8. Environment and Energy

A Radical Centrist Vision for the Future > List of Amendments > Environment and Energy

8.1 Protection and Renewal of the Environment

The Congress shall be required to pass at least one bill each two years which brings America closer to the goal of pure air, clean water, soil conservation, elimination of greenhouse gasses, safe water tables, and all similar things needed for the best possible natural environment. This requires belief in no particular theory or ecological model of the world. This Amendment simply says that all Americans deserve a clean environment free of pollution, and also deserve public policies that correct past mistakes –such that damaged land areas, compromised watersheds, smog locations, places of radiation contamination, and so forth, are restored and renewed.

Congress shall also demonstrate, in passage of each new law of this nature, that adequate research has been carried out to the effect that any changes in environmental science are understood and past errors of judgement are corrected. Funding for new environmental laws may be in the form of matching funds, tax breaks for states, or grants from the Federal Government, depending on circumstances.

Explanation: Consider the example of forest clear cutting, ordinarily a highly undesirable practice. It nonetheless can happen that sometimes we are confronted with alternatives each of which have negative consequences, yet something must be done.

If the terrible forest fires of 2002 taught us anything it is that a network of effective fire breaks are needed throughout America. Creation of these fire protection lanes would require clear-cutting of breaks perhaps 100 yards wide through timber lands, that extend for many miles, conceivably hundreds of miles in some instances. While no-one likes the idea, the point is that it is better than a new threat of massive forest fires that burn thousands of square miles of woodlands.

Environmental policy must be realistic and sometimes find satisfaction in outcomes that have costs we would prefer they did not have. But this should never mean is license for businesses to pursue exploitative practices. Government should try to accommodate economic interests –both for the sake of jobs and to supply resources needed by all Americans– but government does not exist to grant free rider advantages to private corporations. Natural resources belong to the several states and the nation as a whole and should be conserved or developed in all cases with due consideration for the good of the state or the country before everything else.

In exchange for being allowed to develop natural resources, businesses should be willing to concede to state governments and the Federal Government authority to establish contemporary rules that balance competing interests, as opposed to many 19th century practices which favored business despite unfair advantages this conferred on mining companies, timber companies, and their financial backers often hundreds of miles distant in urban centers. Mineral rights, for example, should be sold or purchased at fair market value, not virtually given away as the result of political deals. Which is to say that a coherent and reasonable environmental policy should come into being through regular consultation about environmental legislation in Congress. The goal of such policy should be twofold, (1) safeguarding the environment and (2) providing as many jobs and resources as possible consistent with the need to protect the natural world.

8.2 Coal Extraction

Henceforth all strip mining for coal in mountainous or steep-slope hill lands is forbidden. This includes all forms of surface mining, including and especially the practice known as “mountaintop removal.” Those who carry out strip mining in mountainous areas, or the like, shall be regarded as felony criminals and be tried and convicted accordingly, and suffer debilitating penalties.

Coal strip mining is allowable in so-called “flat land” areas –presuming that there is minimal water table pollution or other such problems.

An orderly transition to elimination of coal strip mines is required by this Amendment such that dangerous rock overhangs, possible slumping of mine “spoil,” excessive erosion, chemicals contamination, and so forth, shall be corrected prior to termination of strip mine operations, but in no case for a period of longer than 30 days. However, immediately upon ratification of this Amendment, all use of explosives to extract coal in mountainous terrain is expressly outlawed as a felony crime.

This Amendment in no way limits deep –tunnel or long-wall– mining except insofar as such practices are regulated by state or federal agencies.

Given the enormous damages that coal strip mining has caused to the natural environment for many decades, there can be no excuse offered by any government agency, at any level, for not having plans ready for a transition to a non-strip-mine economy. There are numerous alternatives, especially tourism and recreation in scenic mountainous areas, as well as development of sites for private residences or vacation homes, and all should be exploited to the maximum extent consistent with sound environmental policy.

All appropriate government agencies at every level hereby have the responsibility to accumulate financial resources for the purpose of, as much as it can be done, restoring strip mine areas to some semblance of the original condition of the land, OR to some socially valuable use such as making sites available for public schools, for medical facilities, for experimental farms, for timber production, for commercial development, and the like.

8.3 Mineral Rights

The Federal Government and state governments are hereby authorized to re-purchase mineral rights for all lands deeded to commercial companies at any time in the history of the United States. These rights and lands shall be compensated for at the exact amount originally paid for these properties adjusted to current dollars.

This Amendment voids all ex post facto considerations that might otherwise apply and does so because of a record of persistent and flagrant abuses of the rights of surface owners, of the rights of communities, and often also because of serious environmental damages during mineral extraction processes. While all companies are not culpable, such a large number are that this measure is needed and long overdue. However, reversal of ex post facto considerations in this amendment is not intended to be generalizable to anything else except insofar as specific Amendments do so for specific reasons based on the imperatives of justice.

Companies shall have the right to re-purchase such lands and mineral rights at fair market value as calculated at any time after ratification of this Amendment. If there have been major damages to surface owners the mineral owner shall indemnify the surface owner at current market value for any and all losses incurred, whether or not the company decides to re-purchase the mineral rights or lands. This shall extend to such things as watershed damage, in which case the government of the state shall be adequately compensated. Where entire communities have suffered loss, the Federal Government shall enforce binding arbitration between representatives of the community and the company. In cases where local lawlessness against businesses has been a factor this shall not be overlooked in negotiations.

Re-purchase may be from a state government, the Federal Government, or, where applicable, an Indian tribal government, depending on the particular property involved. Should a company resume operations everything possible shall be done to see to it that it is profitable, either through expeditious granting of necessary permits, or tax breaks, or anything else which serves this purpose.

Companies that have acted responsibly shall be rewarded appropriately as determined by state or local governments, or by the Federal Government or Indian tribe.

A Radical Centrist Vision for the Future > List of Amendments > Education (next)


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