Friday, February 17, 2017

EPA and Environment Doomed? Remember Reagan and James Watt?

Senate Vote Puts Seasoned Foe of E.P.A. in Its Top Job

If you read nothing but this NY Times story, published today as its top story ( Senate Confirms Scott Pruitt as E.P.A. Head) , you will probably be pretty gloomy about the future of the Environmental Protection Agency and the future of our environment. Since we are part of the environment, you could be gloomy about the survival of humans as well.

But here are some other things to consider. As I pointed out when Trump first won the electoral college, the federal government does not have a monoply on environmental protection. The states, counties and local governments also enact and enforce environmental law.

No better example of this exists than California, which has far outstripped the federal government in enacting protections for the state's air and water and other environmental features. California stepped up to bat on environmental issues half a century ago and has stayed in the forefront of the game. As a result the state banished the plaguey smog attacks that smothered the skies of Southern California and then the San Francisco Bay Area.

I had watched as choking and blinding smog enshrouded the Los Angles basin beginning in the mid-1950s. Then I saw it envelop the Bay Area in the late 1960s. While the Bay Area had complacently sneered at smoggy LA, auto pollution, backyard burning, and industrial pollution had contaminated its own blue skies.

But the people and politicians of California fought back. My recollection is that they even went to the Supreme Court to ratify their claim that a state could enact more stringent air pollution standards than the federal government had adopted. But Supreme Court green light or not, California faced down the then most powerful lobbies in the nation: the mighty auto industry and the oil industry. It enacted and enforced regulations that rid the state of the killer smog. It did this in spite of the opposition of the antediluvians such as Governor Ronald Reagan, who — like Trump — could wear his ignorance as a proud badge, famously proclaiming that smog was actually produced by tule reeds and by gaseous expulsions from the rear ends of cows.

We can thank Reagan for actually cheering us up right now. When we look at what he unleashed against the environment when he was president, we know that things were bad back then but good people stopped the damage. He appointed the all-time worst Secretary of the Interior, a dedicated oil and gas man named James Watt. Wikipedia sums up well Watt's dedication to destroying our natural world:

"Environmental groups accused Watt of reducing funding for environmental programs, restructuring the department to decrease federal regulatory power, wanting to eliminate the Land and Water Conservation Fund which aimed at increasing the area of wildlife refuges and other protected land, easing regulations of oil and mining,directing the National Park Service to draft rules that would de-authorize congressionally authorized national parks, and recommending lease of wilderness and shore lands such as Santa Monica Bay to explore and develop oil and gas.
"Watt resisted accepting donation of private land to be used for conservation.He suggested that 80 million acres (320,000 km²) of undeveloped land in the United States all be opened for drilling and mining by 2000. The area leased to coal mining quintupled during his term as Secretary of the Interior. Watt boasted that he leased "a billion acres" (4 million km²) of coastal waters, even though only a small portion of that area would ever be drilled. Watt once stated, "We will mine more, drill more, cut more timber." James G. Watt - Wikipedia

His boss, Reagan was widely quoted  as saying, "If you've seen one redwood you've see them all." Apparently he actually said, "“A tree is a tree. How many more do you have to look at?” If You've Seen One Redwood, You've Seen Them All -- Not ... I consider this an equally Trumpian remark, demonstrating the speaker's profound ignorance.

Aha! you say, the people of California were able to protect their environment because California is a Democratic state. Not back then. And not reliably Democratic until recent years. Remember that other movie star governor, Arnold Schwartzenagger? When President George W. Bush wanted to hand over the country's wilderness areas to mining, drilling, and logging GOP Governor Arnold led a rebellion that defeated George W. Joining Arnold were the (then) GOP states of  Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, Virginia, North Carolina, Maine and South Carolina. (This story of the governors' rebellion is recounted by an old friend of mine, former Sierra Club president, Carl Pope at  If You've Seen One Redwood, You've Seen Them All -- Not ...)

Americans of both parties love their country, America the Beautiful. I think even Trump supporters, that sullen 35% of the electorate, cherish our mountains and rivers, clean air and clean skies. I believe there will be real limits on the destructive policies of Trump and his EPA appointment because the laws and regulations that protect our national treasures were not sprung from the hearts of bureaucrats that Trump demonizies. The laws and regulations are from the hearts and wishes of the American people. 

True, those who have lost jobs digging coal and drilling oil want those jobs back, but it isn't regulations and laws that killed those jobs. The market place did. Oil and coal are now becoming more expensive than alternative, renewal energy. Their day is done. Banks won't lend for the development of fossil fuels.

Yes, the Senate has approved Scott Pruitt,Trump's bad appointment to head the EPA, but James Watt got Senate approval in his day too. 

James Watt lasted only two years. 

So go sing a song to our beautiful country. How about "This land is your land, this land is my land." And don't let those who love money and hate our natural beauty steal your joy. 

This land is indeed our land, and it certainly isn't theirs!

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