After a trip outside our beautiful Big Sky Country, it is not hard to come home and appreciate all that we have.
Recently, I made a trip to the Grand Canyon, and I returned awe-struck at the beauty and magnificence of one of the great wonders of the world. However, I was equally stricken by the obvious haze staining the sky over it. That haze was air pollution.
It had traveled hundreds of miles from the towns and cities in the states surrounding this splendid landmark.
Montana’s clean air, vast open spaces and beautiful clear blue sky reminded me that I am much healthier for living here than where the view is limited and the air is gray-blue and hard to breathe.
To lessen our dependence on foreign oil, development of Montana’s and surrounding states’ vast coal reserves has taken on new fervor. Industry is proposing new coal-fired electrical generating plants that promise affordable energy, jobs and an improved economy.
But do the risks outweigh the benefits, or can we do this responsibly? Currently, dirty coal-fired power plants around the country are allowed to emit mercury without national limits, making them the number one source of mercury pollution in the United States.
This unchecked pollution has been linked to developmental disorders and learning disabilities in children. Even worse, at least one in 12, and as many as one in six American women of childbearing age have enough mercury in their bodies to put their babies at risk, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
It's important to note that Montana has a state standard in place for mercury, but most states do not. Mercury blows into Montana and contaminates water bodies and fish. We eat the fish and collect mercury. The EPA is instituting a federal mercury emission standard that will clean up those 31 states that currently do not have a standard. The American Lung Association and League of Women Voters both support the EPA's efforts.
As stewards of our environment, our financial viability and our future generations, we must be persistent in supporting clean, renewable energy and maintaining our healthy environment while creating jobs.
There is much that we can do. For instance, let our current public servants know that we insist on strong mercury safeguards. Insist that energy companies install and use the latest technology for emission control and waste management. Insist that current and future political candidates support measures that preserve what we have and safeguard our future — one that ensures the pristine beauty of our own Big Sky Country.