Op-ed: Trump’s ‘Coal’-hearted view hurts the environment, says Queens state senator


There is a Native American proverb that says: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” It’s just another way of saying we should be doing all we can to protect the environment, not only for ourselves, but for future generations. The district I represent has acres of parkland and wildlife inhabited areas such as Jamaica Bay and Idlewild Park Preserve, and under those conditions, I try to be ecologically conscious.

My office regularly hosts events to help residents recycle paper, plastic, and electronics and gives away rain barrels to facilitate the re-use of water. I also fully support the NYC Department of Sanitation’s Organics Recycling Program. Composting organic materials like vegetable matter, eggshells, coffee grinds or tea bags can, over time, produce a soil rich in vitamins that can grow healthy plants and ward off harmful pests.

President Donald Trump, however, does not appear to be too concerned with protecting the environment, as demonstrated by his recent decision to scrap President Obama’s Stream Protection Rule, stringent restrictions on dumping by surface coal mines, the kind that require whole mountain tops be removed and dumped elsewhere, usually in adjoining valleys and streams.

Under the Stream Protection Rule, companies have been required to survey the environmental conditions in valleys before dumping, and restore these valleys and their waterways to their pre-dumping state after finishing. Since full restoration is often impossible, the rule makes mining many existing coal reservoirs uneconomical.

While some might argue that this has killed jobs,  the truth is that coal has been on its way out for years due to competition from cheaper and cleaner natural gas. Federal regulators agree that the Obama rule will eliminate 124 jobs between now and 2040, a small return on investment considering surface mine valley dumping completely destroys miles of natural streams. Waterways adding up to more than three times the length of the Potomac River have already been permanently filled by such activities.  That is not to mention the accumulation of toxic selenium in local wildlife and the outright destruction of countless fish and birds by the dumps themselves.

We are talking about filling in entire valleys – the effects are, for all intents and purposes, permanent. And, of course, the effects of burning coal are extreme, boosting both atmospheric carbon and environmental toxicity. The particles can travel far from their original location and potentially cause acid rain. Even if the rule were intended as a backdoor to cutting coal mining, that can hardly be seen as a detrimental side effect.

Coal mining operations can contaminate waterways where people go swimming and fishing, as well as drinking water. We have to ensure that regulations are in place, like the Stream Protection Rule, to guard against pollution while preserving public health.

This is the latest in State Senator James Sanders’ “The Impact,” a series of columns about the Trump administration’s policies and its impact on southern Queens.

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