Department Of The Environment

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Department Of The Environment-In One Ear…Out the Other.

Back in January, treehugger.com posted a brief suggestion that there should be a cabinet level department of the environment. Our friends over at In One Ear…Out the Other expanded on the thought, noting that:

“One of the reasons why we have such haphazard and uninformed debates in this country about environmental issues (there are some ridiculous global warming, clean coal and green energy myths flying around) and why the environment continued to be such a low priority for so many years is that we have no structured governmental method of tackling environmental issues.”

Both posts make a great point. If we do not have a cohesive, singular focus on the environment, we will never act upon environmental problems in a coherent, systematic manner. If, for example, a developer wants to fill a wetland in Ohio, they need to get a permit from the Ohio EPA, and the U.S. Army. Each agency has different rules, different jurisdiction, and ultimately, different standards governing whether permits can be granted, and under what conditions.

At the federal level, as Marc Hudson points out, the Department of Interior is populated with agencies with divergent goals. The National Park Service mission is “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” We all know that National Parks are special places where nature can proceede unimpeded by man’s dominance. There are generally not timber harvests, extensive mining, or major extractive activities in National Parks.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management, also within the Department of Interior, is responsible for carrying out a variety of programs for the management and conservation of resources on 258 million surface acres, 700 million acres of subsurface minerals, 57 million acres of commercial forests and woodlands, more than 18,000 grazing permits and leases and nearly 13 million authorized livestock animal unit months on 160 million acres of public rangeland, 117,000 miles of fisheries habitat, as well as a plethora of other lands and resources. While the mission of BLM is managing and conserving, the emphasis appears to be on managing for revenue production. In 2007 alone, BLM collected $4.5 billion in mineral royalties, rents and other payments. Compared to the National Parks, BLM is much more of a land management agency, rather than a conservation or environmental agency.

A third agency, the U.S. Forest Service, is housed within the Department of Agriculture. The Forest Service’s mission is more straightforward: to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands. The National Forests are managed for timber production. BLM, over at the department of Interior, also manages forests. Why two agencies?

These small examples of overlap are indicative of a bigger problem. As Treehugger and Marc Hudson both point out, there is no cohesion. We have a warped system that is not set up to meet environmental goals. Our current agency configuration is remnant of a past when we as a people were not thinking in terms of ecology and protecting the environment. This country has come along way since the Clean Water Act, NEPA, and the beginnings of the environmental movement.

Our issue is now mainstream. This is not a side issue. A clean, healthy environment is not an extra. A clean, healthy environment is essential. If we are to have a healthy, vibrant human community, and a healthy, vibrant economy, we need a healthy, vibrant natural environment. The only way to do this is to align our governmental structure with this reality. “We the people” already see it this way. Our government needs to be responsive to reality and form a Department of the Environment or Department of the Ecosystem. Then, it needs to take the true conservation and environmental agencies and place them within that department.

Doing so would lead to clarity for the employees of the agencies, increased efficiency, less overlapping jurisdiction, decreased cost, and perhaps a simplified regulatory structure for the regulated community as well.

Write or call your representatives and urge them to draft and sponsor such legislation. Don’t know who to contact? Go to this web site to find out.


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