Dissent is patriotic: Happy 4th of July!

Becky Mitchell

This Fourth of July, I’m reflecting that nothing is more patriotic than loving our country, state, and communities enough to work to make them even better. And sometimes that means standing up to politicians who are trying to roll back or undermine protections for our land, air, and water.

I often think of the quote by famous anthropologist Margaret Meade: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Our nation’s history is full of examples of citizens coming together to change the world, from the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) who declared independence from Great Britain, to the founding of unions to protect the rights of workers, to the suffragettes winning the vote for women, to the civil rights organizers fighting for racial justice, on through the present day with community organizing groups like Northern Plains Resource Council.

Ours is a tradition and a national history of neighbors coming together and regular folks becoming leaders to speak up for their values and get things done. And even though our national politics right now can be disheartening, we still have some major victories to celebrate.

Fighting, and winning, methane protections in the Senate

This last May, President Trump was handed one of his first legislative defeats when the Senate made a bipartisan rejection of his proposal to repeal and permanently ban limits on the wasting  of natural gas during oil development on public lands. By saving the BLM’s Methane Waste and Prevention Rule, we have protected not just taxpayers from the uncompensated waste of publicly owned resources that belong to us, but also safeguarded oilfield communities’ health from open-air gas and byproduct fires, and the climate from an unnecessary surge of greenhouse gases.

Northern Plains members Edward Barta and Emma Kerr-Carpenter deliver petitions in Billings asking Senators Daines and Testor to uphold the federal methane waste rule.

But even though protecting the BLM Methane Rule was a common-sense vote by Congress, it was a hard-fought and narrow victory against an all-out, months-long attack by the oil industry and their lobbyists in D.C. This victory was only possible because of the thousands of committed advocates who testified, wrote letters, visited their Senators’ offices, and more.  It shows the President’s announced plans to unravel hard-won environmental protections are far from a foregone conclusion.

Moving forward

As is so often the case, the methane battle is still under way. Having been defeated in Congress, the Trump Administration has considered illegally deciding to just not enforce the federal rule, and actively taking steps to repeal it administratively. These administrative attacks are not reserved just for BLM methane either — previously established EPA protections to safeguard the health and safety of oilfield communities are also under attack and are threatened by non enforcement. But those efforts  can be challenged, and we can win them just like we won in Congress. Even today you can make a difference on the EPA rule by submitting a comment to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt telling him that you support the immediate and full enforcement of the EPA methane rule.

Decades of social research have found that it only takes a small percentage of the population to get active to remake a country. The Tea Party dramatically changed American politics with what PBS estimated as just 67,000 members nationwide. Famed pollster and public opinion researcher Nate Silver tracked every publicly announced Tea Party rally and its recorded attendance, and puts the number at closer to 250,000.

Even if these numbers are off by several orders of magnitude, movements for conservation and justice are already dramatically bigger than that. We have the numbers and the strategy to win, and to protect ­the people and places we love.

Taking action to do so is one of the most American things we can possibly do. Enjoy your holiday.

Becky Mitchell of Billings is Vice Chair of Northern Plains Resource Council.