Can the environmental policies that dominate the Republican Party's thinking have a strong influence one way or the other in the outcome of national elections next month and in 2012?
You be the judge. A significant number of Republican candidates, including all those running for Senate seats this fall doubt the existence of man-made global warming and are unlikely to do anything about the concern if voted into office.
Republicans have displayed opposition to expansion of wilderness designations on undeveloped public lands. They would rather have the areas opened up to substantial extractive industry activity as well as creation of privately owned resorts. Indeed, they believe land can be better managed by profit-oriented entrepreneurial interests than public servants. Does that mean they want to transfer our national parks to private control? Stay tuned while keeping in mind that people with this mentality -- to quote Oscar Wilde -- "know the cost of everything and the price of nothing."
Republicans behave as though Americans' dislike for regulations requiring completion of reams of duplicate forms for no apparent reason extends to regulations aimed at protecting public health and the environment. That allows them to brand virtually all regulations as impediments to economic growth. They don't make any distinction between government red tape and rules that protect health and safety, but most Americans do. In Republicans' regulatory averse world, corporations are capable of policing themselves, prodded to do the right thing by the competitive pressures of the marketplace.
If Republicans should win a majority in the House of Representatives next month, there is talk they will launch investigations into alleged wrongdoing by Democratic lawmakers and issue a boatload of subpoenas. Maybe so, but right now, Senate Republicans, led by Jim DeMint of South Carolina, are blocking President Obama's National Oil Spill commission from gaining subpoena powers to complete its investigation of the BP spills in the Gulf of Mexico. In effect, the Republicans are protecting BP from scrutiny that would likely nail down their liability in the environmental disaster.
The Republicans are also big on: expanding offshore drilling into previously off-limit waters; going full steam ahead with oil shale development despite serious concerns about water pollution; banning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating polluting greenhouse gas emissions in the absence of congressional action; downsizing the EPA, making its extremely difficult job even harder; paying private property owners for not violating the Endangered Species Act; and opposing any land use planning to curb urban sprawl (because of undue government encroachment).
Will these stands win them any elections? Doubtful. Will it contribute to their defeat? Maybe not now, but sooner or later, most definitely.
Edward Flattau is an environmental columnist residing in Washington, D.C. and the author of the forthcoming book, Green Morality, now available for pre-order.