Capitol Notebook: Will the eagle still fly?

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The single eagle flew straight and fast, just 40 yards out over the lake.

The appearance of the eagle is not totally unexpected in front of the camp on Mount Desert Island. The eagle flew from one side of camp, around a point of land, to the other, and the loons seemed to warn each other of its approach.

Back in the 1970s, when the eagle still lingered on the endangered species list, my father would search for the eagle at a marshy area a few miles away, which was one of the earliest places that an eagle had been seen on the island when it began its resurgence after its near extinction. His eagerness in the quest was contagious.

The sight of the eagle is still, and I hope always will be, exciting. And it provides a striking summer moment to recall how the efforts of one woman, a part-time Southport Island resident, profoundly improved the environment. Just in the 60-odd years of my lifetime, the eagle’s flight has been restored, largely because of Rachel Carson, who played the biggest role in its resurgence, although she did not live to be 60.

In her book, “Silent Spring,” published in 1962, Carson’s revelation of the effects of the pesticide DDT, the main culprit in the eagles’ endangerment, changed the world. A sympathetic and functional federal government responded to the new information about pesticides and codified restrictions and other environmental protections in the late 1960s and 1970s.

In July, as an eagle soared over the lake, President Donald Trump’s Interior and Commerce departments proposed rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act, which is credited with restoring the eagle.

According to The New York Times, one change would eliminate longstanding language that prohibits considering economic factors when deciding whether or not a species should be protected.

Another would make it more difficult to protect species like the Atlantic sturgeon that are considered “threatened,” which is the category one level beneath the most serious one, “endangered.”

And if the rules go into effect, federal agencies would no longer be required to consult scientists and wildlife experts before approving commercial enterprises, such as oil and gas drilling. Environmentalists warn that if the proposed regulations had been in place in the last decades, the eagle and the gray whale would now be extinct.

With all the bombast and cacophony from Washington, Trump’s assault on the environment is in danger of getting lost. As we swelter through a dangerously hot summer, they roll back fuel emissions standards for cars that would prevent states from setting tougher standards. And although it hasn’t dominated the news, a slow-motion environmental disaster is unfolding in southwest Florida, with weird green algae blooms that are attributed to river water releases into the Gulf of Mexico, done at the behest of sugar and agricultural industries.

Taking in the news these days subjects one to a barrage of violations of law and decorum. It is hard to focus on changes from the Environmental Protection Agency when you are transfixed by scenes of Trump’s capitulation at a news conference in Helsinki. But we need to keep our eye on the environmental ball, too, or a rollback of rules will gather steam and reverse the environmental protections that are one of the chief accomplishments of the federal government in the last 50 years.

Trump’s anti-environmentalism is mirrored by his Augusta sidekick, Gov. Paul LePage, who is seeking to limit Maine’s participation in a multi-state agreement that limits ozone and has likely helped reduce the smog in our air. He has proposed removing 98 percent of Maine from an Ozone Transport Agreement.

It could be that the job LePage is seeking when his term ends next year is in Trump’s EPA, where he could help roll back regulations.

Although Carson, who died in 1964 after a long battle with breast cancer, is mostly remembered for “Silent Spring,” she also wrote lyrical books about the ocean. She observed early on that sea levels were rising, although at that early stage she did not attribute it to human activity.

If she were alive now she could witness both the success of her warnings on pesticides, and the clear and present danger of new attacks on the environment.

Portland resident Marian McCue is the former editor and publisher of The Forecaster.

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