Our Progressive Vision: We have a responsibility to protect the quality of life, not just for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. To do that we need to both stop the degradation of our environment now and pursue policies that build a better future. These goals fit into three categories, laws that: (1) reduce the pollution of our air, water and land—including gases that accelerate climate change; (2) conserve energy and quickly develop clean and renewable sources of energy; and (3) pursue policies that build infrastructure to create environmentally friendly cities and towns for the future.
Air, water and soil pollution
Pollution is waste material that adversely affects air, water or soil and governments have tried to control it for hundreds of years. Our major federal anti-pollution laws—the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act—were passed in the early 1970s. In recent years, states and localities have gone beyond federal prohibitions to clean up emissions from power plants, require disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking or ban fracking outright, discourage or ban the use of single-use plastic bags, and encourage recycling of paper, metals, glass, paint, motor oil, pharmaceuticals and electronics. Minority and low-income communities bear a disproportionate share of the health risks caused by pollution and governments need to provide those communities with a measure of environmental justice.
Conservation and clean energy
With climate change legislation blocked in Congress, states and municipalities are leading the way to encourage energy conservation and promote clean energy. Conservation is accomplished by using more energy-efficient devices, improving insulation and design of government buildings (e.g., schools), and encouraging energy efficiency in both commercial buildings and private homes. Clean energy is promoted by using solar or wind power as much as possible on government and private properties, and by incentivizing local energy companies to employ or expand wind and solar power generation.
Smart growth is an urban planning strategy that concentrates development in compact urban centers to avoid sprawl. Smart growth produces a more efficient use of resources while preserving more of the natural environment. Smart growth policies include: making communities pedestrian-friendly, building bicycle lanes and encouraging biking, developing mass transit and encouraging its use, supporting mixed-use development with affordable housing set-asides, and maintaining greenbelts and wildlife corridors.
Plastic bag fee or ban
Every year, millions of plastic shopping bags end up as litter and they can take centuries to decompose. These bags are among the most common types of litter on land and one of the most troublesome when they drift in rivers or seas. Thus, to discourage their use, dozens of cities and counties have imposed a 5 or 10 cent disposable bag fee, some of which target plastic bags while others apply to paper bags as well. California, Hawaii and many cities simply ban “single-use” plastic bags.
Climate change impact assessment
Climate change is real, of course. The ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998, nine of which since 2003. Simultaneously, we have seen increasingly severe weather cause billions of dollars in damage. Some of the effects of climate change can be predicted and some of its damage can be mitigated with planning. States and localities should create commissions to study the local effects of climate change (e.g., flooding) and what policy changes could address them.
Residential solar energy
America needs to encourage the production and use of renewable energy wherever it is economically feasible. In many places, it has become practical for a single house to provide much of its own power through environmentally friendly sources like solar electric cells. Unfortunately, many families that might benefit from this source cannot afford the upfront costs of installation. Increasingly, private firms are willing to install renewable energy systems at no or low cost in exchange for leasing agreements that provide the firms with the right to sell the energy to the property owner. These leases can dramatically increase use of renewable energy, however, state or local laws often make leasing of this kind impossible. Legislation can fix the problem by allowing third-party firms to install and operate solar energy systems, utilize state or local bonding facilities, and take advantage of renewable energy tax credits.
In order to get energy use and pollution under control, cities and states need to encourage better design and construction of buildings. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is a flexible, non-bureaucratic standard for construction and maintenance of new or existing buildings. LEED standards emphasize energy and water savings, use of recycled materials, and indoor air quality. Many jurisdictions have already enacted laws to encourage new buildings and major renovations to meet LEED standards.
Renewable Portfolio Standards
Most Americans think of electricity as clean energy, but power plants are actually the single worst industrial contributor to air pollution. Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) require electricity suppliers, over a period of years, to increase the percentage of energy generated using renewable sources such as solar, wind, biomass and other alternatives to fossil and nuclear electric generation. Twenty-nine states have an existing statute but many RPS laws can and should be strengthened.
Bees are dying off at an alarming rate. Studies confirm that toxic neonicotinoid pesticides (also known as neonics) contribute to honey bee mortality, as well as to declines in native pollinators, birds and aquatic life. In addition to killing bees outright, even low levels of these toxic pesticides impair bees’ ability to learn, find their way back to the hive, collect food, produce new queens and mount an effective immune response. The Pollinator Protection Act limits the use of bee-killing pesticides.