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“The EPA Messed Up The Animas River”: But The Real Threats Are Still Private Industry And The GOP

The American Southwest suffered a serious environmental crisis last week, after an Environmental Protection Agency effort to clean up old mining waste went disastrously awry, breaching a containment dam and releasing millions of gallons of contaminated water into the Animas River. The city of Durango and San Juan County in Colorado, as well as the Navajo Nation (the largest Native American reservation in the U.S.), have declared a state of emergency, instructing their citizens to stay out of the water and avoid using it for agriculture or drinking for the time being.

It’s a giant screw-up by the EPA, which is scrambling to fix the problem. Yet it’s one that could not have happened without a monstrous failure of private industry, which means it bears directly on the 2016 presidential race, in which environmental issues will play an important role. The Animas River debacle shows that Republican dogma — which says that pollution is basically no problem and that the EPA should be sharply restricted, if not abolished altogether — is tantamount to a pro-poisoning position.

Mining has long been a fixture of the Mountain West, but it has slowed considerably from the go-go days of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Much of that was hardrock mining of gold and silver, which require very dangerous chemicals and the processing of thousands of tons of ore. Colorado is thus littered with thousands of abandoned mines, and the Animas watershed was no exception, with 400 old mines.

This is a problem, because the mountain mines inevitably fill with water that has leached through the rock, carrying heavy metals and other toxins with it. Cleaning this up is very expensive, and mine companies would obviously prefer not to do it. Early mine investors were notorious for setting up a shell mining company, extracting the material while paying their executive class a fantastic salary, setting up a token cleanup operation (or forgoing it altogether), then declaring bankruptcy and starting all over again.

That’s the profitable, job-creating businessman’s solution to mining waste: just poison the neighborhood, then skedaddle. Hey presto, someone else’s problem!

However, as regulations became more stringent (especially thanks to the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts), things changed. In general, companies (like Anaconda Copper) now work with the EPA and local communities to clean up old sites, often at great expense.

It was one of those old pools of mining waste — around Silverton, Colorado — that the EPA was testing when it accidentally breached a containment dam and released the water. It’s been a big problem for years; the EPA and the mine company have pushed for Superfund designation (which would have made more money available for cleanup), while locals have resisted, fearing for their property values.

Again, clearly the EPA is at fault here. But it’s also worth noting that this spill is relatively minor compared to previous similar incidents, and that the dam would have likely burst on its own eventually. The question is what to do about it. Left to its own devices, it’s quite obvious what private industry would do: nothing. When it comes to environmental externalities, there is simply no alternative to some kind of government policy. And since the waste is already in place, there is no way to set up a Pigovian tax scheme that would deter such waste in the first place. It’s the EPA or bust.

Nevertheless, bust is basically the Republican position. At every turn during the Obama years, they have advocated for fewer environmental controls, greater freedom for corporations to pollute the environment, a cut in EPA funding, and attacks on the science that makes the regulations possible. During the 2012 campaign, the EPA’s “job killing regulations” became something of a Republican catechism. These days, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) wants to abolish the agency altogether, while Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chair of the Senate’s environment committee, has merely compared it to the Gestapo.

Ironically, new rules stemming from the Clean Water Act have been the subject of particular conservative ire of late. A minor update in a rule interpreting the Clean Water Act sparked furious Republican outrage, as well as a proposal to abolish the rule that would make it dramatically harder to regulate American rivers and streams.

On pollution, the magic of the free market is supposed to be what takes the place of sclerotic EPA bureaucracy. You only have to look back to the Gilded Age to see what a farcical idea that is. The Republican utopia is one where cities suffocate under a cloud of choking smog; where the hearts of American children pump lead-clouded blood; and where drinking water will be sacrificed to pad corporate profits.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, August 12, 2015

August 14, 2015 Posted by | Animas River, Environmental Protection Agency, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Joni Ernst Fights For Dirty Water In Iowa”: Shows How Far Republican Candidates Have Drifted From The Party’s Old Moorings

Joni Ernst, the winner of the Iowa Senate Republican primary on Tuesday, has a briefcase full of the usual shopworn, hard-right policies: no same-sex marriage, no reform of immigration, no federal minimum wage, no Education Department, no progressive tax code. She still clings to the idea of private accounts for Social Security.

But one of her positions, expressed at a recent debate, demonstrates a particularly pernicious and little-known crusade of the modern Republican Party: she opposes the Clean Water Act. She called it one of the most damaging laws for business.

That a Senate nominee could take this position, even more than the others, shows how far Republican candidates have drifted from the party’s old moorings. In 1972, the Clean Water Act passed with full bipartisan support, and is widely regarded as one of the most successful environmental acts ever passed. It doubled the number of rivers, streams and lakes suitable for fishing and swimming. It drastically reduced the amount of chemicals in drinking water, and substantially increased the size of protected wetlands. Rivers no longer catch fire.

