Essex column: How Trump should emulate Nixon
For 40 or 50 years, U.S. leaders worked from a tacit agreement that clean air and water were good and that environmental regulations were necessary to bring industry along toward these goals. Yes, there were differences on individual initiatives, but also a baseline starting point.
It grew from the late 1960s into the ’70s, the era of Love Canal, of frightening pollution in the Great Lakes — the Cuyahoga River feeding into Lake Erie in Cleveland caught fire in 1969 — of Beijing-like smog in many American cities. Politicians, including Republicans, recognized the need for action.
Michigan Gov. William Milliken, a moderate Republican, alarmed by pollution in the Great Lakes, pushed for a ban on phosphates in laundry soap to help clear the algae that was choking waterways. He stood up to the Michigan-based founders of Amway and won, despite industry’s cries that, without the additive, businessmen would have to go to work in dirty shirts.
Today — if a Republican governor had the nerve to stand up to business — detergent makers would hire four outlier scientist whores who would argue ad infinitum that the evidence connecting phosphates and fouled shorelines was inconclusive. Milliken would be vilified for his job-killing war on soap.
The phosphate ban was one of many environmental protections pushed by Milliken, who was not alone among Republican politicians in being an advocated for the environment.
Milliken became governor when another Republican, George Romney (Mitt’s father) left the post to be Richard Nixon’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Romney had previously been CEO of American Motors, and in pushing the Rambler, a fuel-efficient car for its day, he had decried “gas-guzzling dinosaurs” being produced by Detroit’s Big Three. Had he been heeded, OPEC would have had less power.
The Nixon administration, not exactly loaded with tree-hugging liberals, presided over creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, Safe Water Drinking Act and National Environmental Policy Act.
These steps were needed, and until about 2008, the idea of saving energy, of moving toward cleaner sources and reducing pollution was just about universally accepted.
George W. Bush, whose administration worked to weaken many of these protections and was at the vanguard of climate change denial, nonetheless advocated creation of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and was a key supporter of wind energy as Texas governor and as president.
When Barack Obama became president, politicians including Mitch “War on Coal” McConnell, making noises that he knew his Kentucky constituents would like even if their commodity is bad for human health and losing in the marketplace, stepped up their attack on renewable energy and environmental regulation, painting it as part of the liberal agenda.
And now, the Trump administration is doing everything it can to roll back five decades of progress toward requiring a clean environment.
Here are just a few of the administrative steps it has taken, according to a running list kept by National Geographic:
• Dismissed several members of the Board of Scientific Counselors, an advisory board that reviews the research of EPA scientists. The EPA says this will free seats for a more diverse membership, including foxes to guard the henhouse — industry representatives.
• Ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review as many as 40 national monuments created since 1996, seen as a move that could open the protected lands to energy exploration.
• Promised to clear the backlog of new chemicals awaiting EPA approval. Because we don’t have enough autism and poison furniture.
• Removed the word “science” from EPA’s Office of Science and Technology mission statement.
• Blocked a ban on using lead ammunition on federal lands, which was a move to protect wildlife that was opposed by the NRA.
• Proposed cutting all money for the Energy Star program, which certifies such things as appliances and windows as energy efficient. I’m sure it’s pure coincidence that Trump properties tend to receive poor Energy Star ratings.
Beyond the obvious risk that we will fall back to when America was greatly polluted, these moves are:
• Against innovation. Clinging to coal is like saying in the 1960s that we shouldn’t have gone to the moon because it would take resources away from blimps. The space program not only gave this nation a sense of pride and shared purpose, but pushed ahead technological development that has made our lives better in ways well beyond Tang. Fueling America while weening ourselves off of fossil fuels will have similar benefits.
• A vote of no confidence in business’s ability to capitalize on market changes and do things like figure out how to get shirts clean without phosphates (and tackle much bigger problems). The business case for energy efficiency is compelling. Kroger, for example, in the notoriously thin-margin grocery business, has been able to reduce energy use in its stores by more than a third — savings for growth and the bottom line.
• Contrary to national defense. For an administration that claims to be supportive of the military, moving away from renewable energy disregards Pentagon calls for green energy after findings that up to half of casualties in Iraq are tied to protecting fossil fuel.
• Another Trump move that hurts the poor and middle class by accepting shoddy, inefficient construction of apartments and entry-level homes. The tenants and occupants of cheaply built housing pay more in raw dollars and as a proportion of their income for heating, cooling and repairs.
Trump is reminding us of Richard Nixon in the wrong ways when he could be unleashing American ingenuity to continue environmental progress.
Randy Essex is publisher and editor of the Post Independent.
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