Celebrating Earth Day

By Claudia Hackney, ACE Steering Committee Member

On April 22, 1970, Earth Day was born, an idea conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, who had a goal to move environmental protection “permanently onto the national political agenda.”


Reflecting on 50 years of Earth Day last year in the March/April 2020 Sierra Club magazine, this quote caught my eye. “Since then, the influence of Earth Day has waxed and waned; at times it had seemed little more than an occasion for corporate greenwashing. But the fieriness of the first Earth Day remains like an ember within the original idea.”


Like many ambitious ideas, what is intended at its beginning is not always how future efforts, or celebrations for that matter, end up. Anything that lasts for fifty-one years as Earth Day has is going to morph over time and not always in ways true to the original concept. But it has persisted.


I was an idealistic suburban high school kid on that first Earth Day. Details have faded, but I do remember driving with friends to Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. It was an impulsive decision, not much like me. The day was just beautiful, with one of those gorgeous spring-time blue skies. There were a lot of people, all kinds of people, and the energy was exciting. There were many speakers, not all of whom could be heard clearly, but they sure held everyone’s attention. People were sitting and standing on the grass (and smoking it, as well!). It was the first time I ever smelled pot.


Like the influence of Earth Day, my focus on it has also waxed and waned over the years, although some threads kept running through—a persistent, and some of my friends and family might say, irritating insistence on the importance of recycling.


Environmental justice and climate change are where my interest and energy are expended these days, and I am grateful for the new ideas, energy and refocus of generations coming up. After all, they are the ones who will be living in the world that results from our efforts to save this beautiful and one-of-a-kind planet. There is so much to learn from climate activists all over the globe, including pointing out where efforts have strayed from something that was intended to be multiracial and incorporating more than a little of the idealism of the civil rights and anti-war movements.


What can we do? We can focus our attention and intentions in the direction of things like: good energy jobs, the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) being a current example; working to reduce carbon emissions in an effective and equitable way by supporting efforts like the Citizens’ Climate Lobby; and by educating young and old about the importance of conservation in all its many guises, including encouraging and not squelching the enthusiasm and ideals of our youth.


I am hopeful, but not naïve, that what we do now can truly make a difference. If Earth Day does nothing else (and I hope it does much more), once a year we can turn our sights and focus our actions into taking care of Mother Earth. I think she would like to be healthy and able to take care of us, her children, well into the foreseeable future.


Claudia Hackney is a retired IT desktop support professional. A member of the ACE Environmental Committee, she helped organize our September 2019 panel, which included members of the DuPage Clean Energy Coalition and the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Claudia also spearheaded the Meatless Mondays Initiative and is a member of Citizen’s Climate Lobby, as well as the League of Women Voters-Naperville. She also volunteers at the First Congregational Church-UCC in Naperville.

Trump Administration Proposes to Weaken Yet Another EPA Rule

 

By Dale Bryson, 

Former Senior Manager, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently came out with a new rule called the “Waters of the U.S. Rule,” which, naturally is designed to do away with another very important thing former President Barack Obama did. To appreciate what has happened, let me give you a bit of background.

When I was head of the entire water program in EPA Region 5, I denied a permit to the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County where they wanted to fill in a 500+ acre wetland up by Barrington by creating a new garbage landfill there. I denied the permit for three main reasons. First, the large wetland fed water into the Fox River through the groundwater, which we had verified by tracer studies. To fill it in with garbage would add pollution to the headwaters of the Fox River. Second, there was a major black heron rookery in the wetland that would be destroyed. There are only three or four such rookeries left in Illinois. Third, this wetland was a major stop for migrating birds as they headed south for the winter.

That Solid Waste Agency sued the EPA over the permit denial. We won in the Federal District Court. The Solid Waste Agency appealed to the Federal District Court of Appeals where we won again. The Solid Waste Agency then appealed to the Supreme Court. At the same time, another wetlands case, this one from Michigan, went to the Supreme Court as well. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court agreed with the Solid Waste Agency and the Michigan firm. The majority opinion was written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the most conservative judge, who wrote a quite harsh opinion that included a couple of lines that basically would, if left standing, allow the destruction of most wetlands and would remove Federal protection of millions of miles of rivers in the U.S.

Under the Bush administration and then the Obama administration, the EPA and the Corps of Engineers spent 10 years developing a new definition of what rivers and wetlands would have Federal protection from pollution and filling in. They held over 200 public meetings, reviewed over a million comments, and then came out with the new rule in 2015. It was approved by the Federal Courts.

That brings me to the Trump administration and their new rule, which basically destroys all of the Obama rule. For example, 51% of the wetlands in the U.S. will now be fully open for filling in for development. Over 18% of the U.S. rivers will no longer be protected, which affects 30% of the population who get their drinking water in part from those rivers.

