The oil company had been given permission by the US Geological Survey to cut corners and operate the platform with casings below federal and California standards. Investigators would later determine that more steel pipe sheathing inside the drilling hole would have prevented the rupture.
Nelson was in the forefront of the environmental movement in the 1970s that resulted in the creation of the Environmental Protection Act in 1970, the Clean Water Act 1972, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. These were landmark years plotting a course in US history to recognize conservation and preservation of the environment as a priority.
How far have we advanced in the last 45 years, and is the planet cleaner, safer and its longevity ensured? The founders of the landmark legislation had a vision for the future in which environmental impacts and factors would be considered in legislative decision-making processes and guide national policy.
National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA)
The preamble reads:
"To declare national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation; and to establish a Council on Environmental Quality."
NEPA contains three sections:
Clean Air Act
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Air Act programs have lowered levels of six common pollutants and particles in the air: cut ground level ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, and a number other toxic pollutants not itemized.
From 1970 to 2012 the aggregate national emissions of the six pollutants have dropped an average of 72 percent. The progress, they say, is because state and local governments have cooperated with the EPA, private sector and environmental groups.
The emission reductions have led to improvements in the quality of the air we breathe. Between 1980 and 2012, national concentrations of air pollutants improved 91 percent for lead, 83 percent for carbon monoxide, 78 percent for sulfur dioxide, 55 percent for nitrogen dioxide, and 25 percent for ozone.
Where does global warming fit in to the EPA’s adherence to the Clean Air Act? In 2007, the US Supreme Court ruled that global warming emissions are air pollutants and would be subject to EPA regulation under the Clean Air Act if a thorough scientific investigation showed that they endanger the public’s health and welfare.
In 2009, the EPA released its scientific findings, concluding that global warming emissions presented a danger to public health (known as the “endangerment finding”). Citing extensive scientific research, the EPA found that global warming pollution is connected with:
The Union of Concerned Scientists warns that the addition of global warming to the emissions limited by the Clean Air Act is under attack. Numerous attempts are being made in the US Congress and fossil fuel industries to stop or limit the powers of the EPA to act on its findings (see Attack on the Clean Air Act).
Endangered Species Act (ESA)
The goal of the ESA is to prevent the extinction of imperiled plant and animal life and to recover and maintain populations by removing or lessening threats to their survival.
Criteria for Petition are as follows:
1. There is the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range.
2. An over utilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes.
3. The species is declining due to disease or predation.
4. There is an inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.
5. There are other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.
Critics of the ESA contend only 1 percent of species under its protection have recovered, but as of 2012, there are 110 success stories where species were saved. A comparison of the actual recovery rate of the 110 species with the projected recovery rate in their federal recovery plan was positive. The species range over all 50 states, include all major taxonomic groups, and have a diversity of listing lengths.
A study group found that the Endangered Species Act has a remarkably successful recovery rate: 90 percent of species are recovering at the rate specified.
Without the law, the bald eagle would have disappeared years ago. The California condor would likewise have had a similar fate as the passenger pigeon. The Endangered Species Act has been successful. Few laws can boast a 90 percent success rate. Still, some native wildlife species on almost every continent are at risk for extinction.
Preserving all habitats including our own, the air we breathe, and soil we depend on for growing food are inextricably linked to saving wildlife. When habitats are threatened, so are the animals and people that live there. For example, wolverines and polar bears roam across vast distances, so when their habitat is broken up by roads, commercial development, or the disappearance of arctic ice their ability to survive is jeopardized. When water sources are polluted or exhausted and nutrients in the soil become depleted, all humanity is at risk for eventual extinction.
These considerations bring the conversation back full circle to the reason Nelson was inspired to create Earth Day in 1970. The oil disaster in Santa Barbara, the Exxon Valdez in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the California drought to mention a few remind us of the fragility of the planet and its inhabitants including all wildlife and plant life.
Indeed, the survival of humanity is entwined with the preservation of the natural world in ways so subtle and gradual that for some its slow demise is easily ignored. The emphasis too often is on immediate gratification, rather than taking the long view on the power of reducing consumerism and active conservation. Recently, when oil prices decreased markedly making gas cheaper than it had been in years, the sales in oversized SUVs soared again. Oil is non-renewable and finite; therefore, the attitudes crafted now toward conservation and sustainability will have a direct impact on the quality of life for our progeny in 100 or 200 years from now when fossil fuel is gone.
In the 1970s visionaries created environmental legislation because they knew we were on a path to destroy the planet and ourselves with it. We need to regain that sense of purpose and urgency when reasonably discussing climate change and what we can do as individuals and a nation to save the earth and all its inhabitants.
is retired and lives in Clearlake, California. She has three grown
children and one grandson and a Bachelor’s degree in Health Services
Administration from St. Mary’s College in Moraga California. On the
home front Dava enjoys time with her family, reading, gardening, cooking
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