Across the United States, air and water continues to be threatened by pollution, sprawl is devouring open space and many elected officials are turning their backs or voting to make the problems worse.
As a result, we all need to ask our elected officials at every
level of government - federal, state, county, municipal - to
define a clear vision for America's future as it relates to
improving the health and environmental quality of our lives.
Many elected officials claim to be environmentalists, some
acknowledge the importance of conservation, yet there has been
little substantive dialogue on the issues. Voters of all political
stripes want to hear elected officials address their environmental
concerns. A March 2000 national
poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Research, Inc.,
found that 86 percent of likely voters believe environmental
issues are important when deciding how to vote.
It is up to us to encourage elected officials to outline their
positions on important environmental issues such as air and
water pollution, global warming and suburban sprawl. By asking
questions and prompting elected officials to present their vision
for how to address the mounting environmental problems facing
everyone in this country, we can help elevate the environment
to an issue of prominent importance. The following questions
pertaining to national environmental issues could be asked of
any elected official, from dog catcher to President.
Over the next few months we will be adding questions, so keep checking back
for fresh ideas. Make your elected officials take responsibility!
1. How do you propose to ensure that communities have clean and safe water supplies both now and for future generations?
More than 40 percent of U.S. waterways are threatened by pollution, much of
which can be traced to polluted runoff from farms, ranches, parking lots,
city streets and stormwater discharge systems. While U.S. waterways have
been cleaned up dramatically as a result of the Clean Water Act, pollutants
are still being discharged into rivers, lakes and streams and there are
still many places where fishing and swimming are not allowed. Serious water
pollution problems - such as contaminated drinking water, massive fish kills
and large algae blooms - in at least 30 states have been linked to
inadequate pollution control and lax enforcement of environmental
regulations. For example, the rapidly growing poultry industry on the
Eastern Shore of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia is one of the main sources
of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways. In addition,
combined sewer systems in many large, older or coastal cities cannot handle
large influxes of water. During heavy rains or snowmelts these combined
sewers often overflow, sending untreated wastewater into waterways. How
elected officials at all levels of government address this issue, will
determine whether America's waterways remain healthy for future generations.
2. Should we close the loopholes that allow older coal-fired power plants to pollute the air?
Despite some progress in reducing harmful emissions that lead to air pollution, many cities and states across the U.S. continue to deal with poor air quality. In some states, air quality is even getting worse. Emissions from older, coal-fired power plants are one of the biggest contributors to air pollution problems, causing regional haze in the Southeast and acid rain in Northeastern states. In addition, emissions from these plants have been linked to both water and global warming pollution. Elected officials have an important role in determining the implementation and enforcement of clean air regulations. Their actions could help determine whether these polluting plants are allowed to continue harming our air.
Sprawl and Overdevelopment
3. Many cities and states across the country increasingly struggle to find ways to preserve open space and curb suburban sprawl. If elected, how would you address this problem?
From Arizona to Colorado to Maryland, sprawling suburbs are encroaching on some of the nation's last remaining green spaces. As housing tracts, strip malls, highways and golf courses replace acre after acre of land, cities and states are forced to deal with increased air and water pollution, traffic congestion and a loss of key wildlife habitat. In the Pacific Northwest, a March 2000 study by Northwest Environment Watch found sprawl to be one of the region's biggest problems, as population growth results in both a loss of land and increased carbon dioxide emissions from more auto traffic. Elected officials - from zoning boards and county commissioners to governors and state legislators - must address suburban sprawl and related open space preservation, land-use planning and transportation issues, well into the new century.
4. What is your vision for protecting and managing America's natural resources and public lands both now and for future generations?
The millions of acres of U.S. parks, wildlife refuges, national forests and other public lands are valuable resources enjoyed by all Americans. These lands provide unique economic and recreational opportunities, while also serving as critical habitat for plants and wildlife. Today, however, many of America's public lands are threatened by air and water pollution, logging and mining activities and other human impacts. How elected officials address this issue, both locally and on state and federal levels, will determine whether these national treasures are managed in a way that
protects wildlife, while fostering sustainable timber and recreational
5. Do you support strengthening the Endangered Species Act as a means of better protecting declining populations of plants and wildlife?
