Fear of Clowns

"Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable."
- H. L. Mencken

Monday, September 27, 2004

The environment: an issue on which Kerry can't lose - and might win 

For about a week, I've been intending to make a post on environmental issues in relation to our nation's upcoming presidential choice. Environmental issues have taken a back seat to terrorism, wars, tax cuts, torture and murder at the hands of US troops, service medals, missing service records, Laci Peterson, Kobi Bryant, and how to eat a philly cheese steak. Even though the threat of global warming is far more dangerous than the threat of terrorism.

This administration entered into office with an admittedly genius strategy: say they thought it was important to exploit the miniscule amount of oil under the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - a controversial topic that even in the minds of some environmentalists could be done responsibly. The media only devotes a certain amount of time and space to environmental issues, so this White House's uncontroversial anti-environmental policies went mostly unnoticed until America became more worried about anthrax rain than acid rain. At that point, the coast was clear for polluting.

I had thought that is would have a complaining tone - but in this past week, more and more environmental issues have started to get the spotlight in places more visible than activist's websites and personal blogs.

From the lead editorial in today's Washington Post,

Certainly there is no doubt about President Bush's belief in the need to reduce environmental regulation in order to ease the constraints on industries most affected by it. Although the administration has made few dramatic changes, it has rewritten an extraordinary number of rules, for example, to allow older utilities to upgrade their facilities without adding pollution control equipment; to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide emissions, the most important source of "greenhouse gases"; to loosen the regulation of mercury emissions; to limit the amount of land that can be formally declared "wilderness"; to make logging easier in old-growth forests. The president himself has flip-flopped, as his campaign would put it, on the question of the urgency of climate change, first expressing interest in the issue, then walking away from it, then delaying discussion by proposing "further studies."

The official line of the Bush administration has been that environmental regulation of the past has been extreme and we need to be more moderate. Their environmental regulatory philosophy was encapsulated by their Director of Regulatory Affairs, John D. Graham,

There are two major perils associated with an extreme approach to precaution. One is that technological innovation will be stifled, and we all recognize that innovation has played a major role in economic progress throughout the world. A second peril, more subtle, is that public health and the environment would be harmed as the energies of regulators and the regulated community would be diverted from known or plausible hazards to speculative and ill-founded ones. For these reasons, please do not be surprised if the US government continues to take a precautionary approach to calls for adoption of a universal precautionary principle in regulatory policy.

That is, pollution brings about economic progress and regulating polluters is sometimes detrimental to health. If that seems an unfair synopsis, check this:

Graham is the guy who says how and what environmental laws are enforced by the Bush administration. That's really all you need to know about Bush and the environment. (I imagine pro-lifers are overjoyed that the Bush doen't just protect unborn babies, but goes the extra mile by ensuring they are protected after birth by sufficient amounts of smog and dioxin.)

Of all the candidates in the Democratic primary, John Kerry had the highest lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters. That might be all you need to know about Kerry and the environment. If not, the Sierra Club has a few things to say about Kerry and environmental issues. The League of Conservation Voters' Environmental Victory Project has already knocked on half a million doors in five swing states and offers a comparision of Bush and Kerry on the environment.

It seems to me that if swing voters are unsure of their vote - wondering if they're being impatient for the tax cuts to work, confused about Iraq, befuddled about national security, perplexed about healthcare, not too concerned about the abortion issue either way - it may come down to latching on to an issue on which they see a clear distinction. The natural environment is quite rightly and easily linked to other issues: healthcare, national security and the long-term economy.

The Bush campaign knows they're vulnerable on this issue and has used the only weapon available to them: toxic sludge.

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