Dear Audubon Member,
For three decades the federal government has taken the lead in protecting America's air and water through the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. The current administration has now reversed course. Instead of going to Congress to change the laws, it has just stopped enforcing them.
First the White House reneged on commitments to lower carbon dioxide levels, which affect the global climate. Then the Justice Department was ordered to change the government's position in court proceedings and to stop enforcing regulations to reduce pollution from power plants. Now the administration has issued a “guidance memo” to federal agencies to no longer enforce laws safeguarding seasonal wetlands—those that are nonnavigable or dry for part of the year. This means these wetlands are now at risk of being developed or polluted.
About 20 percent of the nation's wetlands are defined as “isolated” or “seasonal.” In states like California, it's closer to 50 percent. Wetlands in the West are often dry for part of the year because most rain and snow falls in winter.
In the face of this unprecedented retreat at the federal level, state governments are stepping in to plug the loopholes and maintain environmental quality. California was the first to enact groundbreaking rules to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from cars. In the Northeast, 11 states sued the federal government to enforce regulations against old, dirty power plants, and they were joined by 4 other states around the country. Meanwhile, New York Governor George Pataki invited 10 northeastern states to develop a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Now states are attempting to fill the latest federal loophole. Legislation to protect wetlands is pending or has passed in New York, California, Wisconsin, and Ohio, among other states.
There are very sound reasons for protecting wetlands. They play a vital role in safeguarding public health by acting as natural filters that help remove contaminants and purify water. Polluted drinking water affects not only those with immune system disorders, it has a long-term health impact on the general population as well. Clean water is also essential to the economy. Wetlands provide important flood and erosion control, habitat for endangered and game animals, and recreational opportunities like birding, canoeing, and fishing.
Audubon is now teaming up with a broad coalition of organizations to plug these federal loopholes. For example, in California, Audubon is actively supporting SB 1477, State Senator Byron Sher's legislation to protect the state's wetlands. Audubon is also working in Washington, D.C., to back the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act HR 962/S. 473.
© 2004 National Audubon Society
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