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August 18, 2011 11:00 AM Republicans take aim at EPA

By Steve Benen

Two months ago, at a debate for Republican presidential candidates, Michele Bachmann explained her belief that the Environmental Protection Agency shouldn’t exist. E.J. Dionne Jr. noted afterwards, “It’s a sign of how far to the right the Republican Party has moved that she didn’t stand out for her extreme views. On this stage, suggesting we should just rid ourselves of the Environmental Protection Agency seemed par for the course.”

Two months later, the accuracy of that assessment appears even more obvious.

The Environmental Protection Agency is emerging as a favorite target of the Republican presidential candidates, who portray it as the very symbol of a heavy-handed regulatory agenda imposed by the Obama administration that they say is strangling the economy. […]

Opposition to regulation and skepticism about climate change have become tenets of Republican orthodoxy, but they are embraced with extraordinary intensity this year because of the faltering economy, high fuel prices, the Tea Party passion for smaller government and an activist Republican base that insists on strict adherence to the party’s central agenda.

To be sure, the entire GOP field is not saying exactly the same thing about the Environmental Protection Agency, and their degrees of hostility toward it vary. Two candidates — Bachmann and Gingrich — want to eliminate the EPA altogether, while others simply want to put severe restrictions on the agency, preventing it from doing its job. But every person in the field has criticized the EPA, and even Jon Huntsman supports easing environmental standards until the economy picks up.

Rick Perry is of particular interest, since, as the New York Times noted, the Texas governor “has been at war with the E.P.A. almost since the day he took office.” This from the candidate who believes the entirety of climate science is a conspiracy cooked up by greedy scientists.

The Times added, “[W]hile attacks on the E.P.A., climate-change science and environmental regulation more broadly are surefire applause lines with many Republican primary audiences, these views may prove a liability in the general election, pollsters and analysts say. The American people, by substantial majorities, are concerned about air and water pollution, and largely trust the E.P.A., national surveys say.”

I certainly hope that’s still true. The very existence of the EPA has never been a partisan issue until now — Nixon created the agency four decades ago — and my fear is Republican activists will loathe the office simply because their national candidates tell them to.

But the American mainstream will probably know better. Atrios explained a while back, “Water (and air) in much of the country used to be dirty. Really really dirty. A lot of those really dirty waterways are now somewhat less dirty, if not places you want to actually swim in or fish, and a lot more of the places that were somewhat dirty are now places people swim and fish in.”

If voters want to turn back this clock, the Republican Party will offer candidates eager to do just that. But if this becomes a campaign issue, the GOP may be surprised by the extent to which Americans still care whether their air and water are clean.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • sick-n-effn-tired. on August 18, 2011 11:05 AM:

    a heavy-handed regulatory agenda imposed by the Obama administration ? They insult the memory of my favorite Democratic President, Richard Nixon who gave us the EPA and OSHA among other things .
    Who could have imagined that they would descend this far. When you look back on those times and think those were the good old days.

  • square1 on August 18, 2011 11:06 AM:

    Don't worry, people. I'm sure that President "Salmon Are Over-regulated" will get right on this line of attack.

  • samsa on August 18, 2011 11:16 AM:

    The GOP Presidential debates should be held in a country with no regulation under a very small government, e.g., Somalia or Rwanda.

  • wacky librul on August 18, 2011 11:17 AM:

    I'm still marveling at how the fears of water pollution, caused by industry and agriculture have now become a major industry of bottled water, with the water often coming front he same sources we all use. Just how are they going to manage to feel us bottled air in the future? The capitalist system will find a way, no doubt.

  • c u n d gulag on August 18, 2011 11:17 AM:

    I would show a fisherman trying to cly-fish for trout in a stream full of soap bubbles.

    Then, a hunter who tries to shoot a deer, but misses when the thing bends over and starts hacking and coughing.

    And then I'd show a hawk plummeting from polluted sky's.

    You've got to go to what they think is THEIR base, and get them to our side.

    If they join us on the environment, maybe we can 'learn 'em' a few other things.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on August 18, 2011 11:18 AM:

    If the American people care so damn much about clean water, let them buy bottled water and buy purification systems for their swimming pools. I pay for my own, why shouldn't everyone else?

    We know that the American sheeple don't give a damn about clean air. If they did, they would not accept our marketing lies about how using more coal and oil are good for the country.

    The EPA strangles the competitiveness of American business and is the reason why so many jobs are moved out of the United States. Beyond the EPA, OSHA is another major factor in American business uncompetitiveness. OSHA sucks! Our businesses should be allowed to perform Cost Analysis Studies. If the cost of insurance/law suits is less than the cost of implementing safety measures, we should be allowed to let some of the peons get maimed and die. There are plenty more peons available.

  • Rochester on August 18, 2011 11:18 AM:

    Didn't the Simpsons have issue with the EPA? There's a significant commentary there somewhere.

    Nuance and humor aside, Conservatives are freakin' idiots. Makes me embarrassed to share the flag with them.

  • Homer on August 18, 2011 11:18 AM:

    This is so reactionary. Every day, it seems like I wake up to headlines saying Republicans are taking aim at one thing or another.

    Do Democrats stand for anything? Do they take aim at jobs? Why aren't any of them proposing any legislation that will create jobs? Are they proactive about anything?

    So friggin' annoying to have such utter tools representing us.

  • walt on August 18, 2011 11:20 AM:

    Of course American people want clean air and water. They also want jobs more than deficit reduction, affordable health care, higher taxes on the rich, and limits to campaign contributions.

