1. Opinion

Bill Maxwell: Dismissing the environment

In 1973, Congress had the foresight to pass the Endangered Species Act. To amplify the need to protect the nation's plants and animals, a House committee wrote a report on the importance of the new law.

The report stated: "Man's presence on the Earth is relatively recent, and his effective domination over the world's life support systems has taken place within a few short generations. Our ability to destroy, or almost destroy, all intelligent life on the planet became apparent in this generation. A certain humility, and a sense of urgency, seem indicated. ... From the most narrow possible point of view, it is in the best interests of mankind to minimize the losses of genetic variations."

The authors probably never thought that untold numbers of legislators one day would think little or nothing of destroying, or almost destroying, plant and animal life.

That day has arrived. All states in the union, even those with the most vulnerable wildlife, land, water and air, have elected officials who actively support and write bad environmental policies. And, of course, the nation's capital is dominated by anti-science and anti-environment lawmakers. The president leads the pack.

Americans who worry about this trend should monitor the ecological destruction in Alaska and Florida. Although thousands of miles apart, Alaska, bordered by the North Pacific Ocean, and Florida, bordered by the Atlantic, are prime laboratories for bad environmental policies and practices.

Lawmakers responsible for the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, clearly understood that protecting the environment protects people. Unfortunately, the 115th Congress has politicized the ESA and many other science-based laws and agencies that protect wildlife on federal lands. Opponents of environmental regulations are using either budget maneuvers or changes to the intent of original authorizations to open up public lands for use by private business.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the nation's largest refuge, has been politicized and is at risk of being opened to oil and gas exploration and drilling. Weakening or destroying Endangered Species Act will enable paving the way for exploration and drilling in the refuge. Although preservationists question the economic benefits of these actions and predict ecological degradation, Congress is determined to move forward.

Such shortsightedness is dangerous, said Laurie Macdonald, a Florida-based consultant for Defenders of Wildlife.

"Along with being the ancestral and sustaining home of the Gwich'in people, the Arctic NWR is a unique and truly wild ecosystem depended upon by polar bears, the porcupine caribou herd, musk ox, Arctic fox and nearly 200 species of birds," she said.

"Migrations take place to six continents and 50 U.S. states. Florida provides important winter habitat or resting and feeding points along the flyway for many species of Arctic birds. Besides the migration connections between the Arctic and Florida, we share in being two of the most vulnerable areas of the world to climate change."

Destructive policies for the Arctic NWR closely mirror those being concocted in Florida. During the last week of April, for example, Florida lawmakers approved a proposal to distribute $300 million to eight Panhandle counties to compensate for damages from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the gulf.

Several days later, these same people, including Gov. Rick Scott, mostly stayed quiet when President Donald Trump issued an executive order that could open up more waters of Florida's coast to drilling for oil and natural gas. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, outright opposes Trump's order, but Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has not leveled with Florida residents as he tries to satisfy his supporters in the oil industry.

Many Floridians do not know that the state already allows oil drilling, producing about 2 million barrels a year, a thimbleful in satisfying the nation's use of oil. In reality, there is no need for more drilling in the Sunshine State. The risks are too great.

Still, a major real estate company in southwest Broward County has applied for the rights to drill an exploratory well on its 20,000 acres that is part of the Greater Everglades ecosystem, which includes Big Cypress National Preserve. Elected officials in the cities that will be impacted oppose the project, but many officials in Tallahassee, including Scott, are poised to give the go-ahead.

Apparently, these lawmakers are not seriously thinking about the health of the Everglades and other vital areas that do not need more man-made intrusion. And, for sure, Scott could use his friendship with Trump to stop the project.

The trouble is that Scott, a climate-denying Republican, probably will be followed by another anti-science Republican. Until Floridians begin to care about the health of our precious environment and make their wishes known at the ballot box, the destruction will continue unabated.