A healthy environment isn’t a luxury

Sometimes we do things so well, we forget the need to do them in the first place.

Few people alive today remember when the Boise River was a dumping ground for thousands of gallons of municipal sewage as well as the liquid waste from the city’s large slaughterhouses.

Back then, people didn’t touch the water. It was essentially poisonous. But we fixed it. Gone are the days when air and water pollution were facts of daily life — when cars spewed lead into the atmosphere and when rivers were open sewers and dumps for mine waste.

During those times, we pushed species to the brink of extinction with no way of stopping it. The results were obvious. When I was young, the sight of a bald eagle was exceedingly rare. Now it’s possible to see our national symbol along the Boise River.

These improvements to our environment were made in the 1970s with legislation such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. The legislation was incredibly successful. Few people in the 1950s would have believed the Boise River could provide drinking water and become a thriving trout fishery.

Yet through our efforts, we transformed this nation into a shining example of the effectiveness of environmental regulations.

Now, as our nation faces new threats to our environmental protections, it’s important for citizens to remind ourselves that the clean air and water we enjoy and take for granted isn’t immutable. It isn’t there because it’s always been there.

It’s there because we demanded it from our politicians. And politicians react when we demand action from them. Yet with our environment in relatively good shape, it’s easy to become complacent. It’s easy to forget how much energy it took to protect our wildlife while making our water safe and our air breathable.

I’m worried that complacency may offer an opening for the new administration to start unraveling our environmental protections. That’s why it’s important to focus on our nation’s dedication to clean air, clean water and the protection of the people, plants and animals that make up our planet.

Not only do we need to remind ourselves of that dedication, we need to remind our politicians that our health and our environment are not luxuries and they are not negotiable.

These are challenging times and our future seems less certain than ever. Yet I am confident that Idahoans will come together in our communities to protect the fundamental regulations that provide us with a high quality of life. The election was no turning point. Pollution and degradation to our environment have no political preference.

Courtney Washburn

Executive Director