By State Senator Stephanie Hansen
Picking one important issue to highlight on Earth Day is almost impossible because all environmental issues are so inter-related. As Chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, I have the privilege of bringing together the public and experts to craft policies that address both our energy demand and our desire to protect our environment.
You can help.
As we craft policies that move us away from fossil fuels and towards renewables, we need the passion of the interested public, and the intellectual firepower of our local and regional experts, in a deepening and evolving conversation through our virtual Energy and Climate forums and stakeholder meetings. These have been, and will continue to be, the launching pad for legislation involving our renewable-energy portfolio, commercial-scale and community solar, onshore and offshore wind, and emerging energy technologies.
This work is critical for addressing our imperiled ecosystems. Research from the University of Delaware and Professor Doug Tallamy has found a loss of nearly 40% of our native bird species that depend on forest cover, a loss of 31% of our native reptiles and amphibians, and a loss of 20% of our native fish. We’ve seen a 50% reduction in bird population sizes over the last 50 years and 40% of our native plants are either threatened or already lost. The drivers are habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, climate change and invasive species. When a non-tidal wetland is filled in to make fast land for new development or dug out for the development’s stormwater management system, many of the species that needed that environment to survive are lost. The loss of protection of our non-tidal wetlands and the paucity of protection for our threatened and endangered species is unraveling the tapestry of our ecosystem. These are difficult development issues that we must rededicate ourselves to solving.
The threatening presence of invasive species is one issue in which everyone can participate in the solution. Since only about 25% of the plants sold at retail home-and-garden stores are native, chances are you have an invasive plant or two in your own yard. Although the passage of Senate Bill 22, which I sponsored, will now halt the sale of invasive plants in 2022, this does not address the presence of many of these in our own yards and open spaces that continue to contaminate our forests, roadsides, and open areas. If you have a Bradford pear tree, cut it down. Now. If you have English ivy, or a Burning Bush, or a Japanese Barberry, pull it up and replant with a native plant. By all means, ask for native plants at the home and garden store where you shop. Visit the website of the Delaware Invasive Species Council for a list of invasive species.
Lastly, the impact of plastic pollution and emerging contaminants such as PFAS (the chemical found in fire-fighting foam and many other applications) affect all of us. Recent studies have shown that microplastics have been found in every environment, including our own bodies, and have become a menace to terrestrial and marine life. We need to do more than just reduce our plastic usage and dispose of plastics properly. To truly make a dent in cleaning up the waste that exist, plastic waste needs to become a commodity, whether by becoming a sought-after raw product, fuel source, or something else.
So for Earth Day, try moving the needle a little by committing to adjusting your own habits. Bring your own cloth or reuseable bags to the grocery store this weekend. Go online to determine if you have any invasive plants in your yard and replace them with a native plant. Commit to giving up a little bit of your mowed lawn for meadow or plant a new native tree. Participate in a tree planting. Join us for the next virtual Energy and Climate forum and speak your mind on our state’s energy policy.
There is so much to do, but together we are making a difference.
Sen. Stephanie Hansen represents the 10th Senate District, which includes portions of Newark, Glasgow, Bear, Middletown and other communities along the western side of Southern New Castle County. She currently services as chair of the Senate Environment & Energy Committee.