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Environmental Masochism

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Pollution is non-partisan when it comes to claiming victims. That is why it is astonishing to find a majority of Republican respondents in a recent national poll favoring the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Even politicians most sharply critical of the EPA readily concede that progress in curbing pollution over the last four decades is largely due to the federal agency’'s enforcement of landmark environmental laws passed by Congress in the 1970s’. Past success, however, does not mean that victory is at hand. Empirical evidence dictates it is delusional to think that the battle against pollution has been won, or that the remaining problems can be resolved through regulation-free spontaneity on industry’s part.

So what was the majority of the prospective Republican voters in this poll thinking? Certainly not the thoughts held by the overwhelming majority of Americans according to a poll of all party affiliations conducted by the Rasmussen organization. Three out of every four respondents in the Rasmussen survey opposed elimination of the EPA. By contrast 42 percent of the Republicans who were queried favored abolition, while 40 percent were against the idea.

Are we witnessing a masochistic streak in the slim majority of Republicans wanting to do away with the EPA? To believe that industry is capable of policing itself is beyond naivety. The reality is that left to their own devices, most businesses that emit pollution will follow the money, even if that means treading punitively on the environment underfoot.

Maybe some of the Republican naysayers are not against environmental regulation per se, but simply think state and local agencies are better suited than the EPA to do the job. Here is another flight from reality. States and localities lack sufficient resources to tackle the formidable environmental and public health challenges on their own, a fact of life currently being learned the hard way. As a result of congressional Republicans forcing a $1.6 billion cut in EPA’s 2011 budget, state and local officials are discovering that reduction in federal fiscal help leaves them unable to adequately enforce their environmental laws.

In addition, state and local environmental regulators tend to be more susceptible than their federal counterparts to political pressure from affluent local business interests. Proximity can breed undue influence. The federal regulator answers to Washington, as opposed to some state or local agency head whose future job opportunities may depend on placating the local power structure.

What is the rationale of Republicans seeming to act against their own best interests by opposing the existence of a federal environmental regulatory agency?

Rasmussen'’s pollsters use a methodology that tends to single out political junkies, and that type of respondent in Republican ranks often is an avid listener to Right Wing talk radio. It is these Right Wing talk show hosts who incessantly revile the federal bureaucrats as devils incarnate issuing unnecessary economy-strangling regulations merely to solidify their own continued employment.

Anyone who swallows this guff requires an urgent wakeup call, because the nation desperately needs a united front to roll back environmental degradation that plays no favorites.

Edward Flattau's fourth book, 'Green Morality,' is now available.

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