In last weeks Boston Globe, it was reported the the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is suffering from deep budget cuts negatively affecting its ability to do its job to protect our waters from pollution. This follows similar stories in recent weeks at the federal level at the Environmental Protection Agency with the president’s promise to slash its budget and his Executive Order rescinding the Clean Water Rule which will devastate the agencies ability to enforce the Clean Water Act. Without the state and federal government helping to enforce water pollution rules, keeping our river clean and healthy will depend increasingly upon all of us acting locally. In these difficult times, we offer some muses about the current uncertain political environment:
When a man who has been intensely critical of the Environmental Protection Agency was sworn in as its head, some obvious concerns arose in the public mind. While any organization has room for growth and improvement, many worry whether the baby will be thrown out with, well, the river water.
Added to the current instability of the EPA is the legislation Massachusetts’ Governor Baker has put forward, which would shift some of the EPA’s responsibilities onto the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. While, at first glance, having more autonomy over our environmental legislations may seem like a good idea, the situation is more fraught and complicated.
The DEP has faced serious cuts to both its staff and budget. They are scrambling trying to perform the checks and follow-through that are part of their regular duties. What can we expect if a struggling DEP must work without support from the EPA?
Imagine a grand house, a masterpiece of architecture with sprawling grounds, lush woodlands, and picturesque water views. Walking amid its bucolic and seemingly effortless landscape gives a sense of vital harmony. Inside, the largest hall seems inviting and the smallest space expansive.
As you wander happily through this place at your leisure you may notice, from time to time, the constant activity going on just out of sight. A chair righted, a hedge trimmed, a rail repaired.
A legion of people hard at work in maintaining this paradise, always there but hardly ever noticed. Until they are gone.
One by one the groundskeepers, maids, painters, and workmen have lost their jobs. With deep regret, they dispiritedly leave the house behind. At first, things are much the same. Then the differences begin to accumulate more and more rapidly. The furniture goes astray, the landscape becomes overgrown, the flowers wilt and die in their vases. Things at the grand house are no longer majestic, but worse is still to come. The pipes begin to leak, a toilet backs up, the septic overflows. Piles of garbage collect in the corners of the hallways, and the windows are coated with a gray film. Beneath the peeling paint, a crack begins in the foundation, and a troublesome spot of water-damage grows into toxic mold.
These things do happen to abandon houses, it’s true, but this house is not abandoned. An entire family lives within, watching as their house decays around them. The thought is absurd, and yet this is the very position our state may find itself in. With a severely reduced staff and a mountain of tasks, the DEP will be in dire straits to protect Massachusetts’ natural resources. Our natural resources.
In that we have all decided to take up residence in this state, build our lives and families here, we are in this together. The collective family of the citizenry of Massachusetts. We are the family that lives in that beautiful house: that house that is our rivers, our marshlands, our forests. It is the very land, water, and air around us: in short: our home.
Non-Profit groups like Ipswich River Watershed Association, members, everyone must step up and stand up for the place we call home. Both in our local and state government we must be present and persistent.
We cannot, as the quiet and competent staff around us is reduced in number, allow our home to fall to ruin. We must take out the trash, pick up a rake, air out a room. It is up to all of us to keep our home in the image of that glorious ideal.