Environmental protections under fire…literally

On Oct. 26, Rider was named one of the best colleges in the nation for student voting by Washington Monthly, due to the impressive efforts of the Rider Votes team. 

One issue that seems to stand out to Rider and other university-aged voters was climate change. 

Sophomore arts and entertainment industries management major Natalie Leclair said, “I feel like one of the biggest issues that young voters are passionate about is the environment. No matter what your political background is, I think we’re all at least aware that climate change will affect all of us.”

 Leclair’s notion is reinforced by a 2019 survey by Pew Research Center, which found that among 1,000 voters aged 18 to 29, four out of five believe “global warming is a major threat to human life on earth as we know it.” 

As young voters flocked to the polls on Nov. 3, or voted by mail in advance of election day, environmental regulation and protection was an issue in the minds of many. 

Likely, young people feel especially compelled to protect environmental protections and regulations due to the current actions of the President Donald Trump administration. This includes the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord — which became official on Nov. 4 this year — as well as over 100 limitations and rollbacks which are currently in process under the current administration. The demographic most angry about these actions is young people. 

Rider senior pop music studies major Dean Klebonas said, “We have taken so many steps in the wrong direction for the environment under this administration and that is obvious with a simple Google search. I’m not sure when we decided to stop listening to scientists and professionals, but we absolutely need to take their lead. It’s their job.”

Currently, the Trump administration has already rolled back 72 environmental rules and regulations which concern, but are not limited to: air pollution and emissions, drilling and extraction, infrastructure and planning, animals, water pollution and toxic substances and safety. 

Twenty-seven other protections are currently under review by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), weakening regulations established under the President Barack Obama administration which regulated carbon dioxide emissions which contribute to climate change. In addition to the EPA, the Department of the Interior is also responsible for reducing regulations of land that are leased for the environmentally harmful production of oil and gas by removing certain wildlife protections. 

According to the Bureau of Land Management — a subset of the Department of the Interior — “Oil and gas resources on public lands are developed in a manner that considers other values and uses of the land and in an environmentally sound manner.”

 However, many of the rollbacks being made by the Department of the Interior as well as the EPA are already facing legal challenges from states and environmental groups. 

According to Hillary Aidun, who tracks deregulation at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, “many of the Trump-era rules have not been adequately justified, leaving them vulnerable to litigation in court.” 

One notable rollback occurred on Oct. 29 when the Trump administration accelerated its efforts and rolled back the ‘roadless rule,’ opening up over 9.3 million acres of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska to roadbuilding and logging efforts. 

As the election drew near, this was a significant move on behalf of the administration as the Tongass National Forest is one of the most intricate temperate rainforests in North America and one of the largest intact temperate forests in the world. 

The potential destruction of portions of the Tongass National Forest has been deemed a ‘severe climate risk’ by the Seattle Times. This is because old-growth rainforests can be a significant detriment to climate change causing emissions. 

According to Dominick DellaSala, a scientist for Oregon-based Geos Institute, “Acreage that can now be logged would place about 4 million tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere annually.” 

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington, has repeatedly sponsored bills to strengthen the Roadless Rule. 

Cantwell said this week that Trump’s decision appears to have been made too hastily to meet process requirements and she plans to take action in court against these regulation changes. 

This court case will join well over 80 other cases currently filed against the rollbacks of environmental rules and regulations.

 No matter who won the 2020 election, elected officials should be held accountable for protecting our environment to protect our future. 

Muriel Baki

Rider University Eco-rep

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