    Every poll will tell you that.

    And it still doesn't matter because the American right controls the discourse. It doesn't help, needless to say, when the Democratic president leans over backward in validating their framing of issues while infrequently bleating his kazoo on behalf of issues the American public cares about.

    We know what's wrong. I tell everyone around me that the nation is completely hypnotized by right-wing propaganda. We know what we want and we know what they want and because they win the decibel contest they must be right.

    Scream at these assholes. It won't do any good but it will at least make you feel better.

  • stormskies on August 18, 2011 11:21 AM:

    It is really a shame that most American are unaware that the Repiglican Congress voted to remove the Clean Water Act from our laws. They don't know this because the corporate media has made every effort to not report this fact. In the same way most Americans are unaware that when Cheney was President that he single handily exempted the oil companies who are raping the Earth in their 'fracking' of it by using dangerous chemicals to do so from the law of the Clean Water Act. In other words it's now not against the law to pollute the water supplies of any community that are affected by these 'fracking' practices.

    Corporate profits trump the health of our citizens.

  • yellowdog on August 18, 2011 11:22 AM:

    Why does Perry hate the EPA? The story has a lot to do with Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast. The EPA has documented how bad air pollution is in Houston. It has studied the water of the Texas Gulf Coast. It has pointed out all the negative health effects that come from Texas-sized pollution. The distinction of having the nation's dirtiest air once belonged to Los Angeles. It now belongs to Houston. Day and night, the great petrochemical plants along the Houston Ship Channel pump who-knows-what into the air and water. EPA has been trying to enforce clean-air and clean-water laws - and it has gathered plenty of data about how bad Texas and Louisiana are. Facts are stubborn things. If I were governor of Texas, I would want to deny reality too - but there is a moral cost to doing that. The line linking pollution and human health is just too clear.

  • DAY on August 18, 2011 11:29 AM:

    gulag's mention of deer hunting reminded me that the NRA has been silent of late. Hunters and fishermen- staunch Republicans (almost) to a man (woman) are well aware of what air and water are like, up close and personal.
    I think I remember some push back from the same folks, about acid rain way back when.

  • Ron Byers on August 18, 2011 11:37 AM:

    I was going to make the point that the EPA was one of Richard Nixon's better gifts to America, but sick-en-effin-tired beat me to it. Of course, Richard Nixon, whose personality reminds me of Richard III, was a complex and, on some levels, caring President who would never succeed in today's Republican party. By comparison to Michelle Bachmann Nixon was a Communist.

  • Mac on August 18, 2011 11:39 AM:

    Big surprise. The oil and gas industry say dance and the GOP dances.

    By the way, can we please get over phrases like: "Tea Party passion for smaller government"???

    The Tea Party passion is not for small, efficient government. It is for CORPORATE RUN government. Big difference.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on August 18, 2011 11:46 AM:

    Ron Byers , which was my point, snark aside, that Nixon would be way far left of today's democrats and would be ostracized as a commie liberal pinko islamo fascist who was probably not born here. sad times we live in indeed.

  • m2 on August 18, 2011 11:54 AM:

    Lemme start small- St Paul is downstream from Minneapolis. No EPA, St Paul gets whatever Minneapolis feels like dumping into the Mississippi river, absent state regs. Goes down from there. But there's ALEC, right there, ready to make St Cloud the rude smoker in the bunch. Then they divert Itasca waters to private interests to sell in TX and OK, etc. Next stop, Lake Superior. (which side is American? Bottom or top?)

  • ckelly on August 18, 2011 12:01 PM:

    Rick Perry is of particular interest, since, as the New York Times noted, the Texas governor “has been at war with the E.P.A. almost since the day he took office.” This from the candidate who believes the entirety of climate science is a conspiracy cooked up by greedy scientists.

    This from the candidate who presides over one of the most (if not the most) polluted of states.

  • disillusioned on August 18, 2011 12:41 PM:

    It's become quite clear to me that few of the national lawmakers - on either side of the aisle - care what the voters have to say. Raise taxes on the wealthiest? Voters say "go for it"; lawmakers insist that only more tax cuts are acceptable. Spend money to fix our crumbling infrastructure and put people to work? No, reduce spending and cut even more jobs. Time and again you see Senators and Representatives failing to answer a question from a citizen or reporter, and turning it into an opportunity to push whatever talking point they want to push.

    Corporations and the wealthy are the constituents.

    Voters role is to be seen and not heard, i.e. to assure that the constituents get their candidates elected, not to have an effect on policy.

  • m2 on August 18, 2011 12:52 PM:

    Here's a tax cut idea:
    Stop taxing unemployment benefits as income. Seriously.

  • mmm on August 18, 2011 1:07 PM:

    The next time a Republican comes to your town to campaign, be sure to have numerous bottles of Brand X unregulated drinking water for them to quench their thirst. We want to see them drinking it.

  • bdop4 on August 18, 2011 1:28 PM:

    Dems need to remind voters of what life was like before the EPA. The sordid history of Love Canal would serve as an instructive example. One among many.

    Moral: Love Canal can happen again, if we let it.

  • maggie on August 18, 2011 3:16 PM:

    Personally, I'm pretty nostalgic for those days when rivers caught on fire.

  • CyraNose59 on August 18, 2011 5:47 PM:

    Yeah, wth? If it weren't for the EPA, we could have the same air quality as China (or certain parts of Texas). Stock up on your filtration masks if the Republicans slither into office.

  • rtyecript on August 23, 2011 1:02 PM:

    I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

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