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Grijalva: Stand up, enviros — More to fight for now than ever

Most of us who worry about environmental issues did not support Donald Trump for president. His tweeted claim that the very idea of global warming “was created by and for the Chinese” and his eagerness to repeal environmental protections make him ill-suited to head federal agencies that protect our natural world.

So now what? What should committed environmentalists, in Congress and in communities around the country, be preparing for?

The Trump administration and its House and Senate allies are likely to view this alignment of Republican control as a rare window of opportunity. We should expect them to act like bulls in a china shop, as they’re already doing.

Previous administrations that opposed environmental laws, such as George W. Bush’s, kept them on the books but ignored them or left them unenforced. This approach allows environmentally damaging profiteering to occur with fewer political headaches.

Players in the mining, drilling, dumping, and spewing sectors, also known as Big Pollution, won’t be satisfied with a repeat of this kind of “time out” in environmental policy. They are emboldened and are already demanding permanent steps backward.

Laws with teeth - the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and Antiquities Act among them - will be targeted for fundamental changes designed to leave them weakened long after this Republican window closes. The true aim is a wholesale reversal of the gains made by the American environmental movement.

How should environmentalists respond? First, get up off the mat. Carbon pollution, mass extinction, deforestation and other developments have already stripped us of the luxury of time. Without President Obama in the White House, people who care about ensuring a livable planet for their children and grandchildren must redouble their efforts to defend the ground we have won and keep the policies that have set us on the right path.

Second, get out in the field. In addition to rallying the troops, environmentalists need to engage a diverse set of constituencies and help them realize the ownership they all have in clean air, clean water and public lands. The stakes are high not just for people who live in cities, but for rural residents who stand to lose the most from damage to our forests, rangelands, streams and soils. Reaching these disparate audiences means identifying new messengers and finding innovative ways to talk about the importance of conservation. We need to meet people where they are instead of telling them where they should be.

Finally, get even. A strong conservation coalition can hold the president, members of Congress and other elected officials accountable. An organized, mobilized network can call out the red herrings, the false choices and the lame excuses and demand straight answers and decisive action. The only way to prevent the destruction of our landscapes and the pollution of our air and water is to convince leaders to vote for conservation. If they refuse, the consequences must come at the ballot box.

This will not be easy. In many ways, the environmental movement is a victim of its own success. Over the past 40 years we have made great strides in reducing many types of pollution, protecting fish and wildlife from overharvesting and habitat destruction, and creating opportunities for all Americans to enjoy their public lands. Many of us now take these things for granted. Millions of Americans cannot imagine a world in which rivers catch on fire and rain dissolves stone.

Like it or not, conservationists have not done the hard things well. We need to evolve our argument for why environmental protections are more important than ever for our economy and way of life. We need to deliver that message to communities that have not heard it and are likely to be skeptical - or even hostile - at first.

This is how the next four years start. How will they end? That’s up to you.

We can have a stronger economy and a healthier environment at the same time. People who tell you otherwise hope to dump their pollution in your family’s back yard. They will take away your land, your fishable, swimmable water and your fresh air, but only if you let them. For environmentalists, “Don’t let them” has to be our first thought from now on.

Grijalva is the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee.


U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva represents Arizona’s 7th Congressional District.

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