Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Representing the 1st District of Nebraska

Fort Report: The Environment

Feb 13, 2017
Fort Report

Going through my mail this week, I read a publication from the Great Plains Trail Network, a dedicated group of people who enjoy, promote, and foster the growing network of hiking and biking trails in Lincoln. They provide an extraordinary service to our community. Most notably, the trail systems provide an alternate means of transportation, physically linking our community in creative ways along creek beds and underpasses, through open plains and wooded areas, beside the wooden fences between residential neighborhoods. The trails also link us to the value of healthy exercise, neighborliness—and the beauty of nature—even in the urban community.

I got an unusual media request recently. New York Magazine wished to speak to me. I took the meeting because I wanted to give a broader perspective on the issue of environmental stewardship, particularly in light of policy debates around energy and the environment. Since the topic can be so toxic, I thought it important to reframe the issues with some prairie perspective. Perhaps it’s time to spike the football and focus on solutions and activities that all of us can agree are beneficial.  

For the 21st century, we must harmonize environmental and economic security. As a different public policy approach, I am considering a new idea called the zero-emissions energy credit (ZEEC). The more we can do to stop waste and pollution through conservation and innovation gives us peace of mind in regard to the proper use of resources. The ZEEC concept would reward reduced emissions through a tax credit system. In this way, the government is not picking one technology over the other, or fighting over one regulation or another, but positively valuing the diminishing externality cost of pollution emissions. 

Environmental initiatives can take many other forms. I was recently named co-chair of the International Conservation Caucus (ICC), one of the largest bi-partisan caucuses in Congress. The ICC works to ensure the sustainability of persons and wildlife, market innovation, as well as the proper stewardship of natural resources. As an example, not long ago in the African country of Mozambique, in the midst of a civil war, the Gorongosa National Park was stripped of wildlife and devoid of people. A once lush micro-ecosystem dead, due to political disagreement. Now, approximately ten years later, thanks to the work of a major philanthropist and a receptive government, a park system teams with wildlife, with indigenous people reintegrated into their homeland who are engaged in farming methodologies, park management, and conservation that creates an atmosphere in which the entire ecosystem once again thrives.

I do not know anyone that wants dirty air and dirty water. However, if you live in Beijing, polluted air alone costs you five and a half years off your life. Parts of India are worse. The Chinese government was infuriated when the USA created, at our embassy, a pollution-monitoring device, and then publicly released that data to the Chinese. It had a major effect. As one Chinese person said to me, "What's the point in all this economic development if it kills you?”  

Economic development without soul strips us of the capacity to fully prosper. On the other hand, one of the prime contributors to environmental desecration is economic underdevelopment. Persons who have diminished economic options will use the resources at hand. The tragedy of the commons occurs when there are fractured social linkages, lack of access to technology and information to feed, clothe, and house in a more sustainable way.

As new technologies emerge, we may see exciting opportunities to build our own sustainably sourced micro energy economy. One that harmonizes with the environment and creates new economic linkages. This doesn’t mean we all live on game preserves, but through proper policy and innovation we may be on the trail to environmental, economic, and community security—a new type of Great Plains Energy Network.