Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

The environment is breathing a sigh of relief as 2017 comes to an end.

But, given the recklessness of the Trump administration, 2018 will likely be worse.

American political views normally swing like a pendulum. In the heady economic post-World War II boom and expansion, basic environmental issues were ignored. And, the planet paid a price.

Pollution became so widespread and intense that the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland at about noon June 29, 1969. Concentrations of nitrates and phosphates caused massive algae blooms in the Great Lakes, choking out the oxygen and decimating the game fish population.

Use of DDT put the American bald eagle population in jeopardy.

Those three events were instrumental in an environmental awakening. President Richard Nixon, hardly a tree hugger, signed the Clean Air and Clean Water acts into law. Over the next decade or two, the environment purged itself of toxins.

The Great Lakes regained a reputation for as an outstanding fishery. And, if a person wants to see a bald eagle badly enough, they can usually find one somewhere in Southern Illinois.

Unfortunately, sometime in the past 15 to 20 years, the pendulum started swinging back. More unfortunately, I’m afraid we still haven’t reached the apex of the counterproductive swing.

In the past year, the Trump administration has shrunk several national monuments. Environmental safeguards regarding coal mine dumping in streams were overturned. Coal companies are no longer required to have enough cash on hand to clean up the environmental messes they have created.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg — although icebergs may soon be listed as an endangered species if the world does not start taking climate change seriously.

Now, in the waning days of 2017, Congress passed a tax bill that will open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. And, there are rumblings that offshore drilling regulations put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster could be reversed. 

It’s mind-numbing to think that Americans can have such short memories, that we can be so short-sighted.

The current zeal to overturn common sense regulations is leading us down a road of perdition and pollution.

Locally, 2017 presented more of a mixed bag.

The first fracking operation was instigated in White County earlier this year. Fortunately, the well was shut down a couple weeks into the process.

Now, the bad news.

Gov. Bruce Rauner visited Southern Illinois recently to announce a proposed ATV track at Sahara Woods State Fish and Wildlife Area, located near Carrier Mills.

The proposed track will be built on a reclaimed mine that has become a haven for forest and grassland birds — literally a fish and wildlife area. Yet, for some reason, the state wants to pursue an ATV track on public land when there are two private facilities nearby.

It’s as if the agency dedicated to preserving wildlife is thumbing its own nose.

The presence of massive gob piles in Southern Illinois makes the proposed revision of the rule regarding coal companies keeping enough cash on hand to clean up after themselves extremely troubling.

No, 2017 was not a good year for the environment. We can only hope the pendulum starts falling back toward responsible behavior in 2018.

les.winkeler@thesouthern.com

618-351-5088

On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​

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