would be for Nixon. But there is no doubt that if Kennedy does win, President Eisenhower can be counted on to work with him in the interregnum period to the extent that Kennedy desires.

How far Kennedy would go would most probably depend on events. He is not likely to take the position that Franklin D. Roosevelt did after his first election, that he could do nothing until he was sworn in. F.D.R. cooperated not at all with outgoing President Hoover. Those were serious times indeed, but the period from November 8 to January 20 this winter could be infinitely more dangerous to the future of the nation and the free world.