September was a very bad month for anyone concerned about the environment and anyone who lives in it. That, you understand, is us.
In the first salvo, a 1973 law enacted during the Nixon administration, the Endangered Species Act, is itself now endangered. A new series of rollbacks have conservationists worried about the survival of at-risk species. It’s difficult for a casual environmentalist to become too enraged over the snail darter or any of the small, un-beautiful creatures found in streams. (The professionals, of course, have been worried sick for years). Unfortunately, most people do not sit up and take notice until more majestically endowed animals such as the bald eagle or grizzly bear or California condor are threatened. But even the most minute piece of the environmental chain is still a piece. It impacts the chain above it and below it. To paraphrase John Donne, no man and certainly no other animal is an island.
The effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is reflected in the fact that ninety-nine per cent of the animals protected by the act did not go extinct. This is astonishing, especially in the face of out-of-control population growth of humans and loss of habitat for animals. The ESA is administered by the secretary of the interior. Presiding Secretary David Bernhardt says it’s time to bring the ESA “into the 21-century.” According to Time, new rules for implementing the act will no longer give threatened species the same protections as endangered species. In an especially alarming turn of events, government officials are now instructed to give weight to economic issues before including a species as threatened or endangered. Anyone who takes 30 seconds to read that last sentence can see how patently ridiculous it is. A species is either in trouble or it’s not. And most species that are in trouble are in trouble because of negative human interference. Leah Gerber, an ecologist at Arizona State University put it well. “Recovering a species is a biological question, not an economic question,” she said.
Saving the animals while we ourselves survive is great right up until none of us have clean water to drink. In the second salvo, the current administration has taken it upon itself to rescind a vital provision of the Clean Water Act. The CWA was also enacted during the Nixon administration. Say what you will about Richard Nixon (and I have said plenty), the man was very forward-thinking when it came to the environment. He took two important steps to protect the nation’s water and threatened animal groups.
The Clean Water Act is the primary federal law in the United States governing water pollution. Its objective is to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.” It is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is headed by its third administrator in three years. The first was an acting director. Then, just to prove irony isn’t dead, Donald Trump nominated Scott Pruitt to lead the agency. Pruitt, while Attorney General of Oklahoma, came out against all environmental regulations. He described himself as a leading advocate against the EPAs activist agenda and sued the EPA 14 times. He rejects the overwhelming scientific consensus that human-caused carbon dioxide emissions are the primary contributor to climate change. This is the man thought by the president best-suited to lead the agency … an agency Mr. Pruitt clearly disdained. Mr. Pruitt resigned his office when faced with a flurry of indictments for corruption. The irony continues with the current administrator, Andrew Wheeler, who is a former coal industry lobbyist.
The act that was revoked in September is the Waters of the United States provision of the CWA. The Waters of the United States placed limits on polluting chemicals that can be used near streams, wetlands, and other bodies of water. These restrictions are now lifted, giving industrial polluters a green light to dump harmful chemicals into our water system. Anyone who has waded a stream or visited a fast-disappearing wetland lately knows these waters are already in jeopardy. Much of the small end of the food chain (such as crawdads) is almost gone. When the small end of the food chain goes, the large end inevitably follows. That, you understand, is us.
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for Miami Valley Today.