EPA Must Continue to Act on Climate for Wildlife

In 1970, President Richard Nixon created the United State Environmental Protection Agency to protect human health and the environment.  At the time, cities were choked with smog, some rivers were so polluted they were on fire, and some lakes, like Lake Erie, were lifeless.  Iconic species like bald eagles and peregrine falcons were on the verge of extinction.

Over the past 46-plus years, the EPA has been responsible for cleaning up our water and air, benefiting countless people, communities, and wildlife.

As part of EPA’s charge pursuant to the Clean Air Act (signed by President Richard Nixon and revised in 1990 with the support of President George H.W. Bush), which has been affirmed by Supreme Court decisions, the EPA is taking required actions to protect our climate.

It is critical for wildlife that EPA and the next Administration continue this necessary work.  A large majority of Americans from all political and ideological spectrums understand that climate change is an urgent threat and support action to address it.

Climate Change: A Serious Threat to Wildlife

There are few larger long-term threats to our wildlife and communities than climate change. The science is settled and the impacts are already occurring. 2016 was the second-hottest year on record in the U.S. and may have broken the world record. If so, it would break the previous record year of 2015, which eclipsed former record holder 2014.

We are already experiencing the types of impacts scientists tell us will come with climate change. 2016 was a record-breaker for floods. Prolonged droughts continue in places like California, where water is becoming too scarce to supply people, farms, and wildlife. Unusually devastating storms hit the South this year while polar ice continues to disappear at an alarming rate. Unprecedented wildfires have destroyed homes and habitat in both western and eastern forests.

Rainbow trout by Kit Fischer.

Cold water fish like trout are threatened by warming temperatures. Photo by Kit Fischer/NWF.

Climate change related impacts to wildlife are already apparent. Moose populations in northern states are plummeting as heat and parasitic ticks previously killed by the cold plague moose. Salmon in Pacific Northwest Streams struggle with the heat. Unusually warm and low flowing rivers in the intermountain West have led to early fishery closures and likely contributed to conditions resulting in massive fish die offs.

Without continued action, these impacts will only get worse as many species will run out of places to move as shorelines erode, salt water invades fresh waters, oceans become too acidic, droughts and flood continue to increase, pests thrive, and many places and waters simply get too hot for wildlife to handle. These changes not only threaten species we care about, but also the outdoor economy, tourism, and natural resource industries like commercial and recreational fishing.

Important Steps Have Been Taken

The last few years have seen unprecedented actions taken to address this threat, many of them by the EPA.  For instance:

  • The United States, along with over 190 countries, came together in Paris in December 2015 in a remarkable show of international consensus and resolve to commit to keeping warming to safer levels for people and wildlife and avoid a climate catastrophe.
  • The EPA promulgated the first-ever federal rules limiting the pollution that causes climate change – carbon pollution – from one of our largest emitting sectors, the power sector. These rules, called the Clean Power Plan, promise to reduce power sector carbon pollution 32% by 2030.
  • The EPA has placed sensible limits on methane pollution – a potent greenhouse gas – from new oil and gas operations and has begun the required process of regulating existing sources. These common sense, affordable measures clean up local air and capture a valuable resource – methane used as natural gas – that is currently being flared or simply allowed to escape into thin air.
  • The EPA (and Department of Transportation) have also placed innovation-driving limits on vehicle emissions, making them cleaner and more efficient, and saving consumers money at the pump while curbing our dependence on oil.
  • The EPA has tightened standards on asthma-inducing ozone pollution and air pollution that crosses state lines, and cut haze so that we can better enjoy scenic vistas in our national parks.

These actions are not only key components of reducing pollution that will benefit wildlife, they are creating jobs while cleaning up not just our climate, but our air and water.  Developing clean energy, like solar and wind, is one of the nation’s fastest growing economic sector.

In fact, solar jobs alone have skyrocketed so much in recent that there are now more jobs in solar than in oil, gas and coal combined.

As solar panels are made in Buffalo, bringing new jobs and revitalization to a once proud manufacturing city, and Amazon makes plans to build a utility wind farm in North Carolina to power one of its major operations, we’re seeing the good paying, home grown jobs of the future being realized now. As we build more renewable energy, costs plummet, and long-term, renewable, and dependable energy sources serve to create true energy independence and affordable energy for consumers.

While wind and solar power have impacts to wildlife and the environment that need to be accounted for, overall, their impacts are much less significant than with fossil fuel power. As we replace dirtier sources of energy with cleaner ones, we see a host of other environmental, economic and health benefits as well. Cleaner energy reduces mercury pollution, which has previously made many fish dangerous to eat. It decreases the ozone and other pollution that harm wildlife and contribute to health problems like asthma. Acid rain, which has made many pristine lakes lifeless, will be reduced as we move away from dirty energy like coal.

Clean energy promises more jobs, and less pollution for wildlife. (photo by Bryn Fluharty)

Policies that promote energy promise more jobs, and less pollution for wildlife. Photo by Bryn Fluharty

The EPA Must Continue to Act on Climate

The job of the EPA, and of the EPA Administrator, is protect our environment and all that depends on it: our communities, our health, our economy, and our wildlife. Addressing climate change is an increasingly critical part of EPA’s charge and the EPA Administrator’s job. We cannot afford to step away from the challenge of addressing climate change and the opportunity to build a stronger, safer future for wildlife.

It’s not just what the law requires, it what’s good for wildlife and good for America.

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