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Gazette Editorial

Thirty-two years after the first Earth Day, embracing a healthy environment is popular. Corporations and politicians tout their support of the land, clean air and water. "Responsible development" gets a majority vote in public opinion polls.

The controversy roils over what is responsible. How much land must be conserved? How much air pollution is acceptable?

In Washington, D.C., energy legislation is hung up on controversies over requirements for increased vehicle fuel efficiency and drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. At the end of last week, the outlook was bleak for both fuel efficiency and Arctic drilling. That's not a good compromise. It means the United States will use more gasoline and import more oil from nations where coups or terrorists could turn off the fuel flow at any time.

In Montana, people have been fighting over natural resources since long before statehood. Today's battles are still waged over water and minerals. Water remains the most precious commodity in the semi-arid West. Minerals brought decades of wealth, but left a legacy of tainted water and land that now spans three centuries. Responsible development means different things to conservationists and industrialists.

In Billings, we've had heated debates over land use and zoning. We're still debating coalbed methane.

But there is no debate over the importance of a clean community. That's why thousands of volunteers are getting ready for Saturday's Great American City-County Cleanup. The Interstate 90 right-of-way, designated top priority this year, will be cleaned up from Shiloh Road to Johnson Lane. Businesses and other organizations have volunteered to clean up this 14-mile stretch of interstate and to keep it clean for a year. Some groups will be cleaning their section on Saturday, some will clean at a later date.

"We still have plenty of places around town to clean," said Carolyn Miller, executive director of Billings Bright N Beautiful. "Call me and I'll give you a spot."

It's important to work for responsible development and conservation at the state and national level. But we have to start at home to protect our environment. Filling a bag with roadside litter is a beginning. The county cleanup has 19,000 bags available for volunteers. Let's put them to good use on our part of the Earth.

Take action Volunteer to clean up: Call Bright N Beautiful at 248-6617 to schedule the time and place your group will pick up litter. Free trash bags are available. The Great American Cleanup is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday in Billings, Laurel and throughout Yellowstone County. A bin for filled trash bags and recycling bins for aluminum cans and newspapers will be set up in the Senior High School parking lot. Local charitable organizations will be set up to accept donations of good, used clothing.

Increase your efficiency. The Montana Energy Saver's Guidebook, new from the state Department of Environmental Quality, is packed with 30 pages of practical tips for energy efficiency that can cut energy bills and result in a tax credit. Order a free copy of the booklet by calling (406) 444-6697 or save paper by viewing the complete guidebook online at www.energizemontana.com

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