A New Year provides opportunities for new beginnings -- both personally and nationally. Though it is unlikely that an election year will usher in greater cooperation among our elected representatives, protection of America's most precious natural resources -- our land, air, water and wildlife -- should never be held hostage to an election cycle.
Recently we received a reminder of how fragile and at-risk those resources are. The Endangered Species Coalition, a national network of hundreds of conservation, scientific, education, religious, sporting, outdoor recreation, business and community organizations, released its latest report, "Fueling Extinction: How Dirty Energy Drives Wildlife to the Brink."
The report highlights ten species that are particularly vulnerable to oil, gas and coal extraction and production. The list, spanning the entire country, demonstrates that habitat vulnerability is ubiquitous and not limited to a single geographic area. From the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle in the Gulf of Mexico to the bowhead whale in Alaska, our imperiled plants, fish and wildlife suffer displacement, loss of habitat and threat of extinction from the extraction, storage and transportation of fossil fuels. Our over reliance on fossil fuels makes it more difficult to protect America's at-risk wildlife and limits our freedoms as Americans since our lives are so inextricably linked to the availability of fossil fuels.
The 2010 Gulf oil disaster is a tragic example of the havoc that oil and gas development can inflict on people, plants and wildlife. When accidents occur in fossil fuel extraction and transportation, they are generally large in scale and cause long lasting effects. Images of oil-soaked birds, dolphins and sea turtles were an extraordinary wake-up call to the destructive potential of the pursuit of fossil fuels. In the 1990s we spent billions of dollars cleaning up the impact of emissions from burning fossil fuels leading to acid rain and further habitat destruction. Remediation only occurred with the passage of the Clean Air Act and it required decades to restore the damage done by unregulated activity. Even oil entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens has recognized that our pursuit of fossil fuels both abroad and domestically is unsustainable and has called for greater investment in alternative forms of clean energy, particularly wind.
Fortunately, one of the world's most effective wildlife laws -- the U.S. Endangered Species Act -- has the necessary tools to protect plants, wildlife and their habitats. Under the Act's umbrella, we can protect irreplaceable habitats, reduce threats, and implement on-the-ground recovery plans with concrete actions needed to help wildlife survive.
Since its passage in 1973, the Endangered Species Act has become a symbol of our nation's commitment to conserving America's most at-risk plants and animals. It is because of the Act that our nation's symbol, the bald eagle, was saved from total extinction. But despite its success, there are powerful special interests that want to weaken the Act's protections. They are ignoring what has made the Endangered Species Act succeed during the past four decades: sound science and a legacy of good stewardship so that future generations can enjoy the abundance of healthy land and wildlife that we do today.
Though almost every American uses fossil fuels in our daily lives, we need to recognize the incredible toll it has had on our foreign policy, our country, its people and irreplaceable natural resources. It's not too late to change, and move toward an energy-efficient and renewable energy economy. The oil, gas and coal industries pour millions into campaign coffers, and some members of Congress have benefited greatly from this largesse. We need to support those who recognize that a broad range of environmentally friendly energy options provides the greatest safety for our economy, our way of life and our environment. At stake are our nation's wildlife heritage and the health of its water, land and ultimately, its citizens.
Major General Michael R. Lehnert is recently retired as the Commanding General of Marine Corps Installations West. Last stationed at Camp Pendleton, home to 18 threatened & endangered species, he was responsible for environmental stewardship of seven major Marine installations.
For more information and to view the full report, go to: fuelingextinction.org .
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