Tony Dingmann, Sartell
Often times, I shy away from political conversations and debates. However, I do not shy away from being vocal and passionate about the care and preservation of our environment. I want to educate and share information in an effort to create awareness as we look to the future of our environmental conservation here in Minnesota and beyond. As the November election approaches, there are many topics to consider so I want to provide you with facts about recent decisions made by our country’s leaders that have directly impacted our environment.
Air: The current federal administration has weakened rules compelling auto companies to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles. By dropping the improvement standard from 5 percent to 1.5 percent, vehicles will emit roughly one billion more metric tons of heat-trapping (climate-warming) carbon dioxide into the air. Also, restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions from coal plants were either eased or lifted completely, no longer requiring plants to meet strict goals to help lessen greenhouse gases. Lastly, the newly appointed Environmental Pollution Agency officials have disbanded the air pollution review panel comprised of experts in the health dangers of air pollution.
Water: In May of 2019, many safety rules and regulations were rolled back that were set in place in 2010 after the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The “Stream Protection Rule,” which placed stricter restrictions on dumping mining waste into surrounding waterways, was overturned, allowing for the potential of severely polluted waters across the country. Most recently, the “Waters of the United States” rule was repealed, allowing for industries and individuals to no longer need permits to discharge harmful substances into streams and/or wetlands. Closer to home, the administration is pushing forward to renew leases to mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area that were initially cancelled over environmental concerns. If this mining occurs, the possibility of toxic pollution runoff could be detrimental to 1.1 million acres within the Superior National Forest, which contains more than 1,100 lakes and roughly 1,500 miles of rivers.
Land: The administration has proposed to downsize Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah by 85 and 46 percent respectively, opening the door for mining, logging and drilling within the National Monuments areas. Since 2017, the National Environmental Policy Act has been under attack which has significantly impacted the general public. NEPA is one of the general public’s most powerful tools that requires public notice for land management decisions being made on public lands. The revisions propose to empower regulators to move forward with projects without first having environmental reviews or public-comment periods. Lastly, in January 2019, an executive order instructed nearly four billion board feet of timber to be logged off of federal lands, up 31 percent from 2017, with no environmental review.
Wildlife: A proposal is on the table to make several changes to the Endangered Species Act which would forbid referring to economic impacts as a reason for listing a species. In addition, the changes would give regulators the freedom to avoid designating critical habitat for specific species. In March 2019, the administration ended the 2015 Sage Grouse Conservation Plan opening roughly eight million acres of critical Sage Grouse habitat to fossil-fuel extraction in the western United States.
No matter which side of the political aisle you are on at any time, I want to encourage you to consider what our environmental future looks like as a state and country. We are the advocates for our lands and natural resources, and here in Minnesota we are blessed that ours are so abundant – our landscapes, lakes and rivers are what make Minnesota a state to be valued, treasured and protected.
I hope these facts help as you prepare to make educated voting decisions this November. In the end, all I ask is that you consider advocating for our environmental preservation and protection, whether it’s through a vote, volunteerism, community engagement or just sharing an outdoor experience with a child.
As Aldo Leopold said, “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”