Believe it or not, there are environmental issues other than climate change on the minds — and agendas of — of lawmakers and regulators in Washington.
As a commentator for the National Journal Energy and Environment Expert Blog, I was recently asked to weigh in on some of the “back burner issues” currently working through Congress and the Obama administration. Below is an excerpt of my answer. You can read my complete analysis here as well as the opinions of several other leading thinkers in Washington.
In the U.S. and in the larger world, if we continue to deal only “with a host of hot button issues” through little cubby holes of legislation and funding, the natural systems upon which our own lives depend will ultimately be lost.
As we have seen in Chesapeake Bay, trying to address one environmental threat at a time is not sufficient to rescue an individual ecosystem let alone to restore the network of healthy ecosystems needed to sustain our environment and our economy. We must solve the range of problems affecting whole watersheds, landscapes and ecosystems in a more comprehensive way. The administration, Congress and other groups are beginning to recognize this with new and long-needed initiatives:
- A Presidential Memorandum issued on June 12 set in motion inter-agency planning for the coordinated governance of marine waters and the creation of a system to allocate the uses of coastal waters to protect natural features while allowing for economic activities at the right locations. The House Natural Resources Committee is proposing a permanent Ocean Trust Fund derived from offshore leasing to pay for the coastal restoration and management required to carry out such plans.
- U..S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has called for a “Treasured Lands Program” that would restore and conserve the nation’s most important landscapes for their multiple benefits — places, one would think, like Greater Yellowstone, the Colorado River and the northern forests of New York and New England. While the secretary has not yet announced a specific program, a group of conservationists convened by the University of Montana has suggested a national landscape competition in which landowners, state and federal agencies and non-profit organizations come together to nominate their own regions to receive Federal incentives to protect working landscapes, water resources and public lands for all their benefits.
- The House Subcommittee and Water Resources and the Environment is considering a bill that would facilitate planning for whole watersheds to deal with sources of pollution, demands for water, operation of dams and river restoration needs in a unified and long-term way.
When taken together, these initiatives represent a remarkable trend in environmental and natural resource policy — looking at natural systems in a holistic way and developing plans for the future that span agency and political boundaries.
These are neither hot button issues nor the central strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but one hopes there will be the time and energy to advance these new ideas because they recognize that the welfare of humans and the welfare of natural systems are, in today’s world, completely intertwined and that the future of America’s environment depends upon our finding ways to create a framework of healthy land and water that will sustain human needs while providing habitat for the full range of native plants and animals.