Us vs. Them in a Back to Basics War
~Free market under-regulated air in Beijing, China
It’s become increasingly clear in the past months that the Environmental Protection Agency is squarely in the crosshairs of the Republican Party. But it’s not just insignificant or annoying rules and regs that irritate the right. The battles being fought are elemental and huge – The Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act, massive extraction projects that could cause harm to our country on a massive scale.
The EPA believes it is a fundamental right that citizens of this nation can breathe clean air, and drink clean water. The “nanny state” believes that children shouldn’t have asthma because they cannot escape the belching smoke of a coal fired power plant, or that a rancher should have to give his beef cattle contaminated toxic water because a natural gas fracking well destroyed the aquifer that used to provide clean safe water.
It is a battle of philosophy.
I remember when I was young, I asked my mother what the difference was between Democrats and Republicans. “Democrats are for the people, and Republicans are for big business.” It seemed like a simple enough answer for a small child. And naturally, I understood that my father, as a small business owner, employed people and that this was helpful for everyone. But my dad was small business. He hired and fired employees himself. He grumbled a little when his workers unionized. He grumbled a little more when the EPA made him jump through a lot of hoops that he thought were unnecessary. But ultimately, my dad earned a living wage, and so did everyone who worked for him. He was not a slave to shareholder profits, and he kept his humanity. Unlike a corporation, he didn’t want to pollute because it was cheaper to be irresponsible, or because he was obligated to provide maximum profits above all else.
And while it is understandable that the corporations themselves try everything to maximize profits, with blinders on to the human cost of their operations, how is it that the individuals in the Republican Party – the voters – don’t see it?
I believe if we were to ask a parent of any political party what was more important – a job, or the health and safety of her children and her neighbor’s children – the answers would be easy. Ultimately, of course, you’d want both – a good job to provide for your children, and safe air and water to keep them from being sick, incurring health costs, and the emotional stress that goes with seeing someone you love suffer. But if you could only pick one, health would always win. Without it, nothing else matters.
So, why the disconnect? Is it so appealing for the human mind to have someone to be angry at, that it trumps basic survival? Why does the average Republican voter cheer for those who want to do away with these regulations and even the EPA itself? Ask people in countries like China (if you can find it under the smog) who are suffering massive environmental contamination how grateful they would be to have an enforcement agency to protect them. They don’t have one. We do.
Corporate polluters have lots of lobbyists because they have lots of money. Asthmatic children, and regular people who live at ground zero for environmental pollution? Not so much. Our lobbyists – the people who are supposed to be out there fighting for our best interests, and our literal survival, are those we put in office. Yes, they may have partisan agendas, but above all they are there because we put them there, and they are there to protect us, promote our well being, and defend us from those whose priorities are green (in the form of currency) over green (in the form of sustainability).
Today, the President capitulated to those who actively seek to maximize their own profits at the expense of your health, and your children’s health, by killing new rules controlling emissions proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. And the sad irony is that the new regulations, which were estimated to cost between $19 and $90 billion are cheaper than the cost to mitigate the health issues they will cause. Yes, it’s cheaper in both “green” ways to be responsible. It’s cheaper for the nation as a whole – for you and me – but not for the corporations themselves. There’s the rub. So, your government has decided it would rather lose money and compromise the health of its citizens, than to annoy the polluters by requiring them to be responsible and spend some of their massive profits to do so.
“This sudden admission by President Obama that ill- considered regulations do, in fact, have a negative impact upon our economy is a welcome breakthrough,” Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement. His committee is scheduled to vote on measures to scuttle two other EPA proposals next week.
That’s how the issue is being framed by the Republicans who are now praising the President. Obama has now seen the error of his ways. He now sees that it’s environmental regulations that are responsible for breaking the back of the economy. It’s not the Bush tax cuts; it’s not two wars the country can’t afford; it’s not corporate takeover; it’s not lack of basic health care; it’s not NAFTA. Nope. It’s the government telling giant polluters that they’re not allowed to poison us. And they’re really glad that the President has now seen the light and knows that the Republicans have had it right all along. Did you hear that, media? It was very big of him to admit that he, and those silly environmentalists were wrong.
And, of course, in reality, the President doesn’t feel that way at all. Unfortunately, he has lost the debate as he sits in the Oval Office buried in wreaths of flowers smugly bestowed upon him by the likes of John Boehner, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and every other self-interested Republican who is looking forward to campaign contributions from Big Oil, Big Coal, and Big Frackers. But then again, the President is looking for those contributions too.
Last week, I asked Alaska Democratic Senator Mark Begich’s office if he had made a statement or if he had a comment or opinion about Trans Canada’s 1980-mile tar sands Keystone XL pipeline proposal that is currently with President Obama, and about the demonstrations and arrests that have been made at the White House. So far, there have been over 700 arrests, sit-ins and demonstrations at the White House, and harsh criticism of the project from many former Obama campaign workers and staffers, important environmental groups, and political strategists. The pipeline would carry highly corrosive toxic crude oil from the tar sands of Canada, straight down through middle America, to the Gulf of Mexico in Nederland, Texas, threatening drinking water for millions of people, and farmland that feeds millions more.
In addition, NASA scientist James Hansen warned that exploiting the massive tar sands deposit could mean “game over” for staving off catastrophic climate change impacts. The stakes are high.
The response from Senator Begich’s office?
“Sen. Begich is on the record supporting this project because of the country’s energy needs and the number of jobs it would create.”
In Alaska, as in many places, it’s generally not so much about Red v. Blue on environmental issues, because the sad fact is that with very few exceptions, politicians here are the color of oil, and the color of money.
“It will be increasingly difficult to mobilize the environmental base and to mobilize in particular young people to volunteer, to knock on thousands of doors, to put in 16-hour days, to donate money if they don’t think the president is showing the courage to stand up to big polluters,” Mike Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, told reporters last week regarding the massive pipeline project. That statement rings true not only for Keystone XL, but for many environmental issues.
We are in an environmental war, and it isn’t over how to improve where we are, or develop new technology in the face of opposition. It is a basic war of survival. We, as a nation, as parents, as human beings, will be called upon to defend not the subtleties of environmental protection, but the basic existence of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and massive resource extraction projects like the proposed Pebble Mine, and Keystone XL. It is our obligation to make our positions known to our elected officials, and to our friends on the other side of the aisle. This is not a political issue, as much as the industry and elected officials would like to make it one.
[Contact the White House and send Barack Obama a message HERE]
[To sign the Friends of the Earth petition asking the President to say no to the pipeline, click HERE]
[Details on the Saturday rally in Washington, D.C. HERE]