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Sacrificing the Environment for Profits and Politics

Ken Nesmith

The Republican Party has never been considered exceptionally friendly toward the environment. Whenever a dispute arises over some regulation or law that will protect the environment by limiting pollution or restricting the exploitation of resources, the party fights valiantly against the increased costs that business will face as a result of the government mandate to act responsibly and to not poison or destroy habitats.

Unfortunately, this opposition is sometimes grounded not in any understanding or comprehension of the problems we can create for ourselves by disrespecting the environment, but rather in a reflexive action to defend the abilities of entrepreneurs to maximize profits however they may be able. The greatest crime is regulation, in any form.

In that context, the actions of the Bush administration within the first fourteenth of their four-year tenure are understandable but no less disappointing. The president has eliminated OSHA ergonomics standards in order to save businesses the costs of keeping their workplaces in line with the regulations, even though the medical costs saved by constructing a safer workplace far exceed the price of compliance. The environment, though, has suffered more of the injuries inherent to this philosophy.

Showing us exactly what the honor and integrity of the Oval Office inevitably boils away to, President Bush, his coffers flush with oil-industry funding, reversed a campaign promise and chose not to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, despite the increasing evidence that indicates that carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are directly responsible for amplifying the periodic warming of the earth.

Others within Bush’s own administration, including Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill and Environmental Protection Agency director Christine Todd Whitman, were forced to do some verbal gymnastics to rectify their own statements on the dangers of global warming in light of the President’s altered stance.

The president’s high-profile snubbing of the Kyoto protocol, which would just begin to address excessive greenhouse gas emissions, angered the international community -- as it should have, given the excessiveness of U.S. consumption and corresponding pollution, along with our unwillingness to make even the slightest change in our habits.

On the issue of arsenic in drinking water, Bush overturned an EPA ruling that would lower the legal amount of arsenic in water from 50 parts per billion to 10 ppb, a standard first proposed in 1962. The EPA took 17 years to carefully research the matter and arrive at an appropriate standard, but intense lobbying by industries the make use of the carcinogen succeeded, and the implementation of a new standard was put on hold pending further research.

These industries gave well over $1 million to the Republican party last year. Their own attempts to fund counterstudies suggesting that arsenic is not as harmful as thought have failed repeatedly, as those scientists employed explore the extensive research on the subject and fail to draw any other alternative conclusion. One Harvard researcher, Dr. Richard Wilson, was hired by ARCO Mining Company to demonstrate that the high levels of the substance were acceptable, but upon studying what he now calls the “unequivocal” science, he instead recommended that an “emergency” arsenic reduction of at least 60 percent be implemented until further research could be done.

These poor choices have cast the President in the public eye as one who is not especially sensitive to, or even aware of, the catastrophic problems we can traipse into when we blithely ignore the long term consequences of our actions.

Vice President Dick Cheney, a former oil industry executive, revealed his own ignorance of destructive American gluttony in a recent discussion of national energy policy. Rather than finding ways to reduce our inefficient and excessive consumption, the United States -- which uses several times the resources per capita of any other nation, industrialized or not -- will seek to increase its energy supply through methods that will do nothing to solve the problems we face.

Instead of researching viable alternatives to fossil fuels, inefficient transportation, or ineffective power transmission systems -- funds for each decline dramatically under the Bush budget -- the new energy policy and the corresponding budget subsidize oil exploration, the auto industry, and in the near future, the construction of more power plants. Rather than cutting already exorbitant demand or pursuing efficient production methods, we look to the same ineffective and destructive solutions that force us to wish pollution away and to dabble militarily at great cost in the Middle East far more than we might like.

Disturbingly, these fatuous but determined efforts to find more oil and make more energy hold the American “way of life,” marked by single-minded greed and destructive consumption, as a sacrosanct institution that must not be altered. Somehow, those currently in power have become blinded to the necessary common sense that demands that we find a way to live in dynamic equilibrium with the environment, carefully living off of it while not destroying it.

While Clinton faced endless and sometimes deserved criticism for his habit of sacrificing moral virtue for the sake of personal gain, Bush has shown that he prefers to sacrifice not moral virtue, but the environment itself in the name of profits. Discouragingly, the young among us are the ones who will pay the greatest price for these decisions. One hundred days, and all is not well.