Guest commentary: Don’t sacrifice air, water in budget-cutting politics

BY MICHAEL LEHNERT

(Originally published in the Detroit Free Press)

As our nation strives to address the profound economic challenges facing us, we must not squander the future for illusionary short-term benefits. Protecting the environment is a long-standing national priority that has enjoyed support across the political spectrum. Preserving the riches of this country is neither exclusively a Republican nor a Democratic idea. It is part of what makes us uniquely American.
Efforts to undermine that goal should not be slipped into a funding bill. Yet that is exactly what the House Appropriations Committee did with its 2012 funding bill for the Interior Department and other environmental agencies.

This bill does much more than simply spread the pain of inevitable budget cuts. It imposes policy changes that will undo decades of progress and put future generations in peril.
These changes are at odds with this nation’s commitment to preserving its astonishingly rich natural heritage.

The Great Lakes, for all its immensity, is a fragile ecosystem. Michiganders representing diverse interests have experienced the financial, recreational and biological loss of our native species and have banded together to restore them.

Today, Michigan politicians on both sides of the aisle have recognized both the economic and environmental dangers if the invasive Asian carp gains access into the Great Lakes watershed and worked together in a bipartisan spirit to protect our extraordinary resources. However, this 2012 House Interior/Environment Appropriations bill (HR 2584) has such severe cuts that it will reduce funding to combat invasive species — potentially disastrous for Michigan.

Furthermore, the spirit of cooperation and vision in Michigan is not represented in a spending bill containing a so-called extinction rider. The extinction rider, which was included in the original version of the bill, would have severely harmed protections for imperiled species by preventing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from protecting any new species under the Endangered Species Act.

Fortunately, a slim but bipartisan majority voted recently on the House floor to remove the extinction rider from the bill. Our Michigan representatives who voted in favor of the amendment to remove the rider include the following Democrats and Republicans: Candice Miller, Sander Levin, Hansen Clarke, John Conyers, John Dingell, Dale Kildee, Fred Upton and Gary Peters. They deserve our gratitude. The rest of our state’s members of Congress ought to follow their leadership in standing up for wildlife protection.
The pain of spending cuts is something many federal agencies may have to face. But Congress owes it to the American people to make sure appropriations bills are about funding, not undermining environmental protections.

I returned to Michigan because I believe in this state, because of Michigan’s natural beauty, and to be part of the state’s return to economic competitiveness. However, we will not achieve that by reversing the progress made in restoring our environment and our wildlife.

There is broad public support for the Endangered Species Act and for protecting our nation’s diversity of fish, plants and wildlife for future generations of Americans. We must never forget that a country worth defending is a country worth preserving.

Michael Lehnert is a retired U.S. Marine Corps major general. He retired in 2009 after 37 years of service and purchased a cherry farm near Traverse City.