In the midst of a presidential election year, no one needs to be reminded that the environment has become a political football. Once upon a time, Teddy Roosevelt
declared conservation the heartbeat of conservatism. Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act. And a Republican governor in California masterminded and signed the most comprehensive climate legislation in the nation.
But back in 1994 the Contract with America framed the environment as a Democratic issue. From the beginning, this political document was based on a false and convenient conflict between economic prosperity and environmental health. The false choice took root, and the chasm has been widening ever since. But our members care more about ways of life than any party’s political agenda, and Auduboners across America focus on the real solutions that deliver both conservation results and human and economic benefits. To see how, you need look no further than some of our recent successes.
The first can be summed up simply, with two words: cleaner air. Last December Audubon’s four-year battle to protect air quality and vital wetlands in the central United States paid off with a landmark legal settlement. It requires the nation’s largest coal burner, American Electric Power,* and its Louisiana-based subsidiary to retire one of its dirtiest plants; to put up $10 million to fund conservation of wetlands and forests and promote energy efficiency; and to provide hundreds of megawatts of new clean energy for the region. The Audubon network—the national legal staff, Audubon Arkansas staff, and grassroots chapter members—made our contribution possible.
The Audubon network also fired on all cylinders in the successful fight to block the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have sent potentially lethal goo through America’s heartland, including Nebraska’s Sandhills, one of the country’s largest wetland ecosystems. Audubon Nebraska and our policy staff teamed up with chapters and activists to urge President Obama to delay the pipeline, pending further review. Besides the pollution concerns, the pipeline would open the door to one of the planet’s worst greenhouse-gas nightmares: oil from the Canadian tar sands, whose production creates three times the greenhouse-gas pollution of conventional oil production. What’s more, despite what the pipeline’s supporters claim about “energy independence,” experts estimate that two-thirds of that oil would be exported, primarily to China.
In the coming months the Audubon network will have an authentic and critical role to play in the balance between renewable wind energy and bird safety. We were instrumental in the development of the Obama administration’s new wind energy guidelines, which provide protections for critical habitat. Now our continued vigilance will prove vital as the science-based approach we helped pioneer is rolled out coast to coast.
*Correction: American Electric Power is the nation's largest coal burner, not Southwestern Electric Power Co., its Louisiana-based subsidiary. The text reflects that change.