A Congressional Assault on Earth

How are members of Congress celebrating Earth Day this year? Planting trees? Recycling? Passing legislation that will further protect our air, land, water and wildlife for generations? Guess again.

For more than 40 years, our country has been committed to the protection of our incredible natural heritage, and Congress passed legislation to do just that. But instead of carrying on this long tradition of stewardship, anti-environmental members of this Congress have introduced 34 bills and amendments that would destroy our nation's environmental safety net.

This legislation runs the gamut from efforts to block the listing of imperiled wildlife that needs protection, such as the long-eared bat, an important species that keeps insects such as mosquito populations at bay, to attempts to remove certain animals from the list of endangered species, including the gray wolf and the lesser prairie chicken. They are even trying to sell off or give away federal lands. One bill would automatically remove protections for all species after five years, recovered or not. Science? Extinction? Not a concern for many members of Congress.

How about addressing the impacts of climate change? There's not a snowball's chance in you-know-where that this Congress will take this threat seriously. They would rather adopt the mantra of "Drill, baby, drill," proposing legislation to give states decision-making authority over federal lands to allow oil and gas development. Some congressional leaders even want to give away our federal lands to state and local economic interests, triggering an avalanche of uncontrolled oil and gas drilling, mining, logging and grazing, with no strings attached.

Conservation opponents have learned over the years that it is much harder to overturn our nation's conservation laws directly, so instead, they chip away at them indirectly through waivers, burdensome amendments and severe budget reductions. Longstanding environmental safeguards that have kept our country safe and vibrant, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, and even historic preservation laws, are being waived if they are inconvenient for Big Oil and other unsustainable public-land use and development projects. And more bills are being added to the congressional hopper each week to do just that.

Now there are even attempts to block the public's historic access to the courts. This is reflected in a two-pronged assault. Anti-environmental members of Congress have been working relentlessly, and with some success, to overturn pro-conservation court rulings that special interests do not like. In addition, they are trying to take away citizen access to the courts entirely, discarding historic checks and balances that have ensured that our federal government plays by the laws of the land -- laws Congress passed.

For years, many in Congress have attempted to indirectly thwart the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's conservation efforts by starving the agency's budget. Apparently, though, slashing the conservation budget has not been enough. Today, there is a surge in legislation to create excessive red tape and burdensome reporting requirements designed to bog the agency down, restrictions that benefit no one and rob the agency of critical staff and financial resources that are needed to carry out its conservation mission.

These endless legislative attacks put imperiled plants and animals, public lands and other essential natural resources like our air and water and our own health and well-being in serious jeopardy. On this Earth Day, it is time to remind Congress that they serve the interests of us all, and not just the special interests that have little respect for our nation's health, well-being and future.