In his December 16 nationally syndicated column, economist Thomas Sowell labeled the environmentalists responsible for the "renaissance" of Yosemite National Park as "green bigots." He also claimed that restoration of Yosemite's Merced River was unnecessary because he had "watched the Merced River flowing and cascading through Yosemite for more than 20 years without seeing anything that needed to be 'restored.'" However, over the past five years, numerous sewage spills have cumulatively released more than 500,000 gallons of contaminated water into the Merced River.
Sowell decried environmentalists' successful efforts to clean up Yosemite as described in a December 5, 2004, Oakland Tribune article titled "Yosemite National Park going through renaissance." The article detailed how the national park has taken significant steps toward reducing pollution throughout it, including preventing sewage spills into the Merced River. The article reported that "[s]ewage and phone lines are being rerouted to reduce the number of Merced River crossings."
While Sowell argued that he had "watched" the Merced River for years "without seeing anything that needed to be 'restored,'" five spills released over 50,000 gallons of sewage into the river between April and August of 1999, according to an August 25, 1999, Fresno Bee report. On July 28, 2000, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that 200,000 gallons of raw sewage had been spilled into the Merced River at the edge of Yosemite National Park, and such a spill presented a recreational hazard. According to the Chronicle: "[California Department of Health Services Chief of Drinking Water Dave] Spath said a 200,000-gallon spill translates into a significant recreational health risk, 'particularly because it was raw sewage only diluted by about a one-to-one ratio. People shouldn't swim or wade in the river until it's clear that it's safe.'" One year later, a July 28, 2001, Modesto Bee report stated that 300,000 gallons of treated wastewater had been spilled into the Merced River.
Sowell wrote of the so-called "green bigots":
They call themselves environmentalists but a more accurate term would be green bigots. What makes someone a bigot is that he wishes to deny other people the same rights he has. That is the hallmark of the environmental zealot.