 

One of largest development companies on the East Coast was quoted yesterday saying, ‘We love it.  Now we can build anywhere!’

 

To give you a specific example, near the Potbelly restaurant on Diehl Road is a huge wetland. Diehl Road makes a curve around that lake/wetland. Again, on my watch at the EPA, Cantera Development wanted Diehl Road to go straight through the wetland and maybe fill in part of it for development. I denied their permit application because that is the largest wetland left in DuPage County and for other reasons. I insisted they go around the wetland. We won. They built a curved road, and the wetland was protected. That could all change now. Under this proposed rule by the Trump administration, they would allow the wetland to be filled in and apartments or a strip mall to be built there.

Why is that wetland on Diehl so important? It has a berm that separates it from the river. When the river floods, the water flows into the wetland thereby becoming a huge reservoir for water, thereby protecting from flooding downstream. Under the Trump rule, for a wetland to be protected, it must have a direct connection to a river and that connection must have water flowing into the river 100% of the time. This wetland has flows to the river, but they are through the groundwater.  Under the Trump rule, that does not count as a wetland that needs protection.

Think of all the small wetlands you pass as you drive to, say, Whitewater, Wisconsin.  Those are called “isolated wetlands.” Even though they are crucial to replenishing the groundwater, under the new rule they can be drained and/or filled in because they have no direct connection to a river. All of the “prairie potholes” in eastern South Dakota and North Dakota (where 50% of the migratory wildfowl reproduce) would also lose their protection.

One of the national farm organizations came out with a statement saying this new rule is just what they want so that they can “drain all these small swamps!” One of largest development companies on the East Coast was quoted yesterday saying, “We love it.  Now we can build anywhere!”

The National Resource Defense Council, Earth Justice, the Sierra Club, and many others will contest this new outrageous rule. Let us hope they prevail, and that the wetlands and rivers of this country will be protected!

 


Though retired now, Dale Bryson was a senior manager of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He was in charge of all water programs, including water pollution control, water protection, safe drinking water, and wetland protection.

 

Deregulation Plans Will Devastate Environment

 

By Dale Bryson 

The White House recently released their deregulation agenda for all federal agencies. In this piece, I’m focusing on their plans to continue their aggressive rolling back of environmental regulations. They listed sixty-three regulations they want to significantly roll back and/or totally eliminate. These are regulations that have been on the books under several past administrations. While some are minor, there are many that will be very devastating to our environment.

Here are a couple of examples.

1. They want to gut the rule that protects America’s rivers, called the “Waters of the U.S Rule.”  This would eliminate protection of over two million miles of rivers, which would mean that anybody could discharge anything into those rivers unabated. Included in that rollback is eliminating protection of over three million acres of wetlands. Wetlands are crucial to replenishing ground water and feeding water to rivers, along with being habitats for wildlife. The proposal would allow those wetlands to be destroyed forever.

2. One of the largest sources of air pollution is discharge from coal-fired power plants. These discharged chemicals, including carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide are major contributors to not only to climate change, but also to soot in the air. The proposal will roll back most controls on power plants and eliminate the “Clean Power Plan” developed under the Obama Administration that gave power plants many years to control their pollution. This new proposal would eliminate those controls.

3. They want to reduce the air pollution standards on several other chemicals.

4. The problem of excessive lead in the Flint, Michigan, drinking water is well known to all of us. The administration is proposing to relax the limits on the amount of lead and copper in drinking water. Does that mean more Flint situations? Probably.

5. The proposal will significantly reduce the monitoring of drinking water quality cities are required to do for lead, copper, and fecal coliform. Without good monitoring, residents will not know if their drinking water is safe or not.

 

‘They (the White House) listed sixty-three regulations they want to significantly roll back and/or totally eliminate.’

 

6. Oil and gas drilling are major sources of methane, which is another chemical that contributors to climate change. The roll back proposed would eliminate controls on methane.

7. The administration has eliminated the rule to protect streams and lakes in the coal mining regions. So now companies can literally fill in complete valleys with their waste coal mining rock, totally eliminating streams, lakes, and habitat.

8. The proposal will eliminate National Emission Standards for hazardous air pollutants in many industrial categories, resulting in more hazardous pollutants in our air.

9. The proposal also eliminates the regulation of certain pesticides used on food production.

10. Finally, it relaxes automobile and truck fuel efficiency standards.

Unless Congress says “no” to these insane actions, or the lawsuits by environmental groups and state agencies stop these crazy actions, our environment will seriously suffer and that concerns me greatly for us and our grandchildren!

 


Though retired now, Dale Bryson is a former senior manager of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He was in charge of all water programs, including water pollution control, water protection, safe drinking water, and wetland protection.