Earth Day Blues

As the United States enters a dark age for environmental protection by Washington, the job has come down both literally and figuratively to our own backyards. 

A Republican Congress eager to remove what it views as unfair impediments to business has gained an eager champion in President Trump. The suppression of climate change programs and funding cuts are causing great alarm. A former anti-Environmental Protection Agency state attorney general has been put in charge of that agency. A lifelong oilman is the new secretary of state. Mr. Trump has vowed to return the coal industry to its lightly regulated glory days. 

Other moves have included a proposed $1.5 billion cut in the National Park Service allotment and hints that the administration will dump Obama-era vehicle emissions standards as well as longstanding water rules. The damage could take decades to undo.

States have taken steps of their own. New York is set to become only the second in the nation to get nonpolluting electricity from offshore wind turbines when the Deepwater project 30 miles east of Montauk goes online in 2022. Important, too, is $2.5 billion in the new state budget for clean water, including $110 million for land purchases.

On Long Island, the East End towns and Suffolk County have recently accelerated water-quality programs. East Hampton is finalizing the rules for septic system upgrade rebates. County Executive Steve Bellone has announced that grants and loans for homeowners will soon be available for new high-tech, low-contaminant systems.

The goal of all these efforts is to protect drinking water in this crowded county, as well as to reduce the nutrient pollution that is overpowering marine and freshwater ecosystems, killing fish, shellfish, and the micro-organisms on which they depend. In some cases, algal blooms can lead to elevated toxins and bacteria that are dangerous to humans. There are even atmospheric effects, particularly linked to nitrogen, that can raise ammonia and ozone, which can impair breathing, limit visibility, and hamper plant growth.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation began a campaign this week to encourage the use of phosphorus-free lawn fertilizers and native plants and grasses. It also is promoting letting lawn clippings remain in the yard and maintaining grass at a height of at least three inches to allow deep root growth, which is more able to withstand weeds and drought. These are steps in the right direction. 

Advocates of a soft approach to the home landscape say slow-release fertilizer, or, better, organic compost, is preferable to aggressive treatments aimed at getting the lawn emerald green by Memorial Day. The Perfect Earth Project, based here, has tips on more environment-friendly methods of lawn care — and favors a three-and-a-half-inch height for grass, among other things. The Peconic Land Trust offers free organic lawn-care advice on Wednesdays at Bridge Gardens in Bridgehampton; it also will answer questions at lawnexpert@peconiclandtrust.org.

Earth Day is Saturday. Given the weather, many of us are likely to be tending our lawns and gardens and making choices about what products to use. This year, perhaps more than ever, organic, earth-friendly solutions are essential.