When a deadly combination of politics, favoritism and hypocrisy are guiding our country’s environmental policy, we risk damaging not only the environment, but the confidence of the people of Colorado. People disagree on how to balance vital protection and conservation measures with the need for economic stability and expansion in the shorter term. But the consequences of these hard decisions could not be more serious.
Lasting gains on environmental protection require a principled vision that steers conflicts towards balanced, meaningful solutions. There’s no room for political ambition or rhetoric that fluctuates with election cycles.
Those of us lucky enough to call Colorado home are surrounded by an incredible diversity of nature. State Attorneys General play a crucial role in enforcing or opposing the laws and regulations that govern our precious natural resources. They are entrusted with protecting the water we drink and the air we breathe, and helping find safe and clean ways to power our modern lives. This role has never been more essential to our environmental future.
Since January of 2017, the Trump administration has rashly moved to reverse many federal regulations that protect America’s land and water. The current administration’s goal is to eliminate sensible environmental protections that have served our country well, in order to maximize the profits and business incentives of the industries these laws were meant to regulate. Our state has come a long way to change the environmental impact polluters have. By erasing the protections of the Clean Water Rule and the Clean Power Plan, the Trump Administration has given these polluters loopholes to improve their bottom lines.
These regulations may have represented added costs for certain industries and financial interests, but they were designed to improve people’s health, preserve species and ecosystems, and protect us from the pollution of our water and air. To summarily withdraw these rules or alter their terms, with no discussion or compromise, is simply irresponsible.
The effects of Trump’s environmental agenda will be felt throughout the country. In Colorado – where the federal government owns 40 percent of the land – standards for economic activity on federal land must be environmentally sound. If increased pollution is allowed in the air, land and water managed by federal agencies, the negative impacts will spread throughout our state, and into neighboring states. Our ability to enjoy these public resources may well be diminished.
There will be other negative impacts if the Trump proposals are carried out. The administration’s 2018 federal budget includes major cuts to federal environmental agencies, including a 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency and a 12 percent cut to the Department of Interior. That means $1.5 billion less going to the National Park Service, triggering steep entrance fees at places like Rocky Mountain National Park, while the communities surrounding our national parks brace themselves for the resulting reductions in tourist income.
Critics often talk about the jobs that environmental regulations cost, but rarely do they mention the impact that radical changes to these policies could have on the 14,000 Coloradans who work for those federal environmental and scientific agencies. Many wonder if these departments will be the next to get the axe and if they may have their jobs much longer.
In Colorado, we know firsthand the dangers of an Attorney General who puts politics and special interests over the protection of the people. Attorney General Coffman wasted Colorado taxpayer money when she sued one of our counties and, in so doing, sought to deny a local community any role in regulating energy industry activity.
Historically, Colorado has proven its commitment to environmental responsibility by enacting some of the country’s toughest protections and regulations. For example, Colorado reached a landmark agreement to regulate methane gas emissions, the second biggest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States, that is stronger than the federal government’s regulations. But protections like these are meaningless if not enforced.
Under our current Attorney General, there has been little effort at enforcement. Her Environmental Crimes Unit has been relatively silent when compared to the work of her predecessors. And at the federal level, last summer, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reviewed the country’s national monuments with an eye towards downsizing them, a potential boon for oil, gas and mining companies eager for access to resources on those lands.
At the same time Secretary Zinke was proposing to strip protections from areas held dear by many in their regions, he was working to shield a monument near his own home in Montana, and to restrict mining and drilling on other nearby lands. In Zinke’s words, “Some places are too precious to mine.” I hope he will view Colorado the same way he does his own home.
Michael Dougherty has been a criminal prosecutor for more than 20 years and is a Democratic candidate for Colorado Attorney General. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.