Part I: Mission Statement
This is the first in a planned series on Bush's environmental record
Environmental protection is a progressive obligation. By that, I mean specifically that rolling back regulations should not be the focus of the EPA. (It's similar to the logic that explaining to employers how to work around overtime regulations should not be a focus of the Labor Department.)
Industry spends plenty of money on lobbyists to stymie federal efforts to set costly regulations. That side in the tug-of-war is accounted for. The other side, the EPA, is supposed to pull back. From their website:
The mission of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment--air, water, and land--upon which life depends.
Noticeably absent is anything about responsibilities to industry. Noticeably absent is anything about a regressive directive. From an article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (via a poster on Kos)
Bush's Environmental Protection Agency has halted work on sixty-two environmental standards, the Food and Drug Administration has stopped work on fifty-seven standards. The EPA completed just two major rules -- both under court order and both watered down at industry request -- compared to twenty-three completed by the Clinton administration and fourteen by the Bush Sr. administration in their first two years.
Even compared to Bush Sr., GWB's record stands out as anti-progressive. But it goes further:
Penalties imposed for environmental violations have plummeted under Bush. The EPA has proposed eliminating 270 enforcement staffers, which would drop staff levels to the lowest level ever. Inspections of polluting businesses have dipped fifteen percent. Criminal cases referred for federal prosecution have dropped forty percent. The EPA measures its success by the amount of pollution reduced or prevented as a result of its own actions. Last year, the EPA's two most senior career enforcement officials resigned after decades of service. They cited the administration's refusal to carry out environmental laws.
Now you don't have to be a tree-hugger to understand that under Bush's leadership, the EPA is simply not doing its job.
It's normally about this time someone will suggest that Bush is simply rolling back the excesses of the Clinton Administration, but that argument ignores history:
Clean-air laws in England, passed in the fourteenth century, made it a capital offense to burn coal in London, and violators were executed for the crime. These "public trust" rights to unspoiled air, water and wildlife descended to the people of the United States following the American Revolution. Until 1870, a factory releasing even small amounts of smoke onto public or private property was operating illegally.
But during the Gilded Age, when the corporate robber barons captured the political and judicial systems, those rights were stolen from the American people. As the Industrial Revolution morphed into the postwar industrial boom, Americans found themselves paying a high price for the resulting pollution. The wake-up call came in the late Sixties, when Lake Erie was declared dead and Cleveland's Cuyahoga River exploded in colossal infernos.
In 1970, more than 20 million Americans took to the streets protesting the state of the environment on the first Earth Day. Whether they knew it or not, they were demanding a return of ancient rights.
The truth is that industry has continually pushed back against regulation, and understandably so, but to balance things out, the EPA is supposed to be working to protect human health, not corporate wealth. Bush has willfully upset that balance.
Upcoming parts of this series will look at specifics.