U.S. Population Set to Hit 300M on Tues.

The Associated Press
Sunday, October 15, 2006; 3:02 AM

WASHINGTON -- America's population is on track to hit 300 million on Tuesday morning, and it's causing a stir among environmentalists.

People in the United States are consuming more than ever _ more food, more energy, more natural resources. Open spaces are shrinking and traffic in many areas is dreadful.

But some experts argue that population growth only partly explains America's growing consumption. Just as important, they say, is where people live, what they drive and how far they travel to work.

"The pattern of population growth is really the most crucial thing," said Michael Replogle, transportation director for Environmental Defense, a New York-based advocacy group.

"If the population grows in thriving existing communities, restoring the historic density of older communities, we can easily sustain that growth and create a more efficient economy without sacrificing the environment," Replogle said.

That has not been the American way. Instead, the country has fed its appetite for big houses, big yards, cul-de-sacs and strip malls. In a word: sprawl.

"Because the U.S. has become a suburban nation, sprawl has become the most predominant form of land use," said Vicky Markham, director of the Center for Environment and Population, an advocacy group. "Sprawl is, by definition, more spread out. That of course requires more vehicles and more vehicle miles traveled."

America still has a lot of wide-open spaces, with about 84 people per square mile, compared with about 300 people per square mile in the European Union and almost 900 people per square mile in Japan.

But a little more than half the U.S. population is clustered in counties along the coasts, including those along the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. Also, much of the population is moving away from large cities to the suburbs and beyond.

The fastest growing county is Flagler County, Fla., north of Daytona Beach; the fastest growing city is Elk Grove, Calif., a suburb of Sacramento; and the fastest growing metropolitan area is Riverside, Calif., about 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

"In New York City, people tend to think of that as an urban jungle, but the environmental impact per capita is quite low," said Carlos Restrepo, a research scientist at New York University. "It tends to be less than it is for someone who lives in the suburbs with a big house where they need more than one car."

The Census Bureau projects that America's population will hit 300 million at 7:46 a.m. EDT Tuesday. The projection is based on estimates for births, deaths and net immigration that add up to one new American every 11 seconds.

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