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Discussing environmental policy is a hard subject because of the intricate nature and varied dynamics at work. It is a facet of the legal landscape that cannot be viewed through strictly objective lenses. This at first seems quite controversial due to the fact that politics, regulations, and laws in the grand scope should not be viewed with anything but honest objectivism. This includes keeping in mind the wellbeing of those who will be under mandate of the potential policies and ensuring that they are fair and do not favor sides. This however, cannot always be the case for environmental policies because there are groups who are trying to influence these policies based on their own set of ethics, morals, and reasoning. The reasons why there are so many conflicting sides is that there is no sure method yet on how to preserve the environment and restore harmed ecosystems without harming the economy and developing society. The main questions that have been and are being discussed in present day politics are as follows. How can the reduction of carbon emissions be reduced through economically-informed policy implementation? There is also the aspect of resource extraction which ties in closely with questioning how mining rights and procedures can be changed and innovated. Lastly, how can ecosystem protection and restoration, which heavily focuses on wetland restoration, include policy on water security?
Being able to cut carbon emissions is a key component in the prevention of global climate change that would be detrimental to humanity and the environment. Carbon emissions reductions is such a crucial aspect of environmental policy that needs to be addressed urgently because it is one of the most impactful reasons to why climate change is occurring. Civilization and societal growth has been the primary factor for carbon emissions rapidly increasing in the atmosphere. Without proper and deliberate action taken on carbon emissions, every other aspect of environmental policies and regulations will be significantly more difficult to obtain. One of the most controversial but seemingly hopeful proposals to combat the quantities of greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere is the implementation of a carbon tax policy. A cap and trade system, such as the one that is currently being worked on in the EU would create an incentive for environmentally friendly businesses to maintain sustainable practices while being able create a better profit margin. This measure will provide incentive for improving energy efficiency (Obama 2017).
Although realistically speaking, a temporary decrease in capital and revenue is likely yet, there is more that we can be doing on the individual and household level in order to create a change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is a lot of data available that shows how there is a strong correlation between the rise of greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere with the rise of large-scale agriculture, urban centers, and industrialism (Dietz 2009). There have been many studies, such as Diez’s in which he discusses carbon tax and tax incentive programs for those who switch to alternative energy sources. That transition can be beneficial because large corporations will begin to make the changes to follow societal shifts. All these policies begin at the grassroots level and with community support and with it the effects of climate change can be mitigated (Diez 2009).
Being able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through policies is not only for societal and economic change but also on how federal lands are to be utilized and maintained. Since the 1970s when OPEC raised prices on crude oil reserves and threated to boycott the United States due to its support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War; the United States has been under immense pressure to open up federal lands to develop energy sources (Davis 2001). These energy sources included, oil, natural gas, and coal. Being able to create policy that addresses the role that federal lands will play in the long run is crucial, such as placing strict restrictions on mistreatment of lands that are not made available for energy development. These ideas however, have been heavily impacted by interest groups, partisanship, and the bureaucratic routines. In order to create opportunities for environmental policy enactment, the seemingly dichotomous relationship between pro-environmental groups and politicians and the pro-business groups and politicians has to be addressed and a discussion on development and not growth needs is paramount.
Resource extraction is a concept that has been quite intertwined with federal land usage politics since the 1970s and one of the most impactful regulatory policies was the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. As mining technologies have continued to improve and the methods of extracting minerals and natural resources have increased there must also be newly developed environmental oversight. There needs to be updated laws which focus heavily on the preservation of the environment surrounding mining operations, fiscal reform in order to hold companies monetarily accountable, and most importantly the reclamation and restoration of the territories after the mines have been shut down. Even though there have been policies such as SMCRA put in place to regulate environmental effects of resource extraction and reclamation, there have been countless negative environmental and societal impacts due to negligence and difficulties with oversight.
The U.S. General Mining Law of 1872 is a vastly outdated law that is still in use and has created a series of political challenges involving the balance between business growth versus environmental protection. According to the 1872 Mining Law individuals and private firms can purchase mineral bearing lands for $2.50 or $5.00 making the transition from public to private ownership extremely simple (Davis 2001). There are also no fees or royalties that are required to be paid through the extraction of minerals from public lands in the United States. It does not matter how many minerals and metals are taken from the lands, the U.S. government does not see any income from it. This has led many foreign mining companies and corporations to enter the United States and extract the land of its natural resources without compensating the U.S. and without holding themselves accountable for the destruction of the environment (Lachelt 2018). The methods that are used to extract the minerals have many negative effects on the environment and on human health. Some of what is affected include water resources, air quality, wildlife, and local vegetation.
