Finding A Middle Ground

What a long, strange trip is has been for Earth Day.

First organized in 1970 by Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Earth Day was the first time the fragmented environmental movement came together. It took a day like Earth Day for people concerned about industrial pollution, sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides and wildlife conservation to realize they had much in common. It was a bipartisan day supported by Republicans and Democrats that resulted in the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and led to passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts.

Everyone, either knowingly or unknowingly, is being more friendly to the environment now by recycling, by driving more fuel efficient vehicles, by being more conscious of how much water or fossil fuels are being used to power our everyday lives. In that sense, Earth Day has been a tremendous success.

And, yet, the environmental movement Earth Day spawned has taken on a different tone.

Broad support for environmental initiatives is much tougher to find now. In 1970, the balance between industry and the environment leaned too far in industry’s favor. As industry has left and tax base has decreased – due in part to more stringent environmental regulations that passed higher costs on to job creators-we are left trying to balance the necessity of industry and the jobs it brings with potential damage to the environment. That means more administrative hurdles, more levels of review and, often times, a knock-down, drag-out fight for any big project.

It would be one thing if we were having environmental discussions that led us in a positive direction. Too often, though, these aren’t civil disagreements – look no further than debate over the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities’ plan to build a new coal-fired boiler, the ongoing fight over hydraulic fracturing for proof or discussions nationally over drilling in the Alaskan wilderness or the Keystone oil pipeline.

Being environmentally friendly and friendly to industry doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. We need to protect the environment and grow our tax base. We need to cut pollution while creating jobs.

We should all thank the environmental movement for working to stem the damage done by hundreds of years of neglect. For years, they fought an unpopular fight that benefitted us all. Now, though, we need to find a middle ground that allows us to protect our natural resources while also keeping jobs in our state.

That’s a cause we can all support.