In addition to the economic woes of the “noughts”—the years from 2000-2009—it was also a lawless era for environmental protection in the United States. Bush administration efforts at “dismantling safeguards, ignoring climate concerns, marginalizing sound science and catering to industries that endangered Americans’ health and natural heritage” meant our watchdog, the Environmental Protection Agency, was little more than an idle spectator to the carnage.
Now, after its decade on the sidelines, it appears the sheriff is back in town.
The EPA’s futility under Bush was no accident. Bush-appointee Stephen Johnson routinely rolled over to White House demands, allowing business concerns to trump sound science. He was a company man through and through, more noted for his loyalty and subserviance than for competence on the job.
Those days are gone. The revitalized EPA, headed up by Obama-appointee Lisa Jackson, has begun cleaning up Bush-era dirty work.
Just this week the EPA reversed its controversial 2008 decision on bisphenol-A (or BPA), which deemed the plastic common to food containers and plastic bottles safe for use. BPA has now been placed on a master list of “chemicals of concern.”
Meanwhile, over in West Virginia, the EPA is halting, or at least severely restricting, a mountaintop mining operation in Logan County, West Virginia. To do so, it has to nullify a permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers—the body responsible for issuing mining permits. It’s a rare assertive step for the agency, which has used its veto power over potential sites only twelve times in the past, and never for a site already in operation.
Justification for the intervention closely mirrors concerns raised in a scientific study earlier this year—namely, that the operation will adversely affect a local ecosystem with one of the highest levels of biodiversity in North America.
“We see this as confirmation that they’re taking their responsibility...very, very seriously," said ecologist and Appalachian Voices Program Director Matthew Wasson.
It’s not exactly a radical step—that the Environmental Protection Agency should take concrete steps to protect the environment—but it’s a damn good start. And with legislators reluctant to tackle climate change, the EPA may be our our best, and only, hope.
Fortunately, it’s well-equipped for the task; the EPA has a new mandate to regulate carbon emissions, it has legal authority to require coal plants to reduce pollution, and the Obama administration has given it its badge back, so to speak.
At last, the laws of the land are being given a shootin’ chance.
- Lance Steagall