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Editorials

Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The Seattle Times and The Columbian. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

Educating students about civics and how government works is too important to be left to chance.

Yet to some extent, that’s what’s been happening throughout Washington state these past few years, with civics education varying widely from district to district.

Soon, however, Washington schools will be held to a higher standard. A new law will mandate that students take a semesterlong, stand-alone civics course starting in the 2020-21 school year.

This is positive news for our democracy. Students who enter adulthood understanding government and their role as citizens are better equipped to participate in elections and hold officials accountable. Some data suggest that stronger civics education also corresponds with higher turnout among young voters.

While Washington students have previously been required to take a half-credit of civics, they have been able to fulfill the requirement with a wide range of social-studies coursework.

That has been a recipe for inconsistency. Right now, students’ civics education may involve discussing contemporary world events and perhaps some federal government issues, but often glosses over how government works at the state or local level, said state superintendent Chris Reykdal.

In many cases, embedding civics within another course also means students don’t get a full semester of instruction in the topic, Reykdal added.

Not good enough, lawmakers said this year.

The new law, House Bill 1896, will require most students to take a separate high school civics class. Only those students who cover the topic in-depth as part of a more rigorous dual-credit class, such as an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course, will avoid having to take civics separately.

The new law also requires that students study and complete the civics portion of the naturalization test that immigrants must take to become U.S. citizens.

At the very least, a renewed focus on civics education will make it less likely that Washington citizens will be easily duped by online memes misconstruing how government functions. That is part of what state Rep. Laurie Dolan, the Olympia Democrat who sponsored the bill, hopes for.

Yet it isn’t just Democrats who advocated strengthening civics education. The bill passed nearly unanimously.

At the most basic level, students should grasp the wide variety of ways they can make a difference in their communities, whether it be writing their member of Congress, attending a city council meeting, or simply casting their ballots once they turn 18.

Cultivating an informed citizenry is not a goal that should be partisan. It is refreshing to see Washington lawmakers stand together and recognize that this year.

Stand up for environment

Under the watch of Scott Pruitt, the federal Environmental Protection Agency routinely has ignored its stated duty — environmental protection.

That leaves it for states to hold the EPA accountable to citizens. On Thursday, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that Washington is joining 13 other states in filing a suit against Pruitt for violation of the Clean Air Act. This particular action follows the EPA’s refusal to limit emissions of methane and other pollutants from oil and gas facilities, but it could have targeted any one of numerous actions from the federal agency.

Ferguson and other attorneys general must continue to stand up for the people of the United States, driving home the point that clean air and clean water are essential to a high quality of life and our health. Those points apparently are lost on Pruitt, who has routinely rolled back protections for the benefit of big businesses at the expense of the public.

Recently, Pruitt announced a desire to revoke standards calling for automakers to increase the fleetwide mileage average for cars and light trucks to 50 miles per gallon. The standards were devised by the Obama administration through negotiations with the auto industry, the EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and state environmental agencies. The benefits are vehicles that are less costly to operate; improved air quality that helps slow climate change; and a reduction in reliance upon foreign oil. In addition, vehicles with lower fuel costs will make U.S. automakers more competitive in the global market.

Pruitt, however, has long been a champion of big oil companies and big energy companies, placing a desire for corporate profit ahead of the health of citizens and the environment. It is an ethos that long ago was rejected by Americans with the creation of the EPA in the early 1970s, a time when belching smokestacks fouled the air and water — and it should be rejected now.

With the administration appearing intent upon rolling back regulations and returning the United States to an era of environmental degradation, it is imperative that states hold government accountable. There is some irony in that. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt joined more than one dozen lawsuits against the federal EPA, most of them unsuccessful.

In anticipation of the EPA’s rollback of fuel standards, Democratic attorneys general last year noted: “There are at least three separate reports by scientists, engineers and other experts analyzing the standards and concluding they are feasible.”

Not only are they feasible, they are the right thing to do. California has led the way in setting its own emission and mileage regulations for vehicles, and several other states have followed suit, recognizing that such a move will have long-term benefits. Polluted air has been cited as a factor in asthma, heart and lung disease, and premature death, and rolling back standards runs counter to the idea of making America great again.

In addition to attention from state governments, the issue depends upon citizens making their voices heard; comments for the EPA can be delivered online (https://tinyurl.com/ycgmmsjc). And for those who question the efficacy of environmental regulations, we refer you to the Documerica project that was undertaken during the 1970s (https://tinyurl.com/y92ruwn8).

Remember, it is our air and our water. We must protect it — especially if the federal government has little interest in keeping it clean.

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