As a lifelong educator, I spent my days in public schools where everything centered on setting a path for our youth to have a good life. If we could distill values shared across all cultures, at the very heart would be protecting our children as they grow while also ensuring a safe and healthy world for them to inhabit when we are gone. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision gutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s protective power was a painful jolt, and took me immediately to the faces of children I’ve loved, and the bright eyes of our little two-and-a-half-year-old grandson.
How tragic that the ruling put the relentless drive for corporate profit ahead of our deep responsibility to our youth.
In EPA vs. West Virginia, the Supreme Court hamstrung this nation’s ability to uphold protections in the Clean Air Act, a law passed by Congress in 1970 and signed by Richard Nixon. The Act passed during an era when such protections were a source of pride for lawmakers across the political spectrum. This was a time when many of our laws resulted from a vigorous exchange of ideas with compromises reached to benefit us all.
This destructive ruling upends decades of precedents upheld by Supreme Courts of all makeups. It favors wealthy industrial interests over public health and the health of our planet. Fifty years ago, The Clean Air Act was passed when our cities – and nearby areas – were choking with smog and pollution. Once in effect, lung cancer, asthma, and heart disease rates dropped, and precious lives were saved.
Today, the great challenge facing us is the climate crisis. 99% of scientists – including those from respected institutions like NASA and the Department of Defense – recognize that human-caused climate change results from carbon dioxide and industrial methane pollution, mostly from burning fossil fuels. These scientists have alerted us that the climate change-fueled wildfires, droughts, and devastating floods impacting us now will become more frequent and severe unless we act decisively. Living close to nature, farmers, ranchers, and others working on the land are feeling the immediate impacts. Health professionals are speaking loudly, as they see more disease and death from the rise in climate-related respiratory ailments. And all of us, wherever we are in Montana, know that our climate is changing rapidly, losing some of the predictability that all life depends on.
We won’t allow a Supreme Court ruling to dampen our determination to tackle this crisis with the same love and devotion that previous generations summoned to tackle the crises facing them. We’ll work together to steward our greatest sources of well-being – our clean air and water, unspoiled landscapes, healthy, predictable climate, our respectful and reciprocal relationships, and our democracy.
As board chairwoman of Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation organization founded by family ranchers to protect their livelihoods from unchecked industrial development, I’ve seen our membership expand to include those living in towns and cities. Our members from rural ranchlands and urban centers alike share the original concerns of the first members alongside new ones created by our climate crisis. During five decades our organization has supported people from all walks of life to use the tools of local democracy to build leadership skills and strengthen their communities. As we rise to face the greatest challenge of today, we continue that tradition.
Community by community, we’re working to give Montanans the clean energy future they want and deserve. While we laud action from office holders and decision-makers in Washington, D.C., we know that our deepest power comes from taking action with others in our own communities. Through co-ops, decentralized and localized clean power, local solarize campaigns, relentless accountability for our utility companies, and more, we will address this crisis. Our children and grandchildren deserve the same chance to thrive that our parents and grandparents gave us. We won’t let them down.
Joanie Kresich is a Livingston resident and board chair of Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation and family agriculture organization.