Why Are Congressional Republicans Turning on the Environment?

08/11/2011 04:21 pm ET | Updated Oct 11, 2011

Why have Congressional House Republicans unleashed an unprecedented assault on the nation's environmental regulatory framework even as they profess to care as much as anyone about clean air and water?

The range of their Interior Appropriations bill's attempted pullback is stupefying. They would block tough new standards to reduce air pollution, including global warming-associated greenhouse gases. Not content to stop there, they would undercut the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to enforce the laws under its jurisdiction.

These legislators would weaken regulations to protect our waterways and wetlands from contamination that includes storm runoff, pesticide discharges, and mountain top mining residue. Their bill would expose the Grand Canyon to toxic uranium pollution, and cripple the government's capacity to add to our national parks as well as designate new wilderness areas on public land.

And that's just for starters.

So back to the original question. Why have these self-proclaimed environmentalists turned into a "green" wrecking crew?

A few undoubtedly have sold their political souls to corporate polluters who are generous corporate campaign donors and want no part of more stringent anti-pollution regulation. But most of the lawmakers are true believers in a conservative ideological agenda that has been drummed into their psyches from the start of their political careers. Their ideology in general is antagonistic towards a federal government that threatens the demographic advantage of their core Caucasian constituencies by representing a rapidly expanding multi-racial, multi-cultural national population. And it is an ideology that offers the following rationales for an ecological vendetta.

The imposition of federal environmental regulation is shrouded with suspicion. It is regarded primarily as a means to solidify Washington bureaucrats' jobs and advance a liberal agenda smacking of socialism. Science has been manipulated to exaggerate environmental problems for the purpose of tightening central government's control over the marketplace and individual freedom, global warming being a case in point.

Many of the bill's supporters believe America's sovereignty over its natural resources is threatened by a takeover from a world government. That explains the antipathy in their legislation towards foreign aid and payment of dues to the United Nations, much less to the international organization's environmental division. They sadly confuse our interdependence with other countries -- a modern reality in a technologically linked world -- with our national independence, which is not in jeopardy,

From the Republican lawmakers' perspective, states in general do a better job of governance than federal bureaucrats, and the private sector and free market fluctuations are more effective than the public sector in keeping the nation on a prosperous course.

For most of these Republicans, it is a basic tenet that economic growth must precede environmental cleanup, with the two objectives at least initially susceptible to conflict. It is a view that clashes with the reality that economic prosperity and environmental quality are two sides of the same coin. If any priority is to be assigned, the current crop of Republicans are out of step with their congressional predecessors who concluded that health took precedence over profit. The provisions in our nation's landmark Clean Air and Clean Water Acts testify to that fact.

Regulation can be excessive, but much of it is necessary to create order out of chaos. The Senate recognizes this and should mercifully scrap most of the lower chamber's destructive bill later this year. As for the House Republicans, many have yet to acknowledge that in an ever more complex world, anarchy in the marketplace is not the answer.

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