Okay. This is about a Republican bill that has a few Democrat supporters. So if you are a Republican you can get all cranky about this column but this is not a partisan column because it is based on facts presented by the Republicans and their actions, attitudes, and rhetoric regarding climate change and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the years. Republicans and some Democrats own this one.
Let’s first consider the meaning of the EPA and its mission; to protect the environment. Many Republicans since even before they took the majority on the Hill have complained that EPA regulations are burdensome, expensive to comply with, and probably will eliminate jobs. Some, but not much, of that is true or proven, however Republicans have gained greatly in putting out such conclusions as though they are fact particularly in an environment of unemployment which, by the way, has fallen greatly over the past seven years despite the EPA’s ruining things with regulation overreach as Republicans hold.
So what’s with HR 2042, a bill that significantly rolls back influence of the EPA’s efforts to regulate towards a healthier environment? The bill originated after the EPA has proposed rules regulating carbon emissions from power plants that scientist have determined is a major source of climate change or global warming. A great majority of scientist hold it to be true that global warming is the result of several things but predominantly man-made CO2 emissions which, apparently bill sponsor Rep. Ed. Whitfield (R-KY-1) doesn’t agree with or doesn’t care about. Of course Whitfield is not a scientist but that’s okay; he can draw such conclusions and then state as Lynn Rick Scott, Florida’s governor, has when denying that the climate is changing and sea levels are rising in Miami; that he’s ‘not a scientist’. Somehow that explains the ignorance.
We are a country – although made up of 50 individual states – and it is the Federal government that oversees national matters and that means governing issues important to all citizens in all States. HR 2042 diminishes the Federal government’s ability to do its job…protect the environment. HR 2042 puts certain environmental protection in the hands of the States and that’s a problem. We need only look back to the 1960’s when the EPA was shaped up and almost out of the gate identified Superfund sites, sites so grossly polluted by businesses (and in some cases States) nation-wide that they threatened human health, caused deaths and misery. Several still exist and as those are improved they too will been done at taxpayers’ expense.
States, then, don’t exactly have a track record of environmental protection but HR 2042 would clearly put that power to abuse the environment by businesses back in the hands of the States based on the idea that States can better regulate themselves than the Federal government can but the bill leaves out some significant facts which would be inconvenient to bill supporters and they, when seen in the light of day, would not justify the bill’s intent.
What Whitfield and his supporters conveniently overlook is this; the EPA protects our environment. To Whitfield business is more important and that position is tremendously weak because if we gut EPA’ authority to accomplish its mission and allow businesses to make environmental decisions in the interest of profits, we have to ask ourselves if a business success is more important than a healthy environment?
Considering the importance of a healthy environment to individuals and businesses you would want the EPA to be strict and then roll back from there if the difference between the idea and the reality is significant. Unless, of course a not too polluted environment is okay with you. But Whitfield and his supporters just seem to want to clear the decks of the EPA and leave such decisions up to states. And there is where the mantra of states’ rights fails in HR 2042; what do you get if one or more states decide that controlling emission is not in the interest of the state while desperately looking for ways to, say, bolster its economy and so chooses a solution that grossly pollutes the air? If that was done in Virginia and DC, for example, the impact would be in the States of Maryland and Delaware due to prevailing winds. States are not isolated in their actions.
But let’s not worry about this because it is off in the future and, you know, scientists can cook the details right? Wrong. Pollution is not off in the future it is a growing problem now. Adding to it so business can make money is nothing short of childish ignorance of a reality that is becoming obvious if you just look around to, say, Massachusetts where studies have shown serious adverse health impact from certain power plants on those who live nearby.
If the bill becomes law we will see the next step in this nonsense as typified by how things went with Peter Grace’s asbestos mines in Montana. Grace and the US Navy knew about but covered up the terrible health impacts of asbestos exposure leading to many miserable deaths and continued to incapacitate others. Once it came out that asbestos was dangerous to human health thousands of lawsuits against Grace came up with many gaining settlements over $1 million. So, how did that go? Halliburton bought Grace’s business and liabilities while former Vice President Dick Cheney was a Halliburton official. When Cheney was Vice President the Republican Senate attempted to regulate the outcomes of the thousands of lawsuits by limiting payouts to victims to $250,000 or less with numerous caveats to further reduce those payouts such as if the victim also smoked tobacco. While the Senate legislation did not pass it shows you where Whitfield’s bill can take us.
Hamilton on Congress
Learning to Be a Citizen
By Lee H. Hamilton
The question usually comes toward the end of a public meeting. Some knotty problem is being discussed, and someone in the audience will raise his or her hand and ask, “Okay, so what can I do about it?”
I love that question. Not because I’ve ever answered it to my satisfaction, but because it bespeaks such a constructive outlook. Democracy is no spectator sport and citizens are not passive consumers. I’m always invigorated by running into people who understand this. But that doesn’t make answering the question any easier.
The usual advice that politicians give is to vote, work for a candidate, let your elected officials know what you think, join an organization of like-minded citizens, and participate in community life. This is good counsel — but only as far as it goes. With a little more time now to answer the question, I’d add a few points.
First, it’s important that citizens appreciate how hard it is to solve problems in a representative democracy. Every issue — even a stop sign at a corner — is more complex than it appears. The best way to learn this is to become an expert on a single topic. You can’t study every issue, but you can pick one and dig in, whether it’s a big problem like climate change or a smaller one, such as how to get food delivered to shut-ins in your community.
Understanding and appreciating all aspects of the issue is the best way to see how and where you can make progress. It also makes you more patient with others — including elected officials — who are trying to resolve other thorny challenges.
It’s also vital to learn that solving problems means working together with all kinds of people. It requires bringing different points of view together, developing connections to key players in your community, talking face-to-face with others who may not agree with you, and communicating your ideas effectively — including to the media. This is the surest way I know to understand differences, and to learn that these differences can exist without personal animosity. That, in turn, is a key step toward recognizing the common ground on which you can build agreement.
Many of the people I know who answered the call of citizenship did so to resolve a specific issue: getting the railroad signal at a crossing to work; improving food labeling so diabetics could know how much sugar packaged food contains; improving a watershed to help a community manage its water supply. Sometimes, people want to address a situation they don’t like — what they consider to be over-spending, or a politician whose priorities they disagree with. Sometimes they just want to contribute to the direction and success of their community.
There is a key lesson that comes from trying to solve a particular problem: it tends to make you less ideological and more pragmatic. It forces you to examine the options in front of you and the resources at hand to help you pursue them. You have to judge whether a given option can gather sufficient support in the community to go forward, and realize that you can’t solve everything; sometimes you have to put particular problems aside and come back to them another day, when circumstances have shifted.
There are plenty of people who find all this frustrating and give up. Many others devote their lives to it, whether as community participants, engaged activists, or public servants. Politics is not a game for everyone, and there are many other ways to be involved in community life. Regardless of the avenue they choose, it’s the people who step forward who refresh this country and make it stronger.
Our Constitution’s preamble begins, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union….” At heart, that’s what getting involved means: shouldering the challenges, sharing responsibilities and opportunities that democracy thrusts upon us as we pursue a more perfect union. That’s what I want to say to the people who ask, “What can I do about it?” The journey is hard and complicated, but it’s immensely satisfying. Few rewards can match your satisfaction when your fellow citizens thank you for a job well done.
Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.
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