South Headed South On Environmental Issues

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The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) recently released their list of the top 10 most endangered environmental areas in the nation, and the results do not bode well for the South. Nine out of the top ten areas in the nation facing severe environmental disaster are located in the Southern United States (assuming you count Tennessee and Virginia as “south.”)

Many of the areas are coastal or other forms of wetlands, and leading the list is Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Still plagued with tar balls washing up from the Deepwater Horizon / BP oil disaster last year, the SELC warns that things along the Alabama coast could become much worse in the future. In addition to the current oil coming ashore, the waters in the Gulf of Mexico are littered with oil rigs, many of which are in dire condition and could cause another catastrophic blowout dwarfing the Deepwater Horizon.

Georgia managed to make it on the SELC’s list twice, with both their cypress forests and the Oconee River being threatened by deforestation and the overusage of water by coal-burning power plants, respectively. North Carolina was featured three times on the list, as both mountain ranges and wetland habitats being threatened by new highway construction projects.

Statistics show that the South is steadily growing at a faster pace than most of the country. In addition, the South (if viewed as an independent entity) is the 7th biggest carbon emitter in the world. But the threats being posed by new development and energy generation are just the tip of the iceberg. Decisions like this are handed down from the top, and without change at the top, we can’t hope to save these areas.

A great example is my home state of Florida. While not mentioned on this year’s list, if things go as planned by new Republican Governor Rick Scott, you can bet that Florida will dominate the 2012 SELC list.

Within hours of being sworn into office, Governor Scott got to work dismantling the Department of Environmental Protection in Florida and decided to merge the department with the Department of Growth Management and the Department of Transportation into a single unit called the Department of Growth Leadership. What this means is that government agencies will no longer have to bicker with one another over projects that could harm the environment. If the former Department of Transportation wants to build a highway through the Everglades, they now only have to persuade members of their own department – not a separate agency focused solely on environmental protection.

To make matters worse, Scott has appointed an “environmental lawyer” to head up the agency. Herschel Vinyard will now have the final say in Florida’s environmental issues, a depressing thought considering that this acclaimed “environmental lawyer” was actually a corporate lawyer who fought the state on environmental issues on behalf of his business clients.

All in all, things do not look that great for the South. As the area continues to grow and the environment is constantly put on the back burner to make room for new power plants and roads, we’re left with little recourse. In this Mecca of red states being led by corporate-appointed politicians, there is little place to turn for hope.