Environmental Prognostication

Chesapeake Bay Watershed sign on I-70.Seasonal weather finally is upon us, maybe. Temperatures should be in the 40 F range, and they’re often in the 60s, but last year this time they were in the 80s, so I suppose it is a bit more seasonal. The juncos, looking like flying preachers in their white shirts and dark gray capes, have returned. Nearly all the other “snowbirds” – what northerners who move south for the winter are called – have departed for what they hope are warmer climes.

Of course, a combination of too-warm weather, too little precipitation, and a couple of arsonists have many southern residents wearing facemasks and feeling their way about in the smoke of several forest fires. A friend drove up from Georgia last week and reported driving through smoke so thick he had to push it aside to get his Honda Element through. He even cut a few chunks to soften his mattress when he got home.

There has been lots of speculation about what a President Trump might mean to various government functions. As I wander alongside my favorite stream, my thoughts drift along the water, snagging on a man name Myron Ebell. He is the guy Trump seems to be most considering to become head of the EPA. Ebell is thought by many to be Denier in Chief of humans being the cause of anything bad – air and water pollution, climate warming, etc. Whether one considers that a good thing or bad largely depends on whether one profits from the problem.

If cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay is important, probably Ebell will be a bad influence. If, on the other hand, maximizing profits and killing several regulations intended to keep the air and water clean is what gets one out of bed in the morning, Ebell likely will be a great guy to have in charge.

We Pennsylvanians have had some experience with this type of situation. When Gov. Tom Corbett took office, he named a pro-Marcellus gas, non-scientist, lawyer to head the state Department of Environmental Protection. Corbett put a coal baron in charge of the Department of Community and Economic Development, and gave him authority to “fast-track” Marcellus drilling permits.

And he effectively shut down the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Citizen Advisory Board by firing its head as a “cost saving measure.”

On the current national level, several states and organizations have sued to kill efforts to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Factory farm operators are concerned that if efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay are successful, the methods might spread to the Midwest and California farm operations.

Efforts have been underway to suppress EPA regulations meant to improve protection of the Waters of the United States – including thousands of miles of creeks and streams within Pennsylvania.

Another targeted regulatory package is the so-called Clean Power Plan, meant primarily to reduce emissions caused by using coal to generate electricity. It’s interesting to note that many coal-fired plants already are being converted to cleaner – and much less expensive – natural gas. Could it be some politicians are garnering votes by blaming regulations for the loss of coal mining jobs instead of the very market forces the same politicians claim to worship?

Regulations are sometimes expensive. And we certainly do not want to go back to the “good ol’ days,” when we had no computers or hot tubs or televisions or microwave ovens.

On the other hand, putting an agency charged with protecting this planet we call home under the leadership of someone who believes the planet does not need protecting may be something we want to rethink.

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