Religious Wrong: A Higher Power Informs the Republican Assault on the Environment

By Scherer, Glenn | E Magazine, May-June 2003 | Go to article overview

Religious Wrong: A Higher Power Informs the Republican Assault on the Environment


Scherer, Glenn, E Magazine


Jubilant Republicans may imagine that the most significant harbinger for America's future was the banging of a gavel on January 6, opening the 108th Congress. Finally, GOP partisans may conclude, they call the shots.

But it may be that the Earth itself is in charge. In 2002, the second hottest year on record, scientists saw Arctic Ocean ice coverage shrink by more than at any time since satellite measurements were first made a quarter century ago. And, they say, continued melting could leave the Arctic nearly ice-free by summer 2050.

Americans need to pay attention to the winds of change blowing in from the Arctic, then decide just how much Republican environmental policies contradict clear messages relayed by our planet. Our leaders could be viewing the world through a distorted lens, with their corporate worldview and sometimes their fundamentalist Christian faith guiding them to an interpretation of reality based not on scientific fact, but on dogma.

The federal government--with Republicans in control of the White House, Congress and the judiciary--has launched the largest rollback of environmental laws and regulations ever. The Bush administration seems determined to undo much of the good done since Earth Day 1970, when 20 million Americans defended the planet in the biggest mass demonstration of U.S. history.

The New Leadership

Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma is poised to become Bush's lieutenant in the assault. As new chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, he unseated Independent Jim Jeffords--an environmental champion who advanced legislation to curb global warming. Inhofe, by contrast, is a Big Oil backer who once characterized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as "the Gestapo bureaucracy," and has earned a zero rating from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) three years running.

Under Inhofe, hearings to oppose Bush's anti-environmental agenda are improbable, as are subpoenas for administration documents divulging shoddy science or corporate complicity. "Teddy Roosevelt is rolling over in his grave," Alys Campaigne, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said in the Bureau of National Affairs "Environmental Report."

Bush and Inhofe will likely move to modify or overturn the National Environmental Policy Act. This Magna Carta of environmental law demands study, disclosure and public comment on the environmental impacts of federal projects. Bush has already demanded "excessive red tape" be hacked from the law, fast-tracking road and airport construction and cutting the public out of the democratic process.

The President is also attacking the Clean Air Act of 1970, another cornerstone of environmental law. Late last year, Bush proposed rules to weaken the Act's New Source Review, which requires the installation of state-of-the-art pollution control equipment in the modernizing of factories. The new rules allow industrial air pollution to continue at levels that, according to the American Lung Association, now kill 10,000 Americans annually.

Bush's proposed "Clear Skies" Initiative also undermines air quality. "Clear Skies" won't enhance the air at all, but will further pollute it, says NRDC. Bush's "Healthy Forests" initiative likewise suffers from Orwellian doublespeak, felling Western forests to save them. Disguised as a measure for curbing wildfires, the plan invites logging companies to cut healthy trees in national forests while reducing public oversight. Ironically, the probable cause of recent catastrophic fires is global warming, a problem that many Republican lawmakers deny.

California last year passed the nation's first law to control greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. But the Bush administration has virtually gone to war against the state's environmental initiatives, seeking to extend oil-drilling rights off the California coast and to overturn regulations requiring automakers to sell zero-emissions vehicles. …

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