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was designed as a means of counteracting the alarming rate of species extinction. Since its passage in 1973, more than 1,000 endangered or threatened plant and animal species have been awarded federal protection. Today, animals such as the California condor and bald eagle are returning to the wild and wolves are being reintroduced in states like New Mexico, Arizona and Wyoming. Unfortunately, growing pressure from special interest groups, such as oil, timber, mining, and
livestock interests, threatens to weaken the ESA. Future elected officials
will have a say in whether this important conservation act will continue to
safeguard our nation's heritage of plant and animal diversity, or whether it
will be weakened to incorporate the wishes of the special interests who view
it as too costly and burdensome.
6. Do you believe that environmental standards should be incorporated into trade agreements?
Recent International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization talks held in Seattle, WA, and Washington, DC, serve to highlight the growing tensions revolving around trade issues. The North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization regulate domestic and international law in order to promote international trade and investment. In an effort to comply with the rulings, governments may weaken laws or regulations. In the past, dispute panels under these agreements have ruled against a number of environmental and public health laws, including protections for sea turtles, food safety standards and clean fuel laws. Elected officials will likely have a say in whether trade rules are changed to prevent such weakening of public health and environmental laws.
7. Do you support strengthening fuel economy standards for automobiles and funding public transportation alternatives as means to reduce air pollution?
Automobiles account for a third of the U.S.'s total green house gas emissions, which trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere and are slowly warming the planet. Current technology could help boost automobile fuel efficiency by 50 percent and help curb these harmful emissions, but U.S. automakers have been slow to jump on the bandwagon, citing a lack of consumer demand. In addition, many cities have been slow to offer public transportation
alternatives. Elected officials have a chance to quick-start the transformation to the next generation of automobiles and fuels. By
encouraging the development of new fuel-efficient technologies, utilizing
current technologies and promoting public transportation, we can all begin
to breathe easier.
8. Do you think it is appropriate to resolve the current gas price hike by opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling?
Often referred to as "America's Serengeti," the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of North America's last-remaining wilderness ecosystems. It is home to nearly 200 species of wildlife, including polar bears, caribou, wolves and more than 100 species of migratory birds. Habitat destruction associated with oil development, not to mention air and water pollution and oil spills could forever compromise the biological heart of this globally important wilderness area. We must encourage our elected officials to fight to protect this national treasure. Only by defeating anti-environment
measures such as these, can we ensure that the Arctic Refuge, and other
important ecosystems, are protected for future generations.
9. Do you support paying property owners to comply with environmental laws?
The 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that private property "shall not be taken for public use without just compensation."
Historically, the Supreme Court has interpreted this amendment as a
protection for landowners from a "physical" taking of property by the
government. Over the past several decades, however, the Supreme Court has
considered whether government regulatory protections might also result in a
taking of private property. As a result of these considerations, the Court
has designed an approach to address the needs of property owners, while also
allowing for reasonable laws that protect community, environmental and
public health interests. Unfortunately, "takings" legislation attempts to
bypass the Court's balanced approach and block accepted public health,
safety and conservation measures, while mandating costly new taxpayer funded
payments. Laws commonly threatened by "takings" measures include,
community zoning regulations, land use planning measures, health and safety
measures, and conservation and wildlife management efforts.
10. With new studies linking dying coral reefs, melting glaciers, coastal erosion and flooding to global warming, how do you propose to deal with this growing problem?
Over the last two years, efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions have all but drawn to a halt. While the majority of Americans are beginning to recognize climate change as a significant problem in need of a solution, profit-driven industry lobbyists are questioning the science behind global warming and fueling fears that reducing emissions will wreak havoc on the U.S. economy. The 2000 debates will provide voters with a means to
encourage candidates to see past industry attempts to distort the facts and
be brave enough to lead on this issue of global importance.