Barely a week old, the new administration is already making decisions that threaten this country’s environmental protection system.
With blinding speed, it has taken a chainsaw to vital federal departments and agencies. This goes far beyond the partisan wrangling that has long defined Washington politics, although President Donald Trump’s targeting of environmental regulations and institutions in particular has more than a whiff of the anti-Democrat, anti-liberal about it.
Most alarmingly, we note the president’s proposal to make catastrophic cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, and his order this week to halt all EPA grants and contracts. This is nothing less than a virtual dismantling of the agency, and telegraphs an all-out assault on Mother Earth.
He has ordered a media blackout, forbidding agencies such as the National Park Service and the EPA from making public statements or speaking to the press. He also has pledged to withdraw U.S. support of the Paris Agreement on climate change, to which our country is a signatory and in which it acts as a central player. He has signaled his intention to restart the Keystone Pipeline, which would wreak havoc with global carbon emissions.
Gov. Jerry Brown, in his state of the state address this week, responded to these impending threats with bravado, declaring that California will continue to lead by example in environmental protection. But in some instances, the state’s hands are tied — carbon emissions regulations cannot be enforced without EPA approval, and the White House controls the EPA.
Environmental justice is a deeply held Jewish value, enshrined in Torah and the later rabbinic writings. We are commanded to be stewards of the Earth, protecting its trees, plants and animals. We are commanded not to waste resources, but to conserve them, in line with bal tashchit, the mitzvah in Deuteronomy that forbids us to destroy. On the most basic level, we are taught that the Earth is God’s creation, and must be respected.
Jews are not a monolithic group, and there is room for political disagreement within the community. But protecting the planet, its air and its resources is not a partisan issue. It is our responsibility as human beings, and as Jews. When we witness the dismantling of environmental protections, it is incumbent upon us to speak up, if not shout from the mountaintops.
This country has spent decades passing laws and creating institutions dedicated to protecting the environment, from recycling programs to regulations limiting harmful gas emissions. We must not permit this administration to turn progress into so much carnage.