Environmental destroyers

Environmental destroyers

August 14th, 2011 in Opinion Times

Partisan divides aside, it's a mystery as to why the right-wing faction of the Republican Party has become congenitally opposed to protection of the environment. At stake, after all, is the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the preservation of our most treasured public lands, parks and natural resources. It would seem normal, and conservative, to restrict pollution and industrial practices that demonstrably degrade our natural environment and the critical natural resources on which we all rely.

Yet Republican opposition to environmental protection is steadily becoming more pronounced. The latest example is the Republicans' full-fledged assault on environmental rules and the Environmental Protection agency. The vehicle for their mission in the House of Representatives is the budget section of the government's 2012 spending bill for the Interior Department and the EPA.

39 anti-environmental riders

Before House members adjourned for the August recess, Republicans had attached 39 anti-environmental amendments, known as "riders," to the budget bills for these departments. These riders directly concern a range of specific issues, including greenhouse gases, mountaintop removal mining, clean water protections, coal ash regulation, wilderness protection, fuel economy for vehicles, waters flowing into the Everglades, and uranium mining around the Grand Canyon, among many other subjects.

Beyond these major issues, some riders reach down to model practices. One would end funding for the Energy Star program, which informs shoppers on energy efficiency measurements in appliances. Rep. Marsh Blackburn, of Tennessee, proposes a rider to bar funds for research or use of energy efficient lights. Rep. Austin Scott, of Georgia, would bar funds for climate change research.

All these riders broadly seek, in the language of one, to bar use of the federal funds to "prepare, propose, promulgate, finalize, implement or enforce any regulation..." that would improve environmental protections relative to new or increasing threats, or that would hinder current or future industrial emissions, practices and risky environmental intrusions.

The worst of the riders would protect and prolong egregious environmental assaults by industry. One, for example, would weaken existing protections regarding mountaintop removal mining. Another would thwart efforts to impose a long-sought "stream buffer rule" to halt the dumping of mountain-top removal "overburden" -- earth, trees, rocks and dirt -- into the valley streams below. Such practices have already destroyed more than 1,500 miles of streams, and polluted many more.

Massey Energy Co. in West Virginia, which is already charged with massive mining safety violations and the deaths of 29 miners in its Upper Big Branch mine last year, has just offered $35 million to settle a 7-year-lawsuit filed by hundreds of West Virginia residents who claim the mining company poisoned their drinking water sources with coal slurry.

Such violations beg the question: Why would Republicans want to hamper the authority of the EPA, in this instance, to protect communities' water supplies from rapacious environmental destruction? The Clean Water Act should have protected their water resources decades ago.

Why would Republicans want to continue to allow risky coal-ash impoundments, like the TVA impoundment that burst on Dec. 22, 2008, releasing 1.1 billion gallons of toxic sludge into the Tennessee River -- the largest release of toxic chemicals in the nation's history?

Why would they want to bar regulations that would finally -- 41 years after the passage of the Clean Air Act -- force the nation's dirtiest electric power utilities to stop the massive and deadly emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the air that covers the Eastern seaboard of the United States?

The single most obvious reason for Republicans' stunted anti-environmental posture is that they have become joined at the hip with the worst of the business lobbyists -- those that defend harmful pollution and who fund their campaigns. It is these lobbyists and their corporate masters who chafe at the incremental costs of the unfinished business of cleaning up or preventing industrial waste, and who spur endless conflicts by harmful industrial practices in new arenas.

Protecting fracking

The increasingly controversial issue of fracking is one of these. It involves the fracturing of shale deposits through the use of hazardous chemicals and pressurized water to force the release of untapped methane and natural gas. Environmental studies document the likelihood of vast contamination of ground water and aquifer resources from fracking. These findings have prompted community advocates to demand hearings to determine the full extent of environmental hazards and to fix reasonable rules. So why would Republicans interfere with reasonable efforts to safeguard public water supplies from the pollution of toxic chemicals in fracking, if not at the behest of the gas industry?

Not all Republicans oppose environmental protection. It was Republican President Richard Nixon, after all, who established the EPA in 1970. The GOP's "Green Elephants" -- the party's "Republicans for Environmental Protection" faction -- moreover, represent a committed counterpart to the Tea Party types who are controlling the party's anti-environmental agenda.

But until the Green Elephants become dominant in their party, Americans can't trust Republicans to take care of the environment.