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This Earth Day, support policies that will protect our natural resources for generations to come

This Earth Day, support policies that will protect our natural resources for generations to come

In January of 1969, Santa Barbara, California experienced an oil spill which devastated the local ecology -- but agitated and mobilized local activists. This group would go on to create the first Earth Day and push the passage of some of the foundational environmental laws of our country including the National Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Superfund Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. 

With Earth Day coming up on Sunday, April 22, we honor the work of these environmental pioneers by celebrating the earth and our commitment to it. At the same time, we continue to push for policies that protect the earth and our environment. Many of these are under attack today, including:

National Monument Rollbacks

Recently, we have seen an unprecedented attack on our public lands. Earlier this year, President Trump acted on Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s recommendations and shrunk Bears Ears National Monument by 85%, while cutting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument down to half its original size. Both locations have unique and valuable ecosystems which must be protected. Bears Ears was also special because it was created in part to protect land of sacred and important historical value to American Indian tribes. The shrinking of these two monuments are unprecedented and are likely beyond the scope of the powers granted in the Antiquities Act. We recently submitted comments to the Bureau of Land Management urging the bureau to protect all land within the original boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante with the same protections they had as monuments in any future management plan.

Car Emission Standards Rollback

Earlier this month, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced a rollback of the stronger car emission standards established under the Obama administration. While this is a dangerous step backwards in its own right, Administrator Pruitt has also hinted that he plans to review a waiver that allows California to have stronger emissions standards than the standards set by the federal government. Other states are given the option of following the California’s standards instead of the federal standards. Together, the 15 states that follow at least some of California’s vehicle emissions standards make up 40 percent of the U.S. auto market. While lowering federal emissions standards would be harmful to the environment, it would be much worse to also rescind the California waiver as it would force down the emissions standards of the other states which are following California’s lead.

Clean Power Plan

Established in 2015, the Clean Power Plan (CPP) provides the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants and aims to reduce emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The CPP has the potential to develop a clean energy economy, create new jobs, and reduce health risks from carbon pollution. Under the CPP, each state received different emissions reduction targets and were tasked with creating an implementation plan to reach those targets.

In October 2017, EPA Administrator Pruitt announced his intention to rescind the CPP. Repealing the CPP has significant public health impacts. The CPP was estimated to stop 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks and 300,000 missed days of work or school every year by winding down power generation from coal-fired plants, which are built disproportionality in poor neighborhoods and communities of color.

The public comment period, where you can tell the EPA why protecting the Clean Power Plan is important to you, is open until April 26. You can join the RAC in making your voice heard.

Farm Bill

Congress is also working to reauthorize the farm bill, a large bill that contains a host of agricultural programs, including incentives for farmers to participate in conservation programs. These programs create buffer lands on the edges of farms, provide financial and technical assistance, and minimize environmental impacts on farmland. The farm bill also includes the Rural Energy for America Program, which helps provide renewable energy infrastructure to rural Americans. We are advocating to for full funding for these programs in the reauthorization of the farm bill.

The largest title of the farm bill is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). The House draft of the bill imposes disastrous new barriers that make it harder for food insecure people to access the support they need to obtain an adequate, nutritious diet. Learn more about these changes and tell your member of Congress to protect SNAP.

Local Efforts

At the same time as these actions on the federal level, we have seen an increase in environmental action on the state and local level, too. There are a number of important state and local ballot initiative efforts ramping up involving everything from fracking setbacks to carbon taxes. There is also a massive movement to bring together local and state governments, higher education institutions, businesses, and religious communities to make sure that U.S. meets our Paris Agreement goals regardless of whether or not the federal government shows leadership. We will be launching an effort to get our Reform communities to take action with We Are Still In. Registration for our kickoff webinar where you can learn more is now open. We hope you will join us for it on May 10!

Jonah Baskin is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. A native of Denver, he recently graduated with honors from the University of Chicago with degrees in public policy and environmental studies. Jonah served as president of the university’s Jewish Students’ Association and as the social justice chair on the Hillel board.

Jonah Baskin

Published: 4/19/2018