A fragile world in the balance

Share
Government must do more to protect environmental gains made in the recent decades

By Chris Scranton

Guest columnist

It's not news that our country is deeply divided on political ideologies. There are some issues where consensus is difficult at best. We all have different values based upon religious, personal and political ideology. Some issues will remain contentious for the foreseeable future and decisions made regarding those issues will leave some of us happy and others greatly disturbed. Immigration policies, birth control, abortion, tax policies and education are some of the issues that divide us.

There is one issue that despite one's political and social views has overwhelming consensus. Most of us want clean air, safe and healthy environments, access to public lands and safe food and clean drinking water. People do not want to return to the times when rivers like the Cuyahoga in Ohio caught fire in 1969 due to unregulated pollution. We do not want to go back to air pollution levels of the '60s when smog blanketed many cities causing uncounted health problems and deaths. Americans, regardless of political affiliation, love their national parks and Oregonians cherish their state parks and access to public federal lands. We value our clean rivers and lakes and healthy wildlife populations.

Environmental regulations have forced the cleanup of Superfund sites, such as Hanford, allowed for a sustainable harvest of game, produced clean drinking water and air standards and brought the bald eagle back in Oregon from fewer than 60 pairs and declining in the 1960s to 600 breeding pairs today.

Without vigilance and enforcement of these regulations, tragic debacles like toxic water in Flint, Michigan, would continue to go unchecked.

Oregon has a huge tourism industry. People come to Oregon because of our clean and healthy landscapes. It is actually in the economic interest of the country and Oregon to support healthy ecosystem policies.

The Trump administration, backed by the Republican-controlled Congress, has embarked on the most regressive environmental policies in recent history. President Trump's pick of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency and the proposed reduction of funding for that agency is putting in motion an attempt to deregulate environmental policies that protect all Americans and assure a healthy safe environment for all.

Proposals to cut funding for national parks and legislation that would allow for the sale of public lands are opposed by the vast majority of Americans. Although most Americans will never see the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose oil development in this crown jewel of our wildlife refuge system. Despite the will of the people, Congress has submitted recent bills to allow for oil development on the caribou-calving grounds in ANWR.

The world is changing, global warming with all its negative effects is real and fossil fuels need to be phased out. Renewable, sustainable energy is one of the fastest growing industries in America today. There are more people employed in the renewable energy sector than in the fossil fuel industry.

In Oregon, wind and solar energy and related jobs are rapidly growing. One need only drive from Madras to Biggs Junction to realize the scale of this new energy economy. Windmills by the thousands have sprung up along the Columbia River, where there were none 10 years ago.

On a personal note, my wife and I decided to install both a solar hot water heater and solar electricity panels on our roof. There was an initial investment, we supported an Oregon industry and now our electricity bill averages $24 per month, compared to over a hundred before.

Oregon is becoming an industry leader in solar and wind. These industries generate good-paying jobs and help limit global warming. The United States should be investing in research and development of renewable energy sources lest we get left behind by countries like China, whose policies are changing to embrace wind and solar innovation.

If we invest now, the United States can be a leader in this new economy. If we chose to ignore science and prop up the fossil fuel industry and dismiss the Paris Accord, we will find ourselves way behind the trend that most countries are pursuing. The move to dismantle an environmental legacy that has been years in the making is wrong for the environment and the economy.

Despite rhetoric to the contrary, coal and coal-related jobs have no long-term future. There is no such thing as clean coal. The burning of coal produces mercury, arsenic, fine particulate matter, acid rain and huge amounts of carbon dioxide and leaves behind devastated landscapes.

Much of coal mining today is highly mechanized and the work force needed for coal mining is declining, regardless of environmental policies. Rather than attempt to resurrect a dying industry with all its negative ramifications, we should be supporting programs to retrain miners as solar and wind technicians and installers.

Regardless of your political affiliation or your feelings about the Trump administration, I believe most of us can agree that we want a clean and healthy environment in which to live and access to public lands where we can hike, fish, hunt, bird watch, picnic and rejuvenate our souls.

All of us should push our political leaders to continue to protect our environment and support our public lands. Clean air and water, along with well-managed public lands, are not partisan values. These are American values and all citizens should ask their political leaders to defend and support policies to that end.

Chris Scranton is a retired Madras High School teacher, who taught science for 18 years.