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Monday, October 24, 2016

Dutifully following their Tea Party scripts, most of the Republican presidential candidates have declared war on the Environmental Protection Agency. They claim that the economy is being smothered by regulations designed to keep our air and water safe.

No iota of evidence is being offered, and in fact the record profits of big energy companies indicate a spectacular lack of suffering.

But listen to Rep. Michele Bachmann’s promise to an Iowa crowd about one of her first presidential priorities: “I guarantee you the EPA will have doors locked and lights turned off, and they will only be about conservation. It will be a new day and a new sheriff in Washington, D.C.”

Granted, Bachmann is a witless parrot who has no chance — absolutely zero — of being elected to the White House. But her hatred of the EPA is shared by Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who is considered a GOP frontrunner.

Like Bachmann, Perry refuses to accept that global warming is real. He launched a lawsuit to stop the EPA from enacting rules to limit greenhouse gasses from oil refineries, power plants and other industrial sources.

Perry likes to whine that “EPA regulations are killing jobs all across America,” a statement that draws more cheers in his native state than in the rest of the country. In fact, polls show that a large majority of Americans are worried about air and water pollution, and hold a positive view of the EPA.

Nothing kills jobs like an environmental catastrophe, as the Gulf Coast gravely experienced during (and after) the BP oil spill last year. The true cost of that accident to the economies of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida is probably incalculable, although surely many billions of dollars were lost.

The cleanup wasn’t perfect, but it’s absurd to think that BP would have worked faster or more efficiently if the Obama administration and the EPA hadn’t been leaning on the company, both publicly and behind closed doors.

Forty-one years ago the agency was formed, and for good reason: Toxins by the ton were being flagrantly pumped into this country’s rivers, bays and oceans, and blown through smokestacks into the air. People were getting sick and dying only because some companies were too greedy to spend money cleaning up their own mess.

The corporate mentality toward pollution has changed because the alternatives are heavy fines, criminal penalties and savage publicity. A reminder of why we still need the EPA was last month’s oil spill on the Yellowstone River, which affected ranchers, farmers, fishing guides and rafting companies. It also occurred seven months after Exxon Mobil insisted that its pipeline would never rupture because it was buried too deep.

Of all the reasons government exists, none is more crucial than trying to keep its citizens safe, whether from a terrorist attack, Wall Street’s recklessness or industrial poisoning.

Not surprisingly, surveys show that most Americans want their children to grow up drinking clean water and breathing clean air. How, then, to explain the radical hostility of Bachmann, Perry, Newt Gingrich and some of the other Republican candidates?

First, it’s about raising money. The petroleum and coal conglomerates are huge GOP donors, and they’d love to have a president who would gut the EPA.

Second, it’s about politics. To win Republican primaries — the theory goes — a candidate must fire up the Wingnut Right. The easiest way to do that is to brainlessly bash whatever government does.

Perry specializes in this, even though almost half of Texas’ vaunted employment growth has been in the public sector — government jobs, in other words. You won’t hear the governor complain about the $200 billion that U.S. taxpayers pump into his state’s economy annually for military bases and related industries.

One thing to emerge from the Republicans’ attacks on the EPA is the early campaign path of Mitt Romney. Clearly, his strategy is to appear less loony and misinformed than his rivals.

Romney says the EPA has an important role, and furthermore he has actually conceded that global warming is a fact. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney expressed interest in a carbon cap-and-trade program, and proposed a plan to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions.

Predictably, with the primaries looming, Romney now says he opposes regulating carbon dioxide and other gases linked to climate change. As he and the other GOP candidates begin piling into Florida for the long campaign, pay attention to their rhetoric about the dreaded EPA.

The economy here would crumble if the environment was left unprotected. Florida can’t survive without tourism, and tourism dies when tar balls and rotting fish turn up on the beach.

What remains of the long-polluted Everglades would also be doomed without a federal regulatory presence, however cumbersome. Doomed, too, would be South Florida’s chief source of fresh water, upon which business growth depends — not to mention the future of about eight million people.

Yet don’t be surprised if Perry and Bachmann arrive here clinging to the Tea Party narrative that government oversight is inherently evil. They’d like us to kindly forget about that little mishap in the Gulf of Mexico last year, and other manmade though preventable disasters.

It’s easier to ignore the past and stick to the script, especially if someone else is writing it.

