Richard Nixon, friend of the dwarf wedge mussel

STAFF WRITERNovember 14, 2010 

Which "liberal Democrats" and "environmental whackos" (to quote some of the commenters on today's story, "Highway may divide Garner to protect mussels") gave us the Endangered Species Act?

The 1973 law was designed to protect threatened and endangered species and the ecosystems they depend on. It was enacted in a surge of environmentalism that swept mainstream politics in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many people had a hand in this deed - and a key figure was Republican President Richard Nixon.

In 1972, Nixon sent Congress a sweeping agenda for environmental legislation to address issues including toxic waste, air and water pollution, wetland and wilderness area protection, and endangered species:

"It has only been in recent years that efforts have been undertaken to list and protect those species of animals whose continued existence is in jeopardy. Starting with our national symbol, the bald eagle, we have expanded our concern over the extinction of these animals to include the present list of over 100. We have already found, however, that even the most recent act to protect endangered species, which dates only from 1969, simply does not provide the kind of management tools needed to act early enough to save a vanishing species. ..."

"I propose legislation to provide for early identification and protection of endangered species. My new proposal would make the taking of endangered species a Federal offense for the first time, and would permit protective measures to be undertaken before a species is so depleted that regeneration is difficult or impossible."

Now, as required by the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws, the N.C. Turnpike Authority is weighing the benefits and impacts of alternate routes for the planned extension of the Triangle Expressway through southern Wake County.

Nobody really expects the state to run TriEx through the middle of parks, greenways, commercial areas and residential subdivisions in Garner that would be wrecked by the "red route" option. The real question is not whether they'll drop the red route -- but how soon the federal regulators will allow them to drop it.

Eventually, federal agencies are expected to allow the Turnpike Authority to stick with the original orange route -- the originally preferred corridor that was set aside and protected from new development in the mid-1990s. The protected corridor is 1,000 feet wide, with some wiggle room to decide the precise path of a road that will be about 300 feet wide.

The orange route crosses creeks that are home to the endangered dwarf wedge mussel. Extra care in construction, and perhaps some new local land protection ordinances, probably will be required to keep the mussel healthy and our streams clean.

After all, as our environmentalist-in-chief said (before his Watergate crimes drove him from office) in 1972:

"This is the environmental awakening. It marks a new sensitivity of the American spirit and a new maturity of American public life. It is working a revolution in values, as commitment to responsible partnership with nature replaces cavalier assumptions that we can play God with our surroundings and survive. It is leading to broad reforms in action, as individuals, corporations, government, and civic groups mobilize to conserve resources, to control pollution, to anticipate and prevent emerging environmental problems, to manage the land more wisely, and to preserve wildness."

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