After a brief diversion from Dan and Kara about pollution and composting, I’m baaack! Welcome to Angry Monday, which is the name I give to any Monday in which I have to work while many others have off (grr) and during which I am angry about politics. And oh, boy, am I still angry about politics.
Last time, I outlined what grinds my greens about the Republican party and their views on climate change. It was a great start, but this time, I’m hoping to get into some of the more fundamental issues. There’s been a lot of debate recently about the appropriate size and function of the federal government – and many Republicans currently view environmental regs as one critical ground for debating this.
Viewpoint #2: The federal government does not have any business regulating the environment or natural resources. Republicans have traditionally held to a more strict interpretation of the Constitution, and many do not consider environmental regulations to be within the jurisdiction of the federal government. Some justify this viewpoint by interpreting environmental regulations to be among the powers reserved for the states in the Constitution. Others simply think that it should be up to businesses, communities, citizens, and property owners what to do with their land, air, water, and other natural resources. They argue that statues such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, energy and mining laws, and land use laws, etc intrude into our personal freedoms. They object to regulations which limit pollution and waste production, such as those which regulate the use of chemicals such as lead in household products and those which require companies to adhere to certain emissions standards. The view is that this should be either decided by the state, or that businesses and the corporate world will “self-regulate” – i.e., if it’s really THAT bad, they just won’t do it.
Held By: Ron Paul, Santorum, Perry, and tea-party Republicans are most outspoken about this, stating that they believe the government is infringing on rights of the people by regulating beyond its power.
Why it’s Hogwash: Who else is going to regulate it, then? We cannot live without environmental regulations. Disasters such as Love Canal, the Cuyahoga River Fires, and many others have shown without a shadow of a doubt that we need some kind of regulation to prevent from ruining our natural resources in order to further their own interests. Just ask the citizens of Kathmandu, Nepal, where air quality for particulate matter exceeds World Health Organization standards by over 1000 times and most city-dwellers wear industrial face masks outside in order to maintain their own health. Why is it so bad? Because without any kind of protection for the people, air quality standards are not enforced. Those who pollute do so freely, and the people have no voice other than to live with it.
Corporations do not “self-regulate.” Corporations exist to make money, and time and time again the business community has shown a perfect willingness to cut corners in order to make a tidy profit. (Child labor and sweatshops, anyone? Or what about those ‘safety plans’ that BP had in place prior to Deepwater Horizon?) Sadly, the people making the decisions at these businesses aren’t the ones who will have to suffer the consequences of their actions, and because of this, are mostly concerned with their own bottom line.
The reckless extraction of natural resources, the removal of regulations that protect air, water, and land, and the ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want, without consequence may, in fact, lead to extraordinary short-term profits. But, these come at a high cost. The waste and wreckage left behind deprives others of the right to those resources. Mining often ruins air and water in entire towns. Irresponsible disposal of industrial waste can poison land and water. Do they make business more expensive? Absolutely. But guess what – so did outlawing slavery and child labor. There is a point at which a sense of morality based on respect for others and respect for the Earth must trump profit. This doesn’t mean we don’t use our natural resources –that would be silly. What it means is that we must respect one another and the planet enough to manage these resources wisely, in a way that does not deplete them for future generations nor does it cause harm elsewhere. We cannot trust corporations to do this. Quite frankly, we cannot trust anyone to do this who has dollar signs waiting for them on one side of the fence or the other. It’s just human nature to be swayed by personal gain and short-term profit.
On the other hand, we have a federal government for a reason, and the primary responsibility of the federal government is to protect the long-term interest of its people. Government should not be run like a business that serves the goal of profit and growth over everything else. That’s what corporations do. Governments require a moral compass in order to be just, not just the goal of expanding power and making more money.
The argument that state or local governments should manage environmental regulations themselves similarly makes very little sense. Last time I checked, air, water, and pollution don’t respect state boundaries. Rivers cross state lines all the time. Watersheds often span enormous areas with five or six states (and not just the tiny New England kind, either). Estuaries receive input from both rivers as well as the ocean, where currents can carry trash, debris, and contaminants unbelievably long distances. It is patently impossible for a state’s regulations to have any appreciable impact on protection our resources, because the natural world is too inter-connected. The federal government is the only level at which we can write laws that will have an appreciable impact and achieve any sort of long term goals.