Examiner Editorial: Environmentalists oppose bicycle trail proposal. Huh?

Can a bike trail hurt the environment? Yes, if it’s attached to a new highway Maryland officials have been trying to build for nearly five decades.

Amazingly, that’s according to environmentalists who usually cheer when new bike trails are proposed. But this time they are pursuing regulatory appeals and threatening new lawsuits, which may again succeed in stopping construction of the road while a court sorts out the conflicting claims that follow. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the bike trail argument, a local controversy is thus being magnified into another illustration of what happens when environmental concerns trump all other public-policy considerations.

Maryland officials included the 11-mile, off-road bicycle and pedestrian trail several years ago in a deal with litigation-happy opponents of the highway, who had blocked it for more than 40 years by appealing to the courts and regulatory bureaucracies at all levels of government.

After fending off countless lawsuits and completing the most exhaustive environmental impact study ever done in Maryland, officials were finally able to begin construction earlier this year of the road, the Inter-County Connector that is scheduled to open in 2010. It is a desperately needed transportation improvement in the Washington region.

Now, the environmental extremists have turned against the bike trail, too, claiming it will increase runoff on local parkland. The runoff generated under the most extreme circumstances by a 10-foot-wide ribbon of asphalt crossing 87 acres of green space is negligible, but that’s not really the point. In any rational cost/benefit analysis, the minuscule amount of runoff will be more than offset by vehicle emissions that won’t be released into the atmosphere as less congested traffic flows more freely instead of idling at red lights and in bumper-to-bumper delays. But for bike trail opponents, taking the issue to court may slow or even halt construction of the road, again.

Such environmental extremism was also the mentality behind the ill-advised decisions of the early 1980s when so much of our nation’s abundant energy reserves were placed off-limits to development. By annually renewing the congressional ban on drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf in the years since, we have traded national security and economic prosperity for the warped priorities of a movement that is increasingly incapable of weighing real-world costs and benefits.

There are abundant signs, however, that the public mind has changed. One need look no further than the recent vote by Santa Barbara’s supervisors in favor of lifting the ban on drilling off California’s coast that was sparked by the infamous 1969 Santa Barbara spill. The environment is important to be sure, but officials must be allowed to consider other factors, too, like keeping necessities such as gas and food affordable for all Americans.

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