01/11/2017 10:12 am ET Updated Jan 12, 2018

GOP: Skewed Priorities

Carlos Barria / Reuters

The Republican Party's crusade to roll back environmental regulations it considers detrimental to the economy is rooted in a set of mercenary values.

In weighing the pros and cons of anti-pollution regulation, Republicans elevate profit ahead of health. It isn't a zero sum game, just a definite tilt towards business interests' bottom line.

Quantity takes precedence over quality in Republican lawmakers' environmental deregulatory merry-go-round. Corporate polluters' revenue from sales, boosted by planned obsolescence, is more of a determining factor for support of an environmental regulation than is product safety and durability.

Hence, an environmental regulation that subordinates consumption to conservation is a target for GOP deregulation. Nothing against conservation per se, mind you, it's just that Republicans are convinced consumption (especially at conspicuous levels) generates more money than conservation saves. Furthermore, when conservation is mandated by regulation, many Republicans recoil ideologically and regard it as forced deprivation.

As to marketplace safety, the GOP would rather impose the regulatory burden of proof on aggrieved consumers to show a product inflicted harm than on the manufacturer to demonstrate before commercial introduction that the product was safe.

Republicans are not put off by regulation that is conducive to short term economic gain at the expense of long term environmental harm. On the other hand, they are not so keen about rules that result in short term sacrifices for the sake of long term societal gain. It explains why they tend to be followers and not leaders looking out for the future as well as present generations. President Obama's prescient climate change policies and parochial Republican opposition to them illustrate this well.

In the Republican Party's universe, states take precedence over the federal government in regulating pollution. This principle even applies when pollution is trans-boundary in scope and a federal national minimum standard would seem in order.

Many Republican politicians consider environmental regulation in inherent conflict with economic growth. They have chosen that interpretation over one in which environmental regulation may cause some short term employment disruption but in the long run is an essential complement to a robust economy.

Scientific uncertainty associated with an environmental threat is frequently an excuse for Republican politicians to oppose any regulatory action. This pattern is in contrast to progressives, who in the absence of conclusive evidence will assess risk, and if significant enough, determine it is "better to be safe than sorry."

At least on paper, the Democratic Party takes the opposite philosophical tack from the GOP towards environmental regulation.

Meanwhile, the Republicans' deregulation mania inhibits them from distinguishing between red tape and green salvation.