(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)

  • kurt.lorentzen

    Well Carl, I’m pretty sure you’ve never had to deal with EPA-imposed regulation in your business. Even at the lowest levels, EPA regulation adds significantly to the operational and infrastructural costs of many businesses. Now these are businesses that are struggling to keep their head above water. But even by marginally doing so they are employing the only Americans that produce real, tangible product – no one employed by the government does that, and everyone employed by the government gets their paycheck courtesy of those businesses. Over the course of the last couple of decades people in my local community have seen EPA requirements shut down two of our largest local employers. They just couldn’t afford to install and maintain the additional equipment required to meet “EPA standards” (and they installed lots of stuff in the process of trying). These are businesses that have been in operation for 60, 70 years. The combination of those two businesses going down put about 600 family-wage workers out of a job, affected businesses where those people no longer could afford to shop, and increased the burden on remaining production workers to pay unemployment benefits for those 600 families. Nobody thinks chemical plants should be able to dump toxic waste into rivers, but where’s that “balanced” approach you keep touting when it comes to the EPA? If the US economy is to rebound (or survive at all) we need to put people to work in REAL, PRODUCTIVE jobs, and believe me the pomp and protocol at the government level required to even set up shop is daunting. And when combined with EPA zealousness, tax liabilities, etc. is it any wonder US business is all leaving the country?

  • twilli

    The elimination of regulations will cost jobs as well. It takes researcher and staff to find solutions that can be implemented. Secondly, if companies would rather close then implement EPA mandated solutions, then they did not have the environment in mind to start with, in short they were looking for the quick dollar and the the long term health of the company. This validates the need for the EPA and its “regulations”. The example of the two companies that shut down and layoff 600 workers shows that eventually they would have had to leave anyway when the environment or the illness of the local community cost got to high anyway. Suffer not or suffer later. They went for instant gratification (high profits) over long term investment and sustainability. Which is better, guess its all in your point of view.

  • kurt.lorentzen

    Twilli, can you hear yourself? Not a single point in your response to my first post addresses the issue of why the EPA needs to be reigned in. Let’s look at them one at a time:
    1) “It takes researcher and staff to find solutions that can be implemented” – researchers and staff COST businesses, these are not workers that go to producing whatever product a business depends on for their revenues. It’s never been the role of business to pay people for not producing.
    2) “In short they were looking for [profitability] and the long term health of the company”. –
    Are you kidding? Of course they were looking for profit and the long-term health of the company. Exactly why is it that you think people go into business? I can tell you it’s for profit. And in the process they become employers, taxpayers, enablers of other taxpayers. These are the ONLY real source of anything that ultimately translates to anything financial.
    3) “the two companies that shut down and layoff 600 workers shows that eventually they would have had to leave anyway when the environment or the illness of the local community” – That’s preposterous. This kind of unfounded assumption is akin to cultism.
    4) “They went for instant gratification (high profits) over long term investment and sustainability.” – I don’t believe 6 to 7 decades constitutes “instant gratification”. But I’m sure any business owner would agree that that kind of longevity does indeed constitute “long term investment and sustainability”. In the end, their impact on the local environment had been tested for many decades. Was there some? Sure. But enough to force them into unprofitablilty? Not a chance. When they closed, everybody lost – not just people in a small community, but every taxpayer who had to foot the bill for worker unemployment benefits, relocation, and re-training. Oh and by the way, you also paid the millions in “environmental cleanup” after they closed.


    Kurt, it is my understanding that a $500,000 blow out valve which was required by the E.P.A. but was waived by some bureaucrat could have prevented that whole mess. The billions saved could have rebuilt crumpling infrastructure or gone to college grants to improve our world competitiveness. I admit all government is burdensome and some of it unnecessary but without it you have chaos.

  • twilli

    Kurt, You sum up the real issue wonderfully in Item #4 above. If there had been proper regulations and if they had followed them, there would have been no cleanup required. More then likely jobs would have been saved and retaining, unemployment benefits would not have been needed to be paid and no one would have to relocate. Your way, is good for business, but hurts the environment and the customers and employees. Welcome to the world of Bladerunner……..

  • jhstans

    I am always fascinated by stores of anonymous towns being virtually wiped off the map by government regulations. There is never a reference or a name or a state or a company — nothing except the same ongoing whine about the mean nasty government interfering in a companies God given right to poison its surroundings and anyone who lives down wind or downstream.