Public Speaker on Public Issues



Endangered Species Act runs into a political traffic jam in the nation's Capitol

Part 1

Washington, D.C.: A press conference on the House Triangle of the Capitol grounds last week epitomized just what is so unjust and dishonest about implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). You really should have been there. I was.

Eleven 'environmental' groups and some select members of Congress actually had the gall to conduct this press conference with the U.S. Capitol as the backdrop to announce the release of documents calling for more money to protect public lands and endangered species. Blatantly absent from this dishonest effort was any mention, focus or profiling of the degradation of both the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act happening right in their own backyard. When asked why they had omitted these violations in the publication of their materials or their words spoken in the shadow of the Capitol they could only blather and backstep.

There are two parts to this dishonest picture. One involves repair of the Woodrow Wilson bridge, and the other involves toxic sludge that is being dumped into the Potomac River running under the bridge.

The Woodrow Wilson Bridge connects Maryland and Virginia. This connection is quite close to the boundary of Washington, D.C. itself. It is a major transportation link for this nation. Over 100,000 vehicles cross this bridge every day. It is in desperate need of repair. There are endangered shortnose sturgeon involved, but because it would inconvenience this highly congested area, some folks in our government want to exempt these actions from the requirements of the endangered species act and the needs of the endangered sturgeon. You see, it's OK to shut down farmers in Klamath Falls, Oregon for a fish, but don't go fishing in THEIR political pool----or perhaps it's a cesspool!

The second part to this involves the discharging of toxic laden sludge from the Washington Aqueduct (DC's water treatment facility) into the Potomac River and the spawning grounds of the endangered shortnose sturgeon. About twenty times a year, the Corps of Engineers drains the treatment ponds, and with bulldozers scrapes the accumulated sludge into the river. The Potomac River is classified as an American Heritage River.

The National Marine Fisheries knows this is happening, knows this sludge is toxic and wants it stopped. Still it goes on. The Corps of Engineers does not want to truck this material to landfills as is done in other areas. Why? Because it would necessitate them driving heavy trucks through a 'posh' Virginia neighborhood and those folks don't want that to happen. These folks signed a petition and protest against any such trucking through their neighborhood.

More in-depth coverage of these two aspects of this picture will be covered in subsequent articles. In the meantime, however, if you want to see pictures of just what is happening and read background materials on this travesty, then log on to: This is the website of the National Wilderness Institute which is leading the legal challenge to have this stopped, and bring about fair implementation of the Endangered Species Act. You might also seriously consider sending them a donation to help fight this expensive legal battle.

The connection between these two issues, and the press conference is worth every American's attention. It is the premier example of the hypocrisy of democracy, a case of injustice where laws are not enforced if they inconvenience too many people.

The National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, National Resource Defense Council, Audubon, Endangered Species Coalition, National Wildlife Federation, World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth, U.S. PIRG (Public Information Research Group) and the Sierra Club all contributed and participated in producing the glossy 'message magazine' handed out at this press event. Titled THIS LAND IS OUR LAND - Saving Americas's Natural Heritage, this 15 page document shows pictures of rural America, mostly western landscapes. Touting the degradation of public lands and the need for more money to halt activities, none of these organizations used their 'public conscience or concern or leverage' to bring the message home by using the Woodrow Wilson bridge and Washing Aqueduct degradation into their public press or print mechanisms.

Using the excuse that there are just so many examples and they just had to choose to leave some out is one of the most dishonest responses they could try and pass off. A truly ethical effort by these organizations to publicize the need for protection of our nation's natural heritage would have used this wonderful opportunity to involve millions of people in the heart of our nation's heritage, which is our nation's Capitol.

Any forthright and thoughtful person knows that it was fear of losing funders and creating a political storm at home that guided these pretend keepers of our heritage to embrace the hypocrisy of democracy. So much for heritage!

~ America's Voices, May 15, 2002

Permission granted to reprint in full or part with full credit given to author.

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