March 9, 2022

What would Teddy Roosevelt have to say?

            A plush, stuffed bear got its name from him, but Teddy Roosevelt was no softy to be toyed with when he wanted to get something done. T.R. wasn’t a giant in stature, but our youngest-ever American president stood tall, ever ready to stiffen his backbone for a fight.

            We are blessed that President Roosevelt was a fearless scrapper in his fight to save many of our natural wonders. His long-range vision and leadership created our national parks system and the U.S. Forest Service. He deserves credit for saving so many of our irreplaceable natural wonders.

            I remember a trip to California and walking through a redwood forest. I recalled reading what Roosevelt had said, “A grove of giant redwood or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great and beautiful cathedral.” The foresight of Teddy Roosevelt gave you and me the gift of touching those giant redwoods and sequoias.

            Those magnificent trees don’t grow in Georgia, but we have our own “cathedrals.” I grew up near one, the Okefenokee Swamp. While it laps over the North Florida border, the bulk of the swamp is in our state. Now, an Alabama mining company wants to risk damaging our treasured natural wonder.

            Can you imagine what Teddy Roosevelt would have to say about that?

            Here’s what he said—more than 100 years ago—about similar schemes: “Defenders of the short-sighted men who in their greed and selfishness will, if permitted, rob our country of half its charm by their reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things sometimes seek to champion them by saying the ‘game belongs to the people.’ So, it does; and not merely to the people alive, but the unborn people.”

            Amen, Brother Roosevelt.

            If we aren’t looking out for our grandchildren and their grandchildren, pray tell who will? Right now, the fate of the Okefenokee rests in the hands of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD). A popular bipartisan bill was introduced in the House of Representatives, but it died in the Natural Resources and Environment Committee. Rep. Lynn Smith, as chair, wouldn’t discuss the matter and punted the decision to the EPD’s director, Rick Dunn.

            Over and over, I have observed Rep. Smith’s committee be our state’s “Death Valley” for otherwise sensible legislation to protect the committee’s namesake: natural resources and environment. Again, I think of T.R., who said, “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.”

            Unfortunately, the Okefenokee isn’t Georgia’s only natural resource that is imperiled. Georgia’s water, especially groundwater, is in danger because of the General Assembly’s inaction, specifically that of the House’s and Senate’s committees on natural resources and environment. Millions of tons of Georgia Power’s toxic coal ash are sitting in groundwater and leaking in unlined pits, near streams.

            What’s our legislative approach? Year after year, our lawmakers kowtow to the behemoth utility, letting commonsense measures die in the wastebaskets of the committees. Don’t expect any significant coal-ash bills to be passed in 2022. It’s an election year. The hot topic was punted to a non-elected public official, i.e., the director of the EPD.

            I go back to Roosevelt. He preached, “The nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”

            My generation has more years behind us than we have ahead of us. But that doesn’t mean we should say, “Oh, well. We don’t have time.”

No, and, oh, no!

            Instead, we should follow T.R.’s advice: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”