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No, cleaning up after ourselves is not ‘un-American’

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was simply wrong when he called conservation efforts “un-American” during his keynote speech at the Western Governors’ Association meeting this week.

He was criticizing compensatory mitigation, a prudent and well-accepted environmental protection grounded in a basic ethic that we all practice when we go camping in one of our beautiful National Parks: Always leave the campground cleaner than you found it. 

{mosads}Zinke railed against the industry cost of conservation to offset environmental harm caused by infrastructure or development. 


“Some people would call that extortion. I call it un-American,” Zinke said.

For a man who constantly reminds us of his pledge to fulfill Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy, I was surprised by his rather stark and inaccurate choice of words. 

Americans expect our government and corporations to care for our public and private lands — to offset impacts and leave the land better than they found it. 

Offsetting harm to our natural resources — our land, water and wildlife — is a basic American value that not only benefits public health and the environment, but also the long-term viability of our economy.

The application of compensatory mitigation policy in the U.S. is responsible for slowing the loss of wetlands that protect coastal communities, for keeping rivers and streams clean for drinking and recreational use, for protecting the remaining stronghold habitats of our nation’s treasured wildlife — all while allowing the economy to continue to grow. Corporations and governments internationally accept compensatory mitigation as a sensible and necessary way of doing business while protecting public values. 

That’s why, up until this point in U.S. history, practices and policies around mitigation have had bipartisan support and leadership. President George H. W. Bush established the concept of “no net loss” more than 25 years ago. His no net loss of wetlands policy dramatically slowed the loss of wetlands threatening our nation’s economy and national security. 

President George W. Bush continued this bipartisan legacy with the 2008 Wetland Mitigation Rule, which launched a multi-billion dollar restoration economy. Compensatory mitigation isn’t just good environmental policy. It’s policy that promotes good, clean American jobs.

We cannot afford to let our government look the other way while private entities impair our natural resources on our public estate, leaving taxpayers and private landowners to offset the burden.

Compensatory mitigation is a fair and science-based way to ensure that we balance economic growth and environmental health. Doing so is as American as apple pie.

Eric Holst is associate vice president of working lands at advocacy organization Environmental Defense Fund. 

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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