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View from the sidelines

by Stephen Kaye
Thu Feb 9th, 2017

We have watched the first few weeks of the new administration.  The Obama people failed to leave the floor plans and instructions on how to run the country or how to use the bathrooms, so the new occupants of the West Wing have spent much of their time finding out how the place works.  Apparently, tour guides left and weren’t replaced.

The administration’s first round of executive orders was a stunning display of ignorance, arrogance and incompetence.

The League of Conservation Voters is one of many websites devoted to environmental issues.  We looked at it today where we reviewed the history of Republican bills that attempted to remove federal protections from streams, lakes, federal lands and to favor coal mining, oil and gas drilling.  They clearly wanted to remove all measures to deal with global warming.

What is most disturbing is that the votes go exactly by party.  The Republicans view all environmental laws as Democratic overreach.  They fail to see any benefit to the country.  National interests seem not to be of any concern. The only concern is the party, and as the Republican Party has been purchased by a few large fossil fuel moguls, the party does what it has been hired to do—protect their patrons.

Republicans introduced and voted for a bill that would permit the sale, transfer or exchange of federal lands, including wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, national forests, and national memorials to state and local governments.  The environmental organizations claim the Murkowski amendment would allow states to take control of federal lands and then sell them off to private interests for oil and gas drilling, logging, mining, and other development.  Republicans don’t want the federal government in the land holding business at all, a fundamental tenet of libertarians and property rights groups.

Underlying most of these bills is the sense that the federal government is too big, tries to do too much and does it very badly.  This view plays into the policy orientation of libertarians, states rights, property rights and tea party factions.

The unity of the Republican Party behind these measures is startling for an Eastern Republican who remembers well the beginnings of the environmental movement in the 1970’s that was triggered by the massive spraying of DDT and the decline of shore birds, particularly the osprey.  Out of Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring sprang the Environmental Defense Fund and numerous other not for profits, none of which had political overtones.

Richard Nixon’s government passed the first environmental laws that are now considered un-American by modern day Republicans.  How the environment has become so politicized that any pro-environmental measure is now considered a strictly Democratic measure that is bad for business and anathema to Republicans, regardless of the science, the threats, the facts, is something that Republicans have a hard time explaining.  All they know and all they say is that they are ag’in it.

It is our view that a mistake was made somewhere along the line.  Something drove the Republicans to hate environmental laws and anyone having anything to do with them. That hate is implicit in the selection of Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency.  He is quoted as wanting to dissolve the agency.  It has been reported that the intention is to reduce the EPA’s headcount from 15,000 to 5,000.  We can expect the next budget to reduce the agency’s funding by that percentage.

The onslaught against the laws regulating the extractive industries of any kind promises to usher in a new laissez faire economy not seen since the days of Howard Taft.

The attack on facts is part of the program to deny the science on global warming. Any mention of global warming is being removed from all federal websites and all discourse at the federal level on the mistaken belief that if it is out of sight it will go away.  Congress will announce it was a Democratic hoax planted by the Chinese in a fortune cookie.  Congress will pass laws saying it doesn’t exist and therefore it won’t.  It won’t rain on Sundays either when Republicans hold their bar-be-cues.

Ironically, the Chinese are taking global warming very seriously and are forging ahead on solar and wind power.  They are far ahead of us.

Reading over those measures that passed both houses in 2015 but were vetoed by President Obama, one has a preview of what we can expect.  The Republicans are introducing those very same bills again, and they are getting passed. They are running through Congress without committee hearings, without discussion, and without public participation.

We can demand of our Congress that they do their work and not just pass bills handed to them by the professional lobbyists who have been waiting for this moment.  They should be asked to hold hearings, hear from the public, gather information, consider the consequences, and act in the national interest.  They should weigh the pros and cons and explain to the public why they are acting.

They should be put to the test.