Next month, the state’s most important environmental/conservation organization plans to give Taft its award for lifetime achievement as a consistent backer of policies and programs for clean air and water.Ohio Environmental Council says it will bestow the honor Nov. 10 at its annual “Green Gala” in Columbus.
Taft is being seen in hindsight as the kind of R who wasn’t afraid of standing up for the environment. That is a rarity in today’s GOP, where Rush Limbaugh routinely denounces tree-huggers as enviro-fascists, and the EPA is widely portrayed as a jobs-killing hydra. Of course, few remember that Republican President Richard Nixon created the EPA. Nor do they seem to recollect that Teddy Roosevelt — when he wasn’t hunting elephants or elk — is the patriarch of the national park system.
Taft gets credit for taking on his own party, which recently considered tapping water from the Great Lakes. He had supported strict limits on withdrawing water from Great Lakes feeder streams for industrial and mining purposes — those streams replenished Lake Erie. Taft believed the Great Lakes were resources that needed more protection from special interests; they did not need more abuse and exploitation.
Taft also favored reauthorization of the federal Clean Water Act, and he wanted Superfund legislation fixed to add so-called “brown fields,” which were old industrial sites that could be cleaned and put back into use as commercial real estate. He supported an energy policy that would have 25 percent of all U.S. energy coming from renewable sources by 2025. He pushed natural gas companies to set aside funds to help low income families pay their heating bills.
As far back as 2003, Taft was urging governors and Congress to take drastic action to stop the spread of the Asian carp, the giant jumping fish that now are in the Ohio River near Cincinnati. He called such invasive species “perhaps the most serious and potentially destructive threat” to Ohio’s natural ecosystem. His warning about all the invaders came too true. Since then, Emerald Ash Borers have appeared and destroyed too much of Ohio’s forestland. And Asian longhorn beetles are on the march in Clermont County, where the Department of Natural Resources and Forest Service have drawn battle lines against the pest. Taft worried about water pollution, too. He said too many beaches were closed from bacteria and sewage, and he saw the solution as “not better information about when to close the beach, it’s not having to close the beach in the first place.”
So Taft is getting a thoughtful reappraisal. He may have been comfortable at play on the country clubs. But his reputation is coming back from low ebb.