The GOP is taking another lurch to the far right tonight. Republican leaders have chosen recently elected Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) to deliver the party's response to President Obama's State of the Union address. Ernst is a veteran who grew up on an Iowa farm. She is also a pistol-packing, anti-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), anti-Clean Water Act politician endorsed by Sarah Palin, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), and other tea party stalwarts.
Her selection offers yet another sign the GOP leadership is doubling down on its Big Polluter agenda. Instead of offering solutions to any environmental problems, the GOP is just trying to block any action that polluters oppose.
Ernst burst onto the national scene last year with a pair of attention-grabbing campaign ads. In the first, she tells viewers, "I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I'll know how to cut pork." In the second, Ernst rides a Harley and pulls a handgun from her purse. As she fires off a round, an announcer intones, "Joni Ernst will take aim at wasteful spending. And when she sets her sights on Obamacare, Joni's going to unload."
But those highly visible ads didn't trumpet Ernst's support for tearing down the entire structure for protecting health and the environment.
But we already know what life would be like without an EPA, because we've tried it. And what did we get prior to the creation of the EPA in 1970? Air pollution so thick you couldn't see the George Washington Bridge, though you could see Los Angeles' brown air from space; meanwhile, thanks to lead in gasoline, nearly 90 percent of American children had lead in their blood at levels deemed unsafe by the Center for Disease Control.
The problem with leaving environmental protection up to the states is glaringly obvious: Pollution crosses state lines. Mercury from Midwestern power plants ends up in New England, and toxic runoff from Wisconsin flows down the Mississippi River to Iowa. In fact, states assume that the federal government is going to create an environmental safety net. More than half of all states are precluded by state laws or policy from adopting safeguards stronger than the federal standard. Imagine if that benchmark didn't exist: We would see a race to the bottom, with some states weakening protections to attract dirty industries.
Maybe it's not surprising that Ernst wishes away the simple fact that air and water don't stop at state borders, since she also rejects the science of climate change. In outright denialist fashion Ernst claims that changes in the climate are "natural." This is at odds with the 97 percent of climate scientists who have concluded that human activity is the main cause of climate change.
Ernst is especially outspoken, but her views are emblematic of the GOP's Big Polluter agenda. When it comes to environmental protection, the GOP motto is "Just say no." Congressional Republicans have vowed to block any and all action on climate change, prevent action to limit smog, and stop efforts to protect more waters under the Clean Water Act. And that's just for starters.
That's totally at odds with the majority of Americans. A Washington Post poll found that seven in 10 people support the EPA's action to limit climate-change pollution. And 78 percent of voters are somewhat or strongly opposed to rolling back drinking-water protections, according to a survey by Hart Research Associates.
If voters aren't driving the GOP agenda, who is? The fossil-fuel industry spent $721 million on the 2014 midterm elections -- 87 percent of it on Republicans. And now the Republican majority is putting polluters' interests before the public's right to clean air and water.
Sarah Palin proclaimed, "We've got faith in Joni!" The American people have no reason to echo her.