Politics

Opinion: Why industry should be forced to clean up its messes


When my family has a picnic in a public park, we clean up our food and our trash. Why? Because we feel it is our obligation to leave the park the way we found it for the people who come next. I’ll bet your family does the same.

The Trump administration and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke decided last month that industries that use public lands don’t have to follow that social norm. For decades, industries that mine or drill for oil or coal on our federal public lands had to clean up after themselves by paying the federal government to fix the damage they did to the land. Or they had to purchase new land to be set aside for conservation. It is called compensatory mitigation and was one of the costs and responsibilities of doing business on lands that belong to the public.

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But the Trump administration just reversed that policy. Industries can now extract resources on lands under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and take the profits without doing anything to minimize the effect on the plants and animals that live there, the quality of water that drains into our rivers, or the views that we see. This means these industries can drill or mine on over a tenth of the U.S. land area and not pay the government a cent.

Environmental legislation in the United States is built around the “polluter pays principle,” also known as the common sense rule: “If you make the mess, you clean it up.” These include laws like the National Environmental Policy Act passed under the Nixon administration, and the non-net-loss of wetland policy from the first Bush administration. The Trump administration has rolled back restrictions on air-quality standards, arsenic and mercury in wastewater, and the disposal of toxic ash, all from coal-fired power plants. Now the administration is saying to energy companies, “You can do whatever you want on our public lands.”

This new rule means that the owners of approximately 40,000 oil and gas leases on BLM lands will not have to mitigate for the contamination of water supplies that is becoming increasingly common with fracking. It also means that the oil and gas industry will not have to compensate for the negative effects drilling has on the greater sage grouse, an emblematic bird species that is in steep population decline and is proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act. This is particularly concerning because 76 percent of BLM’s current and proposed leases in Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming occur on sage grouse habitat, and at the same time, the Trump administration and Republicans in the House and Senate are working to weaken the Endangered Species Act.

Closer to home, the Trump administration recently approved a new oil well and small pipeline in the Carrizo Plain National Monument. This development will mar scenic …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics

      

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