Despite successes, environmental protections still fall short of ideal

During the past five decades, environmental protection efforts have taken enormous strides. For example, because of the 1973 Endangered Species Act, the bald eagle, gray wolf and American alligator populations have fully recovered. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the bald eagle experienced a resurge in population from 417 nesting pairs in 1963 to 9,789 pairs in 2007. The gray wolf population in the continental U.S. rose from a sparse population in Isle Royale National Park and Minnesota to a population of 5,360 wolves spread throughout the Northern Rockies, western Great Lakes region and Pacific Northwest
 in 2012.

We have also held corporations accountable whenever corner-cutting led to environmental disasters; according to the Associated Press, some BP gas stations claimed to have a 10 to 40 percent drop in sales after the 2010 oil spill. BP is also currently facing up to $13.7 billion in fines for violating the Clean Water Act.

Despite efforts to protect the environment, however, environmental protection is also experiencing many setbacks, including the undoing of many environmental protection accomplishments made by 
previous generations.

The effort to maintain a healthy wolf population is quickly diminishing. According to The Huffington Post, Idaho’s wolf population experienced a 23 percent drop between 2009 and 2014. Furthermore, Idaho, which had only 683 wolves in 2012, is spending money to destroy the wolf population gained in the past few decades. Idaho House Bill 470 allocated $400,000 to sponsor “all activities associated with legal lethal means of control” of wolves. Originally, the cost suggested by the Idaho House of Representatives was a one-time allocation of $2 million for five years.

“That’s basically two teachers per school district in Idaho who could be paid for, or we can use it to eradicate somewhere between 300 and 400 wolves,” said Mat Erpelding, a member of the Idaho House of Representatives who opposed the bill.

Idaho’s current plan allows for a yearly appropriation, which may stack up to $2 million within five years. The plan is not only an economic waste but also a showcase of dishonesty. Its goal to lower the population to 150 wolves contradicts Idaho’s promise to maintain a population between 518 and 
732 wolves.

Idaho is not the only state in which politicians claim to uphold responsible environmental practices while taking actions 
stating otherwise.

“We really need to focus on cleaning up the bay,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan in a political advertisement about the Chesapeake Bay. Yet one of his first acts as governor was to repeal a law intended to regulate the amount of phosphorus used as fertilizer. This law would have prevented a great deal of phosphorus runoff into the bay, weakening one of the main sources of its pollution. Rather than instituting practices to reduce pollution in the state he governs, Hogan seems to focus only on the 
pollution contributed by other states.

“There are other states – Pennsylvania and New York – that are responsible for sending about 43 percent of the sediment downstream,” he said in the same political advertisement. Hogan has done less to clean up the bay himself and has instead hoped that other states will do it for him.

The damages caused by environmental irresponsibility have manifested themselves time and time again. Species like the American alligator were nearly eradicated. According to a West Virginia University study, people who live in coal mining communities have a 70 percent increased risk for kidney disease while USA Today reports that the children born in proximity to mountaintop coal mines are 26 percent more likely to have birth defects. In 2012, the Gulf of Mexico was still suffering economically from the effects of the 2010 oil spill; its shrimp catch was 15 percent below its 2000-2009 average, CNN reported. The past 50 years have shown that we can prevent and repair these damages, and great leaps have been made. But rather than reversing that progress, it is our responsibility to take that progress a step further.

TJ Parks is a freshman majoring in anthropology, history and journalism. His column runs biweekly.

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