Public Attacks Are Green Attacks

Simone LightfootSimone Lightfoot heads up regional urban initiatives for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Great Lakes Regional Center. She integrates the work of the NWF with the region’s urban green efforts including air and water quality, sustainability, climate change, solid and hazardous waste, recycling, environmental justice, water conservation, invasive species, aged infrastructure, mass transit, wind energy, community college trainings and new economy jobs.

Years ago as a young staffer in the Michigan House of Representatives I had the great privilege of working for the Speaker Pro Tempore (second in charge) who also served as chairman of the House Labor committee.  By virtue of his position and the power that came with it, he single-handedly protected labor laws and the rights of public employees – always respecting the broad roles public employees play.

Today’s heightened political rhetoric of anti-environment; anti-renewable energy; anti-conservation; anti-labor and anti-public employees emanating from both the Congress and the states indicate that we are at an important crossroad. These challenges relate to one another and solutions lay in both our history and good common sense.

Recycling Truck
flickr / Clyde Robinson

Before public services – as we know them today – cities were squalid with inadequate water systems, over run refuse and barely tolerable living conditions.  Citizens relied on volunteer fire fighters, night watchman (not police) and individual property owners collecting trash and sweeping the streets.  It was precisely when the economic vitality and very existence of municipalities became threatened that nineteenth century civic and business elites, chose to support public services and public employees.  Once provided, these services became institutionalized, normal and routine; there was no going back…until today.

Public employees are essential to all life, life quality and advancing societies’ green best interest. They are those teachers and college instructors who introduce us to science, research and technological innovation around our natural resources (water, land and air).  They are judges who interpret energy and environmental laws, inspectors that ensure compliance of those laws and police officers that enforce violators of the law.

They are first responders like paramedics and firefighters, public health workers responsible for emergency preparedness and catastrophe relief.  Public lighting workers, snow plow drivers who clear our roads and bus drivers who transport our children and seniors.

Public employees provide cross coordination of broad agency efforts protecting animals, plant life and our waterways. They ensure against pollution, pesticides, radiation and toxic substances, and look out for public parks, wilderness, wildlife and endangered species.  Public employees protect our forestry, soil conservation, atmospheric monitoring and marine animals.  Including environmental clean up, restoration, city infrastructure, sewage and waste disposal not to mention safe workplace conditions, public safety, licensing and regulating along with broad municipal services at local city, county and township offices.

Although change is necessary all around, our collective reliance on and consumption of the indispensable benefits provided by public employees and green programs are indisputable.  But so is government’s role in backing public laws that are meaningful, measured and tempered through a humane lens amidst budget deficits. Congress and state legislatures must ensure clean and safe water, air, and land amidst budget deficits while respecting and valuing those public employees charged with carrying out that work.

This piece was also published in The Michigan Chronicle, The Cincinnati Herald and The Cleveland Call & Post.