07/05/2012 12:31 pm ET Updated Sep 04, 2012

Not Black or White but Grey All Over

Many right-wing pundits scornfully dismiss charges that the Republican Party "favors dirty air and water," and they are absolutely correct. What rational human being would yearn for health-threatening pollution?

Trouble is that this is not the accusation being leveled against the current crop of Republican lawmakers in Congress. The right-wing noise machine is fabricating the criticism in order to promote its image as a victim. Its goal is to muddle a reality marked by Republican legislators' willingness to sacrifice some degradation of air and water quality in order to reduce industry's pollution abatement costs.

Opponents of this Republican prioritization insist that protection of environmental and public health should take precedence over making money (not instead of it) rather than the other way around. It is not a revolutionary idea in American politics. One needs look no further than the Clean Air Act which Congress enacted in the 1970s. That landmark statute ordained that economics should not be considered in setting health standards, only in implementing them.

So there you have it. The right-wing's hyperbolic demonization of its political enemies seeks to neuter them by simplistically (and falsely) portraying their positions as ones of untenable extremes. Proponents of more stringent environmental rules are deemed anti-business when it is not regulations slowing economic growth, but the lack of consumer demand in a flagging economy.

To insist that the burden of proof should be on a manufacturer to demonstrate a new product is reasonably safe rather than on the consumer to show the product is dangerous is not anti-business. It is common sense, with the outcome better for all concerned. When companies are obligated to spend money to assure their product is reasonably safe prior to introduction into the marketplace, and subsequently the product is found to be a good, sound one, chances are it will make money despite any added development costs. That is an infinitely superior alternative to having to wait for a consumer to keel over before taking any action to recall a product of questionable safety.

This compelling logic is behind a bill to shift the burden of proof for product safety from the public to chemical manufacturers. But the legislation -- sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., continues to languish in Congress, unlike in Europe where chemical companies have long had to demonstrate a product was reasonably safe before release into the marketplace.

Mandating corporate polluters to meet stricter cleanup standards is actually beneficial to all interested parties. It forces modernization of facilities, which prolongs their life and the jobs they generate as well as favors the health of the employees and presumably their productivity.

Undeterred, the right-wing propaganda machine drones on with its simplistic rhetorical distortions. It labels as radical alarmists those who consider global warming a serious threat, noting that there is no conclusive proof to support such foreboding projections. Moreover, these so-called "alarmists" are accused of promoting climate change mitigation strategies that would wreck the economy.

The truth is that these strategies -- such as energy conservation and reforestation -- are cost-effective and a positive to society in their own right, even in the unlikely event that global warming fears turn out to be overblown. It is a course that is a classic deployment of the "better safe than sorry" principle. Unfortunately, today's Republican lawmakers are more apt to associate the principle with bolstering industry's profits than with enhancing public health and environmental quality.