By Jack Clarke
Update: Mass Audubon recently met with Senator Edward Markey and partner groups to brainstorm more strategies for working with the incoming Presidential administration and new Congress on critical environmental issues.
And to continue this momentum, Mass Audubon President Gary Clayton and Conservation Law Foundation President Brad Campbell convened the CEO’s of Massachusetts leading environmental organizations to develop a shared and coordinated public policy conservation strategy. They also put together a plan for strengthening our collective work at the state and local levels of government.
Note: this post was also published as an Op Ed in local newspapers statewide
As we’re deep into the presidential transition, it’s time for many to let go of denial and anger and accept the reality of a Donald Trump White House come January 20th. For the environmental community, there are three things we’re going to do.
First, with conservation partners across the country, we’re going to fight to hold on to what we have. For almost half-a-century and until most recently, we’ve had environmental success coming from Congress. Starting in 1969, GOP President Richard Nixon cooperated with bi-partisan law-makers to pass the National Environmental Protection Act, followed by the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. These laws protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we live, work and play on. Millions of American lives have improved as a result of their implementation.
Congress later enacted legislation to conserve the nation’s forests and parks, historic sites, wildlife and wetlands, coasts and oceans. These laws benefit people, nature and the economy and are a sacrosanct part of America’s natural heritage. Encouraged by the White House, the upcoming 115th Congress, with 239 Republicans and 193 Democrats in the House of Representatives, may try to weaken or do away with some of these provisions.
To prevent a roll-back of progress, we’ll work in the House but focus on the Senate. Although Republicans outnumber Democrats fifty-two to forty-eight in the Upper Chamber, we’ll call on Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey to initiate and lead a stop-the-repeal campaign. If needed, we will ask them to use the filibuster which will require a sixty vote super-majority to erase America’s environmental legacy.
In addition, we’ll watch what goes on behind the scenes in the Oval Office. So often, bureaucratic actions fly under the public’s radar screen. The executive branch is mandated by the constitution, courts and Congress to implement, enforce and execute the nation’s laws. This is done largely through administrative rule-making. However, the President can unilaterally weaken or repeal regulations. He can also cut funds for existing programs, fail to enforce the law, make hostile political appointments, reduce the workforce, and simply drag his feet. As a preventive measure, we’ll go to court to require that the law be enforced.
Second, we’re going to support state and local governments in stepping-up protection of our health and environment. A few examples:
Mr. Trump believes climate change is a hoax. But ninety-five percent of utility and electricity oversight is done by the states, not the feds. So it will be in states like ours and California where we will continue to reduce heat-trapping air pollution and require industry to produce and use more green energy.
The Massachusetts Endangered Species Act protects 432 native Massachusetts plants and animals on the edge of extinction. With that in place, we will continue to defend endangered species even if protections are relaxed or removed at the federal level.
And there are a host of additional state laws providing public health and environmental benefits for Bay Staters that we will work to ensure are adequately funded and fully implemented on Beacon Hill.
On November 8th, there was a huge success for Massachusetts at the ballot – the Community Preservation Act passed in eleven municipalities. This brought the state adoption to 172 cities and towns, or 49 percent of the Commonwealth. Since the Massachusetts legislature passed the enabling statute in 2000, almost $2 billion has been raised for community preservation projects providing for the creation of 10,000 affordable housing units; 26,300 acres of open space; 4,400 historic preservation initiatives; and 1,700 outdoor recreation projects – all without any federal involvement.
It’s in the city and town halls across the Commonwealth where mayors and selectmen, city councils and town meetings, school committees, planning boards, boards of health, conservation commissions, and public safety officials make some of the most important day-to-day decisions that directly affect our children and families. We will increase our efforts at the local level to support and enhance their work.
Finally, we remain committed to our aspirations, goals, and vision and for a clean, healthy and vibrant environment. Irrespective of who controls the levers of government, we will continue to advocate for a progressive environmental agenda in our nation’s capital – an agenda that provides for the health, safety, and natural security of all Americans while protecting the nature of this great land for this and future generations.
Jack Clarke is Director of Public Policy and Government Relations