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story.lead_photo.caption Richard Mason

Let me cut straight to the chase; Congressman Bruce Westerman is part of the gang that’s trying to take us Back-to-the-’60s — environmentally.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that he has introduced a forestry bill that is a thinly-veiled Christmas present to logging companies. He is marching in lock step with the current administration to reverse the environmental progress made by former Republican and Democratic presidents. That’s right, and the facts are clear: The previous four presidents, two Republicans and two Democratic ones all worked with Congress to improve the quality of our environment, but the current president is focused on reversing the progress made by these presidents, and Congressman Westerman is right in step with the Back-to-the-’60s administration in undoing past environmental progress.

Let’s take a quick look back to see how far we’ve come in improving our environment. In the early ’60s, New York City was experiencing air quality almost as bad as some of our third world mega-cities are today. Our rivers were terribly polluted, and then the unthinkable happened. In 1969 a river caught on fire!

The Cuyahoga River near Cleveland was so polluted that it caught on fire. It was an exclamation point that our environment was in horrible shape and desperately needed help. From that time forward the current presidents, both Democratic and Republican, worked with Congress to improve our environment, and the resulting Clean Water Act is a direct result of bipartisanship. The result was a steady improvement in air and water quality, and our national parks were expanded. These measures achieved broad support from the presidents of that era as well as Congress, and the move toward a better quality environment was broadly supported by the public.

However, the current administration is working to undo many of the environmental regulations enacted under administrations of both parties. It is an unprecedented attempt to remove as many of the enacted rules, laws and presidential designations as possible.

I will try to list just a few of the “Back to the ’60s” movements Congressman Westerman is part of. Basically, their bottom line goal is to deregulate as much of industry safeguards as possible in order to make as much money as possible with no regard to the consequences:

• They are trying to kill the Clean Power Plan to allow more coal burning.*

• They are withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement.

• They are removing the environmental rules around coal power.

• They are weakening fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks.

• They are opening up new public lands to oil and gas drilling and coal mining.

• They are scaling back federal support for wind and solar power.

• They are dramatically limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate in the future.

• They are making the Supreme Court more hostile to environmental regulations.

• They are reversing the White House’s climate guidance to federal agencies.

• They are packing the executive branch with industry-friendly appointments.

• They are cutting funding to the EPA.

*From various internet sources.

Can you believe with 98 percent of the scientists in the world stating that climate change is a serious problem and a grave threat to future generations, and with 210 countries signing on to the Paris Climate Agreement, the United States is backing out? There is no question about it. The current administration is determined to ignore future generations, and subject them to an environment that, in many areas of our planet, will be uninhabitable in less than 20 years.

Overall, the EPA is being systematically stripped of its existing rules, the national parks are being opened to logging and mineral development, and our air and water is steadily becoming more polluted. The Arctic National Wildlife has been opened to oil and gas development, and our national parks and monuments are being reduced by presidential action, which will open more public lands to coal mining and oil and gas drilling; all for the almighty dollar. Congressman Westerman is part of this disgraceful attempt to slash our environmental rules and rape public land.

Congressman Bruce Westerman is trying to hide behind his forestry degree, the recent wildfires out west, which were worse this year because of the effects of climate change, and the guise of being environmental to sponsor a bill that will open the doors to more logging, gut the environment safeguards and loosen public input into the timber harvesting in our national parks. His proposed Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2017 is a sham. It’s a horrible bill! It’s a blatant attempt to give timber harvesting a blank check! It’s an attempt to muffle dissent and to make it more expensive and harder for the public to have input. It’s a cold hearted timber grab at the expense of the public.

It is a pro-logging bill to benefit a few fat cat logging companies, and it does so at the expense of our public land. Under Westerman’s bill, permits up to 10,000 acres are not subject to public input. That’s a block of a national park forest of over 15 square miles, and under certain conditions could be expanded to 30,000 acres. This bill is a thinly veiled attempt to make our national forests timber farms.

Congressman Westerman is a congressman from The Natural State, and he should be ashamed to hold his head up when he comes home. But why should we be surprised? After all, the folks Congressman Westerman is associated with are planning to open up the national forests to coal mining and oil and gas well drilling.

Of course, that’s just the opening shot. They are opening up oil and gas well drilling along the offshore East Coast, and they are committed to reducing the size of national monuments and national parks. They are allowing the coal fired power plants to continue to spew particulates into the air such as mercury and they are making the U.S. the only country of 210 in the world to not join in to stop global warming. It is shocking to see the wildfires in California knowing that climate change has caused what has always been a fire-prone, dry and windy season to be ratcheted up into a full disaster, while Congressman Westerman goes along with the administration trying to deny climate change, California goes up in flames.

“Congressman Westerman, if you believe the Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2017 is a good bill, come down to El Dorado and defend it in a town hall meeting.”

Richard H. Mason of El Dorado is a syndicated columnist and author and former president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation and the state Pollution Control & Ecology Commission. He may be reached by email at [email protected]

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