The law’s value is so obvious that it shouldn’t even be necessary to defend it. But in Iowa, it remains a divisive issue, and Ms. Ernst’s offhand remark was a clear signal to the state’s big agricultural interests of which side she is on.

Iowa’s waterways are notoriously dirty, the result of runoffs from vast livestock operations and crop fertilizer. The problem has become worse in recent years with a sharp increase in the global demand for pork, leading to enormous hog farms that pack tens of thousands of pigs into small spaces. Last year, the Des Moines water utility had to turn on, for the first time, the world’s largest nitrate-removal plant to get the chemical — the result of manure and fertilizer pollution — out of people’s taps. (Excessive nitrates can cause cancer and miscarriages, and are linked to “blue baby syndrome,” in which infants suffocate.)

“The issue is the quality of the water in the Raccoon and the Des Moines” rivers, Bill Stowe, the waterworks manager, told the Des Moines Register last year. “This trend is absolutely off the scale. It’s like having serial tornadoes. You can deal with one, you can deal with two, but you can’t deal with them every day.”

For years, the state’s Department of Natural Resources, which is in the pocket of big agriculture, didn’t deal with the runoff problems. And two years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency told the state that it was violating the Clean Water Act and must immediately do a better job. State farm operations and politicians have bridled at the moderate increase in regulation that resulted, and last year House Republicans passed a bill that would undermine enforcement of the Clean Water Act, giving the states much more power to set their own rules. (Fortunately the bill was never taken up in the Senate.)

Ms. Ernst wants to take the seat of Senator Tom Harkin, who is retiring after compiling a strong liberal and pro-environmental record. For Iowans who worry about what’s coming out of their faucets, she has a great deal of explaining to do.


By: David Firestone, Editors Blog, The New York Times, June 4, 2014

June 8, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Right Wing | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Did Evan Bayh Begin Job Negotiations To Lobby For Big Business?

The son of a famous senator, Evan Bayh (D-IN) was born into a life of privilege. After spending nearly two decades in public service, first as governor, then as a senator from Indiana, Bayh is returning to a life of wealth and luxury. Earlier this year, he announced that he would be joining a corporate law/lobbying firm, McGuireWoods LLP, as well as Apollo Global Management, a multi-billion dollar private equity firm.

Now, Peter Stone is reporting that Bayh will be joining the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, perhaps the most influential lobbying group for multinational corporations and big businesses with a far right lobbying agenda.  (View ThinkProgress’ history of the Chamber, including its decades-long opposition to women’s rights, labor rights, and even its refusal to support a war against Nazi Germany.)

Bayh will be joining former Bush administration official Andy Card in a Chamber-led lobbying campaign designed to weaken regulations on corporations across the board, and make it more difficult to enact new regulations. The REINS Act, which Bayh will be helping to pass, will severely undercut (and effectively repeal) significant portions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, health and financial reform, the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, and the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, among many other laws.

It is not clear how much Bayh is being paid by the Chamber, or by his new gigs at Apollo Global Management or McGuireWoods. During the period of 2009-2010, when Bayh was still in office, he appeared to be auditioning for a job in the private sector as a lobbyist:

Killing Labor Reform: Despite past support for the labor rights legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act, Bayh eventually wavered on support the bill once it had a real chance of passing when President Obama came into office. Killing the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have given workers a fair chance to form a union, was the Chamber’s biggest legislative priority other than passing the bank bailouts of 2008.

Killing Climate Change And Clean Energy Jobs Legislation: Bayh positioned himself to the right of some members of the GOP in opposing a renewable energy standard. He later railed against clean energy reform, which died in the Senate because of obstruction from Bayh and several other conservative senators.

Supporting Pro-Corporate Senate Obstruction: Bayh even formed a coalition of conservative senators — including Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) — to slow and kill major reforms proposed by President Obama. As ThinkProgress’ Matthew Yglesias has noted, Bayh and his cohorts appeared to be “hoping to soak up special interest cash in exchange for blocking the progressive agenda.”

One must wonder: when did Bayh begin negotiations with the Chamber for his current job as a lobbyist? Did the expectation that he would leave Congress and join the private sector as a lobbyist impact his votes and actions while in the Senate? If he had been a staunch advocate for the workers and families of Indiana, and had fought for labor reforms, would he have been welcome for what is probably an extremely highly paid job at the Chamber? The same type of questions could and should be asked of former Reps. David Obey (D-WI), John Tanner (D-TN), Allen Boyd (D-FL), Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), Bart Gordon (D-TN), and many other recently retired members of Congress who have joined corporate lobbying firms.

By: Lee Fang, Think Progress, June 7, 2011

June 8, 2011 Posted by | Big Business, Class Warfare, Congress, Corporations, Environment, Health Reform, Lobbyists, Regulations, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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