The Thinker

Racing toward environmental disaster

What an irony. There was a time when the Republican Party was known as the environmental party. Teddy Roosevelt alone created five national parks during his tenure. More recently it was Richard Nixon that created the Environmental Protection Agency. But these days it is getting hard to find Republican environmentalists.

Oh sure there are plenty of Republicans who say they are for the environment. But most of them are liars. Try to find a Republican in Congress that is for the Kyoto Treaty on Global Warming. Know of any? Despite polls like this that say 61% of Americans are in favor of the United States abiding by the Kyoto Treaty Republicans in the Senate will let it come up for a vote, well, when hell freezes over. The new carpet was hardly tacked into place in the Oval Office after Bush’s inauguration when Bush yanked U.S. support for the treaty. Instead Bush advocated a voluntary plan that he said would lower the amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced in our country. Not surprisingly this voluntary plan is working about as well as Governor Bush’s wonderful plan for saving the state of Texas’s air quality. Instead of making the air 20% cleaner in Texas the laws Bush advocated actually made it easier for polluters to pollute and to hide the evidence from the law. As a result of this insightful plan in 1999 Houston’s air quality actually was worse than Los Angeles’s.

Kyoto of course is just a small part of a much larger attitude of contempt toward the environment. Republicans stopped giving much of a damn about the environment during the Reagan Administration. It started with a slap in the face to environmentalists when Anne Burford Gorsuch was appointed to the EPA. She had no experience in protecting the environment. But she had worked hard as a member of the Colorado legislature to fight the EPA that was insisting that Denver comply with the clean air laws. (No lie, she was part of a clique of state legislative representatives self named “the crazies”.) For such a sterling accomplishment this chain smoking 38-year-old woman became EPA administrator. There she spent most of her time making sure it did everything but protect the environment. When not trying to cut the EPA’s budget and coming up with an enemies lists of civil servants she managed to suspend a ban on the disposal of hazardous liquid waste in landfills. Outraged Democrats eventually forced her out under pressure. William Ruckelshaus, the first EPA Administrator, replaced her. EPA employees were so grateful to have her gone they cheered Ruckelshaus’s return.

Throughout the Reagan years the environment was always on the back burner. It was much more important to have cheap gas. Although Bush 41 was relatively kind to the environment his son was not. Bush 43’s attitude seemed to be to beat Anne Burford Gorsuch at her own miserable record. Just a few samples of the Bush 43 environmental wreckage to date:

– Bush delayed until 2015 rules that would reduce soot and smog levels, likely leading to 60,000 premature deaths a year.
– He opened waters off the states of California, Florida and Texas to oil drilling despite protests from the governors of these states, including his own brother.
– He allowed the corporate superfund taxes expire, thereby shifting the burden to the taxpayer instead of the polluters.
– He cut the EPA’s enforcement budget, leading to 13% fewer inspections in 2002 alone.
– He allowed the return noisy, smoke spewing snowmobiles to the pristine Yellowstone National Park.
– He allowed new coal fired power plants to be built around national parks, thereby decreasing visibility in the parks.
– He consistently under funded budgets for the maintenance of the national parks.
– He sought sweeping changes to the Endangered Species Act that has reduced the number of protected species.
– He allowed logging in some of the few remaining old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest.

For over twenty years we have seen a consistent and reckless pattern of antipathy and even hostility toward the environment. Since Bush 43 the gloves seem to be off. A recent EPA decision that will require off road diesel vehicles to comply with Clean Air Standards is the one major exception to a legacy of environmental wreckage.

Most Americans understand the connection between their living choices and the environment. But Republicans are living in denial. That so many species become endangered or extinct annually doesn’t seem to bother them in the least. Never mind the fact that we may need this biodiversity to ensure our own survival as a species. Some of our most promising pharmaceuticals have come from biologically diverse places like pristine tropical forests. When given a choice between growth and the environment growth wins every time. If it looks politically costly to diss the environment, they’ll invent a proposal like the badly named “clear skies” initiative that gives the appearance of doing something but exacerbates the problem. All recommendations that don’t conform to their mental model of how the world should work are the result of bias and bad science.

The fragility of our environment and the interdependence of all living things slide off them like water off the back of a duck. In their minds growth can be sustained forever. Cheap land will always be available. Wetlands are never as important as property rights.

It’s not like we have another planet readily available we can inhabit after we consume this one. Earth is our only possible home. If it becomes our toxic playground we will be the cause of our own extinction. The earth deserves our respect and our survival instinct should require that we provide it. If Republicans were as concerned about family values as they claim to be they would realize that leaving a vibrant ecosystem is the best present they can give their posterity. Instead they pass along values of wanton and reckless selfishness that may kill us all.

 

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