EPA v. Polluters – Senators Begich & Murkowski on the Wrong Side
Alaskans have a (how shall I put this) prickly relationship with the EPA for the most part. You can live most anywhere in the lower 48, and chances are you’ve never had to personally interact with the EPA and don’t know anyone who has. You live in your house, you do your thing, and the only time it comes up is when you hear the Tea Party talk about how all them damn regulations keep mucking things up and killing business and jobs.
But in Alaska, the EPA and its involvement in development both big and small seems to be on everyone’s radar, and there’s always someone with a grumbly story about the EPA and how they were a fly in the ointment when someone they know tried to put in a gas station, or build a house near a lake, or any number of things.
So, I thought it might be interesting to check out a panel discussion at Netroots Nation that talked about the EPA entitled “Progressives vs. Polluters.” It was a fascinating discussion and considering some news today, it turned out to be more relevant to Alaska than I had imagined when I attended.
Miles Grant of the National Wildlife Foundation moderated the panel.
Senator Ben Cardin (D) from Maryland was there, and talked about the work he was doing to restore the beleaguered wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay, legislation he’s worked on that would ban mountaintop coal removal which he termed “barbaric,” and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, also known as “fracking” which is a toxic disaster for groundwater that is spreading across the continent. Fracking is happening in Alaska right now, but not anywhere near population centers, so it has not been much in the conversation.
The Senator talked of children suffering from asthma and lead poisoning, and called on those in the room to remind progressives, and conservatives alike that these are not partisan issues.
Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins spoke next. She is the CEO for Green for All. She talked at length about the false choice between either jobs and a good economy or clean air and water. Our children deserve and can have both, she said. She spoke in glowing terms about the new EPA head, Lisa Jackson. She described Jackson as “fierce” and urged those standing up for the environment to support her, and stand up for her.
“You have to be able to reward and punish in politics,” she said. “Our allegiance should not be to the Democratic party, it should be for clean air and water. When you’re not right, we’re going to get angry.” (Remember that part. It’s going to come up again later.)
Last up was David Roberts from Grist. He was recently in Brazil for a c40 group of cities working on climate and environmental issues. Argentina described a network of incentives that would give tax breaks to businesses that cut pollution. Why would they choose this path instead of implementing legislation? Because they can’t enforce laws. In China, environmental pollution of air and water is causing widespread civil unrest. There are thousands of protests and marches and clashes because of untenable conditions. The Chinese government is trying to make environmental laws, but it is impossible to enforce its will on distant provinces.
Here’s what I thought was fascinating. The notion that the United States has a central government agency that has both the laws, the infrastructure and staff to enforce them, and the culture of the rule of law, is the envy of the world. The Environmental Protection Agency is considered to be a shining accomplishment of the American government. We’ve had it for so long that we take it for granted and don’t realize how special it is, explained Roberts. What the EPA really represents is not a draconian agency that stifles job creation and kills the economy, but extraordinary social and health benefits for relatively small cost. With the EPA, we can actually force corporations to do what we want them to do. Other places can’t.
Although the Right wants to frame the EPA and its regulations as onerous and restrictive, other countries are literally choking. Kids are dying. People are sick. What we have in the EPA is some sort of way to ensure basic economic and social justice, the rule of law and the ability to use government for good.
Now, back to Alaska. We already knew that Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) is one of those who consider the EPA that is the envy of the rest of the toxic planet an “out of control government agency.” She was even the lead sponsor of a bill that would have the politicians in congress, not the EPA regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. So, we don’t expect much from Republicans in Alaska who have proved time and again that they are so far in the pockets of Big Oil that they’re eating lint. But we’d like to think that Democrats might have a slightly different sensibility – a vision for a healthy future for the planet, for our children, and for the generations to come. That’s one of the things that makes them different from Republicans. Right?
Not so fast.
Not in Alaska, anyway.
According to a report from Alaska Business Monthly: (my snarky red quotation marks added)
Begich Co-Sponsors Bill to “Improve” Offshore Permitting Process
Joins bipartisan group of senators in effort to speed development
In his ongoing effort to promote oil and gas development in Alaska’s Arctic, U.S. Sen Mark Begich has cosponsored legislation to improve the permitting process for offshore oil and gas exploration and development. Begich has joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski and a dozen other senators in cosponsoring The Offshore Energy and Jobs Permitting Act.
Please notice the word “Jobs” thrown in there. One style point for the co-sponsors who hope for knee-jerk approval from people who have not read the bill. If you called it the “Let’s be really fast about permitting for drilling offshore where there’s lots of floating ice, and the nearest Coast Guard base is more than 2000 miles away Act” it might not get as much support.
The legislation will “closely align the standards” for drilling in the Arctic with those used for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Gee. That should make us all sleep better tonight.
It will also make the federal government work on a six month deadline for permitting. Anything else would simply be an “unreasonable delay.”
The legislation is a present for Shell, who has been trying to get permits to begin drilling off the north coast of Alaska in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.
“EPA has been struggling for years to reinvent the wheel and companies who have spent billions to create American jobs have paid the price,” Begich said. “This legislation is just one more tool in the box to get us moving on much-needed domestic oil and gas.”
Paid the price? Poor babies. I bet they’ll be bankrupt if we make them prove they can drill safely, and to the standards set by the federal government. Let’s check out their profits in 2011 to see how they suffer:
We could read this article -Shell profits double to $18.6bn, boosted by high oil prices
Or this one – Exxon and Shell profits surge on higher oil prices
Or this one from The Guardian in the UK – Shell makes nearly £1.6m profits every hour
This bill is cosponsored by Senator James Inhofe, (R-OK). He’s the guy that last year called climate change “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”. The rest of the motley crew on board with Inhofe and Begich on this bill are John Barrasso, R-WY; Rob Portman, R-OH; John Hoeven, R-ND; John Cornyn, R-TX; Roy Blunt, R-MO; Dan Coats, R-IN; Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX; Bob Corker, R-TN; John Thune, R-SD; Richard Lugar, R-IN; and Mary Landrieu, D-LA and of course, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
For anyone who is interested in reading about how heinous EPA regulations are devastating the economy in general, you can read all about it at the Economics Policy Institute website. You can start with this one:
Meanwhile, back in Alaska, we are reminded that both the red and the blue have the sheen of oil.