The Public Interest Network’s Environment America and U.S. PIRG are working on multiple campaigns to help America get through the coronavirus pandemic as quickly and safely as possible. But we're also working to ensure that when the outbreak ends, the United States’ policies and practices ensure a cleaner, safer, better world for all of us.
This weekly newsletter will highlight recent good news on the environmental front. If you have suggestions or comments, please email Ian Corbet (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Josh Chetwynd (email@example.com).
Local transportation and climate measures win big on 2020 ballot
Voters in two of the United States’ 20 most populated cities approved major ballot measures to tackle transportation and climate on Tuesday. In Austin, Texas, voters passed Proposition A with 58 percent support. That ballot measure gives the green light to Project Connect, a major investment in public transportation. Austinites supported funding for two new urban light rail lines, improvements to express bus lines, new park-and-rides and a downtown tunnel. In Denver, voters approved Ballot Measure 2A with nearly 65 percent support according to the early count. This measure authorizes an additional 0.25 percent sales tax to generate an estimated $40 million per year to fund climate-related programs and programs designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
“Transportation and climate action won big on the ballot this election,” said Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG’s Environment Campaigns director. “People in Austin and Denver voted for cleaner air, a more livable climate and a future driven by better transportation infrastructure. They proved that we can win changes right now to make healthier, safer, cleaner transportation the most convenient, most affordable and most enjoyable option for every trip.”
Hays County, Texas, votes to fund conservation of parks and recreational areas
Amid an exciting flurry of pro-conservation ballot measures passed this Tuesday, nearly 70 percent of voters in Hays County, Texas, approved Proposition A. Known as the “Hays 2020 Parks Bond,” the measure earmarks $75 million to create and expand parks to meet recreational demands and protect natural areas threatened by development. Hays County is one of the fastest growing areas in the U.S., and these new investments will help preserve cherished wild places from encroaching development. Prop A includes bond funding for 16 projects, ranging from urban parks used for recreation, to natural habitats that are critical for wildlife conservation.
“We need more nature in our lives, more space for recreation and more space for wildlife to roam,” said Steve Blackledge, senior director of conservation programs at Environment America. “There is a national movement towards setting aside thirty percent of our lands and oceans to allow nature to thrive. It’s a bold vision, and winning it will require lots of smaller victories at local, county, state levels, like the one we saw in Hays County this week.”
New Jersey governor signs strongest ban on single-use plastics in nation
In a win for wildlife and waterways, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed the strongest single-use plastics ban in the nation into law on Wednesday. Going into effect in early spring 2022, the new law will ban single-use plastics bags and polystyrene; restrict straws to on-request only; and phase out paper bags at larger grocery stores. Currently, eight states ban single-use plastic bags, four states have banned polystyrene foam foodware, and three states have implemented a straw-by-request policy.
“Gov. Murphy signed the strongest single-use ban on plastics in the country to prioritize our wildlife and our communities over endless plastic waste polluting our waterways,” said Environment New Jersey Director Doug O’Malley. “We are deeply thankful for Gov. Murphy’s leadership. Two years ago, the governor vetoed a half-measure plastics bag bill to hold out for a more comprehensive ban. We are thrilled that New Jersey can be a national leader in reducing single-use waste.”
What else we’re celebrating:
Spider reappears in United Kingdom after 27 years: The great fox-spider, one of the largest spider species in Britain, was rediscovered after being presumed extinct for nearly three decades. The exciting discovery occurred on a military site in Surrey where human activities are limited and the sandy low-brush is an ideal habitat for the spider species. The discoverer, who has been searching for the spider for years, hopes to find more of the spiders across the south coasts of the UK.
Bison released as part of conservation plan: One hundred bison have been released on the Wolakota Buffalo Range. These are the first of an eventual 1,500 that will be managed on the land by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. When the reintroduction is complete, it will be the largest Native American-owned buffalo herd. The release is part of a 10-year plan to expand conservation of these iconic species, which were nearly driven to extinction at the beginning of the 19th century.
Arizona moves toward 100 percent renewable energy: Utility commissioners in Arizona approved a plan for the state to get its electricity from 50 percent renewable sources by 2035 and a full 100 percent by 2050. The plan will see an increase in solar development and energy efficiency initiatives, as well as a phasing out of coal and gas in the state. Arizona joins a growing group of states to make this commitment to the climate.
New marine sanctuary proposed off of Alabama coast: Rep. Bradley Byrne of Alabama proposed the creation of a national marine sanctuary encompassing an ancient underwater forest off the coast of the state. The ancient cypress forest is estimated to be 60,000 years old and is remarkably well-preserved due to the conditions of the sediment it was buried in. Adding the underwater forest to the 14 existing national marine sanctuaries will help to ensure this rare ecosystem’s continual preservation.
Looking for even more uplifting environmental content?
Environment America recently launched our Greener Together project. As people are practicing social distancing, the project aims to help us all foster a stronger connection with the natural world and with each other. The initiative includes engaging events, fun activities and helpful guides for both adults and children.
Environment America is a national network with affiliates in 29 states. Our staff and members work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment.
U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.
U.S. PIRG and Environment America are part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to getting things done.