Friday, July 15, 2011

Conservation and the Deficit: Nature Conservancy CEO makes his case

Nature conservationists know that preserving our natural resources is not simply a passion for liberal tree-huggers. It makes environmental sense and it makes economic sense. But it is also one of those endeavors that can be dismiss as a luxury when there are trying economic times - as we are experiencing now.

The Nature Conservancy is one of the major conservation non-profits and has enough resources and clout to be able to sit down and work with many of the regulatory agencies regarding conservation issues. Mark Tercek, the organization's CEO, contributed an interesting article in The Huffington Post today, pointing out that conservation did not cause the deficit crisis and cutting conservation will not solve the crisis either.

One of his main concerns is the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill that is currently before the House of Representatives. In keeping with the mood in Washington these days, the bill seeks to trim spending on conservation and environmental protection programs, and Tercek understands the need for all government departments to carry their fair share of the load.

However, Tercek's concern is that the bill goes too far at the expense of important programs that actually provide some very important cost-preventative benefits. He sites as an example, the federally-protected marshlands along the Mississippi River that were successfully used as a flood basin when water was released from levees pushed to their limits by a rain-swollen Mississippi this past spring. Without federal protection, those lands would not be available, most likely developed for housing - the kind of housing developments that were impacted by water released elsewhere along the river.

Despite the calls for reduced federal government, this is a perfect example of where the federal government can make a difference. If all that existed were a patchwork of state-only regulations all along the Mississippi River, you could very well have had more disastrous outcomes from a body of water that cares not for state boundaries.

Another concern that The Nature Conservancy has with the appropriations bill is language that impacts the application and effectiveness of important environmental protections. Simply reducing funding is one issue, but changing how the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, or the Endangered Species Act can function - under the guise of appropriations - reminds me of the steps taken by the former administration to limit the powers of these bodies to act as they were originally intended. One can almost see the fingerprints of corporate-supported lobbyists all over the legislation.

From wild-eyed liberals to Tea Baggers, the whole spectrum of politics is vulnerable to the influence of lobbyists and campaign contributions. An ideal world would have scientists, conservation experts, and economic/corporate interests - stripped of all influence other than the logic of their arguments - all sitting down at the table with our elected officials, hammering out legislation that addresses short- and long-term environmental goals. But that is not the reality we live in and, until we address that issue, conservation interests - even those that speak to the future of this planet - will be struggling to get their fair share of attention at the dinner table.

Despite the odds, it's a struggle worth pursuing because the consequences in doing nothing are too dire and totally unacceptable. Read Mike Tercek's perspective, Cutting Conservation Cannot Fix the Deficit, in the Huffington Post.

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