Situations like this and many more are the real consequences of the General Mining Law of 1872. It allows these corporations to take public safety for granted. This includes leaving waste piles such as tailings and acid mine drainage which can pollute local water resources and toxic dust and ore processing chemicals which can contaminate the air quality (Davis 2001). If new laws and regulations are not implemented soon then environmental degradation will continue to occur on a massive scale in the United States. There need to be clear policies set in place that ensure the lands that are used for mining will be able to be used for other endeavors in the future. Whether it consists of returning the land to local farmers or returning the protection status to a wildlife reserve the lands need to at least be restored to their original state.
The restoration of natural lands to their original state is a challenge that has also been fought hard in politics since the 1970s within the House Interior/Resources Committee. The protection of Forest Service lands has been under heavy conflict because of the constant discussions on how to properly balance the conflicting uses of those land. The reason it is under so much controversy is because it deals with having to balance the needs of the environment while still maintaining the local communities economically stable. There is pressure from both sides, the economic urban side and the national ecological interests to create policies, regulations, and laws that benefit one side (Davis 2001). Where this issue becomes the most complicated is when it deals with wetlands and specifically wetland restoration areas. There can be wetlands of all shapes and sizes and found at the basin of large geological features such as mountains and hills, and therefore, even though some wetlands are relatively small in comparison, all of the surface water and additional runoff from high elevations precipitate and can collect in these watersheds.
These lands are extremely important to preserve because it provides that additional natural flood control as well as providing a safe haven for a wide variety of plants and animals. The challenges in developing policy that specifically focus on ecosystem restoration involves creating strong partnerships with landowners, environmental organizations, business firms, and the federal government in the surrounding areas help to protect and maintain the extended network of reserved lands. This, in turn, helps to keep the wetland’s hydrology, flora, and fauna intact. Only through all of these parties working in collaboration will we be able to protect the wildlife within the boundaries of the ecosystems and wetlands and be able to send a powerful message about conservation. Conservation and restoration also includes the application of scientific data to inform the proper implementation of policies and regulations.
For example, Studying the particular dynamics of sediment transport is important for the monitoring and safety of communities that surround bodies of water. During rainy seasons, an accumulation of sediment could lead to flooding that could endanger the lives of many. Depending on the location, mudslides could also be triggered that could affect the safety and prosperity of a community (Walling 2009). It is important the impacts in order to help sustain a healthy natural environment for all the creatures that live in those habitats as well increase awareness on how to use those natural resources, such as water, in a way that does not have a negative effect ecologically, socially, or economically. Inspiration for future policies that involve the protection and restoration of natural lands can be drawn from The National Wildlife Refuge Administration Act of 1966 and the amendment by the Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 (Davis 2001). These acts help to find common ground between environmentalists and local communities who benefit economically from the tourism and recreational uses of the land including hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, environmental education, and interpretation. Furthering bipartisan policies such as these which open up dialogue for both sides is paramount to future policies.
At the end of the day, these main challenges for environmental policy: the reduction of carbon emissions, the extraction of resources, and the protection and restoration of ecosystems are also the greatest opportunities to further the influence of this political field. It is about understanding the complex relationships between citizens, interest groups, businesses, and the government. Most importantly, it is about understanding that citizens have the right and ability to carry out the vision that they have for the future of the nation. It is up to the interest groups and the government to keep citizens well informed and be ambitious about implementing policies and regulations that are for the development of a sustainable and fair society. Lastly, it is up to businesses to understand there is a place of balance where economy and ecology can work hand in hand. These political challenges will not go anywhere, however, if all of these groups are willing to work as one united entity, then that sustainable and fair society is not in the distant future.
- Davis, C. E. (2001). Western Public Lands and Environmental Politics (2nd ed.) [Second Edition]. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Retrieved March 15, 2019, from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/osu/reader.action?docID=1076649&ppg=155.
- Dietz, T., & Et. al. (2009). Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,106(44), 18452-18456. doi:10.1073/pnas.0908738106
- Lachelt, G. (2018). Congress’s mining rider would put us in the hole. Retrieved from https://www.denverpost.com/2019/03/14/congresss-mining-rider-would- put-us-in-the-hole/
- Obama, B. (2017). The irreversible momentum of clean energy. Science,355(6321), 126-129. doi:10.1126/science.aam6284
- Walling, D.E (2009) The Impact of Global Change on Erosion and Sediment Transport by Rivers: Current Progress and Future Challenges
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