This week was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Some environmental advocates in New York took the opportunity to praise the progress that has been made in New York state. But others took a broader assessment and fear any progress over the past five decades is being dismantled by the Trump Administration.
On Wednesday several groups including the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, NYPIRG, Scenic Hudson and WE ACT for Environmental Justice held a Zoom meeting to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and look back at New York’s environmental history. The Nature Conservancy’s New York Policy Director Jessica Ottney-Mahar praised the state’s foresight in creating the New York Environmental Protection Fund. “The Environmental Protection Fund which was created in 1993, 27 years ago, has grown from just about $30 million then to $300 million today. It protects clean water, clean air and healthy food. It also provides open spaces to our communities. The EPF also creates jobs and contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to New York's economy.”
Some advocates worry that the White House is destroying all environmental progress made over the past 50 years, including Environmental Advocates of New York Executive Director Peter Iwanowicz. “They are gutting Clean Air Act standards. They are eviscerating clean water protections. And most egregiously during the COVID-19 crisis they have used that crisis to rollback bedrock standards. It's really egregious the types of rollbacks that they've done throughout their tenure in this administration. But most acutely what's been so egregious is that they've used the COVID-19 crisis to rollback clean air standards and turn a blind eye to medical evidence that suggests that we should have more protective health standards for the pollution that you and I are breathing in.”
The Adirondack Council lists six key rollbacks the Trump Administration is making while the country is distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Executive Director Willie Janeway says they are mounting a campaign to call attention to the actions. “It's almost as if someone thought we wouldn't notice. Those six items the fuel economy standard rollback, a temporary loosening of enforcement for air pollution, suggesting we no longer have to worry about the impacts of the climate crisis, no longer enforcing some of the rules to protect wildlife and endangered species, changing the rulemaking on mercury, easing up on coal plants, toxic ash and it just goes on and on. And I'm hoping that on Earth Day people not only celebrated 50 years of progress - the bald eagle back in the Adirondacks, the peregrine falcon back, acid rain turned back, but that people used Earth Day to recommit to making sure we turn back these mistaken policies.”
Iwanowicz says the administration cannot be allowed to unilaterally rollback 50 years of progress towards a healthier environment. “And I think what we want to do is inspire activism that ensures that the promises of our bedrock environmental laws that were put on the books in response to the first Earth Day are actually achieved.”
For his part, President Trump has defended the policies as important steps in unshackling business and manufacturing.