In the year ahead, Congress and President Biden can and must make progress toward restoring the health of our land, water and air.
Polarized politics often obscures the fact that Americans are bound by common ground on many matters, like conservation. Republicans, Democrats and independents all agree on the importance of clean air and water and conserving places we value for wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.
All of us expect clean, safe drinking water. Yet, some of the bedrock laws that have protected water for decades, including streams flowing through our neighborhoods and local parks and wetlands, have been rolled back.
Across the U.S., more than 117 million people get their drinking water from public systems supplied by streams that are no longer protected by the Clean Water Act. The Biden administration must act quickly to restore Clean Water Act protections that were weakened by the “Waters of the United States” regulations.
Also, a vast portion of the nation’s wetlands, which help to filter water and reduce flooding, have been converted to other uses. To preserve these resources that are vital for clean water, we need a policy of no-net-loss of wetlands immediately. Better enforcement of the Farm Bill’s “swampbuster” provisions would be one good place to start.
Americans also expect farms to produce consistently nutritious foods in a sustainable way that conserves croplands for future generations. But we have lost half of the invaluable topsoil that is required for agriculture, and these soils are lost to erosion faster than it can be replenished by a factor of 10.
Degraded soil requires ever-increasing inputs of chemicals and fertilizers to maintain consistent crop yields. The runoff from the resulting manure, pesticides and chemicals now ranks among the most serious threats to clean water.
The good news is Congress and the new administration can take steps to reverse these effects and incentivize farming practices that improve soil health. Better soil conservation practices on agricultural lands also reduce flooding, protect water quality, and reduce costs for farmers. As a bonus, healthy soils also have a climate benefit because they can store an immense amount of carbon.
Additionally, climate change threatens the health of our environment unlike any single conservation challenge did in the past. Strategies to combat climate change should include solutions that leverage the power of the natural systems – soil, wetlands, forests and shared public lands – to sequester carbon and mitigate some of the most catastrophic effects of a rapidly warming planet.
The need to dramatically reduce emissions must be addressed as well. Deployment of energy efficiency technologies and transition to properly sited renewable energy sources must be accelerated.
While the United States has wide array of treasured places valued for their wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities, many need attention if we intend to pass them along intact to future generations.
The Missouri River, the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay are just a few of the regions that require restoration efforts and care to preserve their incalculable benefits to the nation.
Finally, because we are witnessing an alarming loss of wild animals, Congress should pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which creates a proactive approach to recovery efforts.
In the months ahead, policymakers must tackle these problems. Real-world solutions can provide major benefits in the near-term and bridge artificial partisan divides.