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The environment is under attack

Ken Neubecker

The environment, and more than 35 years of protections, have been under serious assault the past few years. Not only are the regulations and laws created since the 1970s being attacked, so are many laws and institutions established to protect the health, well-being and heritage of the American people since the early 1900s. These laws were created to stem a century of abuse and plundering of the public domain. Many of America’s most cherished values are being pushed aside, quietly and too often with little or no public knowledge.

Last week the Endangered Species Act (ESA), one of the hallmark legislations passed in the early 1970s signed into law by that “radical environmentalist” Richard Nixon, was gutted by the House of Representatives. The way the law is applied and administered could have been improved, but what happened last week went far beyond any helpful improvement.

The chairman of the House Resource Committee, Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) admits that it is a good thing to try and save animals that are on the brink of extinction. Just not the land that they need to survive. Habitat, according to Pombo, was the biggest problem with the ESA. He has no problem with eagles and turtles, just so long as they move out of the way and make room for Wal-Mart or some other profitable development. It’s a property rights issue, only the eagles and turtles don’t have any rights to property or even continued existence. Maybe land-use regulations and zoning laws will be next.

This is just one example. The Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) itself have been under attack as well. Rather than being revised, they are being reduced to meaningless banter for the sake of an extraordinary rush to plunder our public lands and resources, without much public involvement and even less public benefit.

Rules are relaxed or eliminated. Watch-dog agencies and protectors of the public domain are being handcuffed, muzzled and under-funded to the point where they completely loose their ability to do anything.

The State Water Quality Control Division may well pass out of existence if measures like Referendum C don’t pass. Some, like former state Senator John Andrews, think that’s just fine, another annoying regulatory agency out of the way. If the Water Quality Control Division does disappear, however, their function transfers to the federal EPA. So rather than having a local agency we’ll have the EPA in charge of water quality regulation. A federal takeover is not usually what someone like John Andrews would want. Yet with what’s happening at the federal level, maybe that’s exactly what he wants.

The science used by government agencies to protect our health, resources and environment is also being heavily manipulated.

Reports are re-written by the politicians who don’t like what the scientists find. Data is re-arranged or ignored. Scientists who persist in their jobs are re-assigned, retired or outright dismissed. The science that we all rely on to guide decisions and actions for public benefit is being turned into a tool to protect the profits of political cronies and contributors and to hide their misdeeds.

Endangered animals don’t need habitat to survive, water doesn’t need any regulation and the oil and gas industry is somehow exempt from the laws of gravity and nature itself. The animals can live in zoos. We can all drink and take baths in bottled water. What happens on a drilling pad or construction site is just “natural” and doesn’t hurt a thing.

We haven’t seen public resources plundered or protection of the public welfare this abused since the days of Warren Harding or Ulysses Grant. Both were eras when corruption and cronyism were rampant, much to the detriment of the public and the country. The robber barons are back in the saddle, and we, and our children, are paying the price.

Americans still value and cherish their water, their air and their public lands. These attitudes and beliefs are being betrayed at an alarming rate through rewriting of laws and regulations, re-direction of agencies responsibilities and a spoils system that we haven’t seen at this scale in this country for nearly 100 years. It’s not just the past 35 years that are in jeopardy, we are losing the legacy of the last 135 years.

We as a citizenry of the greatest democracy on earth are becoming too complacent. Abraham Lincoln said that “you can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.” I hope he was right and that we as a people don’t wake up too late, only to discover what we have lost. It could be far more than eagles and turtles. VT

Ken Neubecker writes about water and the environment for The Vail Trail. He can be reached for comment at eagleriver@eagleranch.com.


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