Analysis 6

This week was a rough one, so far as environmental-climate policy in America goes.

At a time when our international allies are urging us in the U.S. to keep true to our Paris Climate promises — which is starting to look altogether unclear — the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scott Pruitt visited a coal mine in Pennsylvania and basically said: “Your jobs are coming back.”

What’s more, President Trump and his environmental-climate wonks are ‘reconsidering’ an Obama-era rule that impacts regulating toxic wastewater emissions from coal-fired power plants (coal power plants detrimentally impact climate change, not to mention public health) while also backing off from a city-smog rule.

What else is at stake here with this administration and its ‘War on Climate’ anyhow?

I introduced Christopher McGrory Klyza’s and David J. Sousa’s book on “American Environmental Politics: Beyond Gridlock” (2012) in the second week’s analysis — all the way back when the Congressional Review Act was just starting to wreck havoc on late-term Obama rules and regulations.

The latest reprint of the book — 2012 — takes an overly optimistic tone, to say the very least. Convinced that Obama’s presidency would somehow further establish more progressive environmental building blocks in his second term, the authors end their second-edition analysis with a chapter titled: “The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same.”

In this epilogue of a chapter, Klyza and Sousa re-examine all of the case studies presented throughout their analysis, namely the contentious ‘Roadless Rule’, the Reagan-Bush/Clinton-to-Clinton/Bush transfers of ‘environmental protection’ powers, and project how the path of environmental policy will extend in the foreseeable future. Klyza and Sousa contend that, despite consistent and increasing gridlock in the U.S. Congress, American environmental policy will still find itself moving towards this (arguably true) ‘green shift’ in favor of greater conservation, a framework that the authors charted from the ‘golden era’ of American environmental politics in the 1960s and 70s.

“When it comes to U.S. environmental policy, however,” the authors write in their ending chapter, drama over the last six years has been “largely lacking” (p. 285).

I wonder what — or if — the authors would publish in 2018, another six years after the second edition hit the shelves, full of Obama-inspired climate optimism.

Are they still as hopeful as they were five years ago, now that we’re almost five months in Trump’s climate change is a ‘waste of your money’ term? Could Klyza and Sousa have predicted such a shift in tone from Obama’s to Trump’s climate agenda? Will they offer any ideas for future mitigation and adaptation — not of climate change, merely, but of Trump’s butchering of recent environmental policy gains?

In 2012, the 2011 House of Representatives was quoted as “the most anti-environmental in our nation’s history” by the League of Conservation Voters (p. 294). Newt Gingrich, Republican presidential candidate during Obama’s re-election year, quite candidly proposed abolishing the EPA, while Herman Cain called the EPA “out of control. The EPA has gone wild.” (p. 288).

Was all this hatred for the EPA manifested in the last election? Have ultra-conservative, right-wing Republicans really sat on their heels and waited to unleash their angst against an agency that, with its slim-pickings budget, will now include 24/7 security for its controversial leader?

Klyza and Sousa (2012) are right to point out that “environmental policy in many areas has been remarkably unstable despite the stability of the basic statutory frameworks governing pollution, conservation, and natural resources” (p. 281) — just look through the last week’s headlines and you’ll get the idea.

As alarming as recent trends have been, not all of these ideas (e.g., fossil fuels in the White House, EPA is unnecessary and a horrible burden) are new.

What I’m finding, with all this historical literature I’m reading, is that our current ‘manifest destiny’ is just a bigger, better re-hash of old Republican moves, used in the presidencies before the Obama era.

President Bush put a few controversial picks in open natural resources slots, namely Mark Rey, “once a leading lobbyist for the timber industry, in charge of forest policy at the Agriculture Department, and Steven Griles, a lobbyist for coal and oil interests, in charge of BLM [Bureau of Land Management] lands, wildlife refuges, national monuments, and national parks at the Department of the Interior” (p. 268).

Why do all the industry lobbyists get a leg in with recent Republican presidents? Surely, there has to be more qualified scientists in this country, who have actually studied natural resource conservation in a rigorous and balance-bias academic setting, and who could more justly serve in these positions of great federal power, over their fossil-fuel counterparts?

Perhaps, the overhead question I keep coming back to is: What will it take to give climate change issues more salience with this country’s citizens? The authors write about the lack of environmental policy questions in the 2006 election debates (p. 263) — and we arguably had the same issue 10 years later!

The notion that “few politician will risk proclaiming they are anti-green” I believe is a false one in today’s anti-regulatory environment — or at least an unfounded one, given current trends in Congress and in policy advancements overall in the last three months.

We’re a nation divided. Divided by cities and countryside. Divided by pocket change and empty pockets. Divided by race. Divided by gender. Divided by ‘progressive’ green thinking and the coal ‘lords of yesterday’.

The contours of our common environment is what unites us all. How can we, the United States of America, find common ground on our common ground?

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