EDITORIAL: What will it take for government to put the environment first?


A vehicle drives beside the melting permafrost tundra on the edge of the Bering Sea at the town of Quinhagak on the Yukon Delta in Alaska on April 12. According to scientists, Alaska has been warming twice as fast as the global average.

Studies keep rolling in that say climate change is a crisis. But you’d never know it from the foot-dragging in Springfield and Washington.

Studies keep rolling in that say our chance to fight climate change is running out.

But you’d never know it from the foot-dragging in Springfield and Washington. How do we get through to the deniers of science — and the political opportunists — that they are playing with our children’s future?

On Tuesday, a major study was released that says a larger-than-expected rise in global sea levels of more than 6.6 feet could swamp coastal cities such as New York and Shanghai and displace up to 187 million people by the end of this century. That study came just two weeks after a landmark report by scientists from universities across the world that says a million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction because of human activity.

Yets another study, released this month by the Center for International Environmental Law, says that the production and incineration of plastic this year will spew as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as 189 coal-fired power plants. And a recent Canadian report says we can expect to see extreme high and low water levels in the Great Lakes.

None of this, though, is stirring legislators to action in Springfield or Washington, where lobbyist money talks and noble intentions go to die.

In Springfield, legislative negotiators seem content to run out the clock this spring on a clean energy bill that would reduce Illinois’ reliance on fossils fuels and boost the number of jobs in the green energy sector. That’s partly because environmentalists have had to fend off legislation that would extend the ability of the utilities ComEd and Ameren to circumvent the traditional process for setting consumer rates. If the utility companies succeed, they will be less inclined to negotiate a wide-ranging clean energy bill, having already achieved a key legislative aim.

In addition, a proposal for a full capital bill might be replaced with a stopgap that includes money only for roads and bridges. Meanwhile, a proposed capital bill would cut the percentage of money that traditionally goes to public transit. Both alternatives would shortchange transit systems and bike paths, which are better for the environment.

The only significant environmental bill that appears to have a chance in Springfield is one that would limit pollution from coal ash pits at power plants. That measure has passed the state Senate and is awaiting a vote in the House.

In Washington, the Trump administration is working to curtail a host of policies and regulations intended to steer the world away from climate change disaster. To key government positions, such as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, President Donald Trump has appointed foes of strong eco-friendly rules. His administration is attacking Obama-era automobile emissions standards as too stringent, and he has proposed a cut of 31% to the budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

On May 14, Trump boasted of approving new oil pipelines, withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, opening up the Arctic to oil drilling and targeting an Obama-era plan to get utilities to reduce pollution emissions by switching from coal to natural gas or renewable power.

Around the country, states are adopting stronger environmental protections to counteract the Trump administration’s policies. Colorado and New Mexico, for example, have imposed new rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. More than a dozen states are requiring cars to be more fuel-efficient than what is required by the federal government. And in Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown is expected this week to sign a bill that will enforce the pre-Trump federal clean air and clean water standards in Oregon, even if the Trump administration rolls them back on a federal level.

Scientists warn us that continued delays hasten the moment when catastrophic changes in the climate become irreversible.

Illinois should be taking the lead in green energy among the states.

And Washington, as Trump likes to say, should “put America first” — in leading the world, for the sake of our children, to a more secure environmental future.


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May 22, 2019 at 04:37PM

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