Much of the progress made over the past four decades in protecting the environment has been reversed by the Bush Administration. Its priorities are clear: The interests of corporate contributors always trump the public’s well-being.
We saw those priorities at work in the response to Hurricane Katrina, when the Administration used the tragedy as a pretext to waive environmental and public-health laws considered inconvenient by its corporate cronies. We also saw it in three destructive bills pushed by the Administration and passed by the Republican House in 2005. The Gasoline for America’s Security Act would compensate oil and gas companies for financial hits taken during delays in approval of drilling permits. Likewise, the “reformed” Endangered Species Act would offer compensation for land-use permits denied or delayed because of concerns about the impact on endangered species–and would allow corporate landowners to set the value of their own alleged loss. Fortunately, those bills have not been passed by the Senate and become law. But the Energy Policy Act of 2005 has. This measure gives huge subsidies to some of the richest companies in the world while ignoring the energy needs of working Americans.
Bush’s environmental “reforms” put corporations over public welfare–and show a disrespect for democracy. Since its passage in 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act has required the government to disclose the impact of its actions on the environment. NEPA has improved decision-making, transparency and public participation. But its protections are being steadily chipped away, with President Bush having pushed for–and gotten–repeated waivers of NEPA environmental review. While the House has created a task force to rethink NEPA, House Republicans continue to pass bills waiving NEPA review. The Energy Policy Act, for one, waives environmental review for oil and gas drilling on many sites.
While Democrats unite to fend off coming attacks–not only on NEPA but also on measures like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts–we should also take the offensive and get the country moving again toward an environmentally healthy future. We need to support Congressman Jay Inslee’s New Apollo Energy Act, which would give companies incentives to develop clean energy technologies while reducing the threat of global warming. This would put the United States in its rightful place as a leader in energy innovation and would create thousands of new jobs.
We also need to bring public land-use laws up-to-date, reflecting our society’s evolving understanding of the need for protecting natural lands. Under the multiple-use doctrine governing public lands, for example, “extraction,” like oil and gas drilling, is given equal footing with resource protection. But Americans increasingly value public lands as places for recreation and to find relief from the stresses of modern life–more than for their production of coal or timber. Congress should update our laws to elevate preservation over other uses.
We must develop responsible policies that express our real “moral values”–insuring that the air we breathe, the water we drink and the communities in which we live are safe, not only for ourselves but for future generations.