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WINFIELD - South Carroll High School students' opinions on the role of government in protecting the environment varied wildly from Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild's when they debated Wednesday.

The lively discussion was initiated by the South Carroll High School's Young Democrats Club, who also asked Rothschild, a Republican, to speak last week about the role of government. The Young Democrats invited the Young Republicans Club to participate in the discussion, which was attended by 16 students.

Rothschild was flanked by Edward Amatetti, executive director of the New Renaissance in Education, whose latest blog post on his website was titled "The Greatest Threat of All To Freedom Is Democracy." Kathleen Fuller, Rothschild's assistant, moderated the discussion while also adding her own thoughts on the subject.

Rothschild argued that the question is not if the environment should be protected, but how the environment should be protected. Environmental protection plans must go through a cost-benefit analysis to ensure the government is getting the best bang for its buck, Rothschild said.

Students, including senior Samantha Bingaman, argued that not all benefits can be shown in a cost-benefit analysis.

Child labor is cheap, but that doesn't mean instituting child labor laws was a bad idea, one student said.

Amatetti and Rothschild used the scheduled time to set up scenarios in which students had to make choices. What level of income, Amatetti asked the students, would they be willing to give up in order to protect the environment?

Bingaman said she would be willing to give up all her income if it meant that the government could solve environmental issues that cause lung cancer and neurological disorders.

Her health is more important to her than a job, Bingaman said.

The cost-benefit analysis conversation continued as Amatetti slammed the use of ethanol in gasoline. Amatetti argued that too much corn is needed to produce a gallon of gas, considering the corn could be used to feed people or animals. Ethanol, he said, does not burn as well as gasoline, which means that it is not as an efficient fuel and worse for the environment.

"Ethanol isn't a solution and it's been forced down the throats of our society," Amatetti said.

Even if ethanol isn't the best alternative fuel, it's still important that the government work to find more alternatives, Bingaman said. The government needs to have a larger push toward coming up with new ideas, she said.

Following 45 minutes of debate, Maya Spaur, student president of the Young Democrats, thanked Rothschild and company for attending. Depending on the school schedule, Rothschild may be invited back to speak to the Young Democrats and Republicans Clubs in the future, she said.

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