Surprisingly, Republicans haven’t always been a Disaster for the Environment. Who knew?!?!

What a coincidence! Trump cuts the FDA budget, the EPA CLEAN POWER PLAN and tells the EPA to ‘reconsider’, and has suspended, the 2015 Clean Water Rule until review in 2020 (not good); and almost immediately people are getting sick from ‘lettuce’ due in large part to polluted water. We can get back into corporations and how their loyalty is to profits…..purely…… shareholder profits are the one and only motivating principle, their god….their religion, but that would be to absolve our elected ‘leaders’ from responsibility, and we are not going to do that here, not today.

Today I’m not going to be a reactionary and say that nothing bad happened under Obama or other democratic leaders, Obama, admittedly had a very ‘mixed’ record on the environment, but at least he tried to advance some environmental policies, both internationally and domestically, many of which were blocked by a Republican House and Senate or a Republican majority in the Supreme Court, but Trumps actions certainly haven’t helped. The actions of the Trump administration also send a message that the government is going to ‘look the other way’ when it comes to the environment. When corporations are left to self regulate what usually happens is ‘No Regulation’.

What’s amazing about what has occurred over the course of the last 35 years and the complete shift in Republican priorities when it comes to the environment is that early in the 20th century, and even before, it was republicans who led the conservation charge that continued through Nixon.

Obviously, it’s an easy explanation to blame capitalism run amuck, which, it largely is, but more then that, it’s a failure of leadership. Amazingly, we still have climate change deniers and it’s just too easy to succumb to the pointlessness of that debate. That is a macro issue and the opposition simply latches on to any doubt (however small and erroneous) in the scientific community about the impact of anthropogenic factors and the can is kicked down the road. What is beyond debate is mercury in the fish we eat, lead in the water, polluted rivers and streams and water ways used for drinking. It cannot be debated that these area’s are part of the environment and that these problems are man-made, caused by dumping and industrial runoff to name a few. Air quality decline and acid rain in certain areas being man-made is also beyond debate. The smog on the horizon in California and the smell when you hit New York are just a couple of examples, there are many, many more. Asthma increases, increased rates of emphysema, lung disease and other respiratory issues are probably caused by a ‘change’ in the ‘climate’ that we breathe air in.

I can’t help but wonder how much religion has played a part in this, if everything is God’s plan and bigger then any of us, then we are not responsible for anything. The Conservatives have been geniuses at exploiting this. The religious right denies science whenever it is convenient for them and they rely on the ignorance and sycophantic nature of their constituency to push their agenda. The religious right has totally coopted the Republican party and with it, any rational debate on issues of science and fact.

Ok, so short of ‘god’ being responsible for everything, the Republicans have to look no further then their sacred cow, Ronald Reagan, for their modern legacy on the environment. Simply put, Reagan was a disaster. He set back public consciousness and pubic sympathy for environmental concerns decades; he fundamentally changed the way a lot of Americans view the issue, with pithy remarks about the ‘sameness’ of trees or that ‘tree’s cause more pollution then cars’ relying on his popularity and the overwhelming ignorance and shortsightedness of a large number of Americans to push through legislation which weakened environmental protections and increased corporate profits. He was a huge advocate for increasing oil consumption, gave tax breaks to car manufacturers without concession and dismantled Carters renewable energy policies and his attempt to limit our reliance on foreign oil. Nothing bad has ever happened because of our reliance on foreign oil. Nothing.

Environmental issues have to be categorized as the most modern of problems as before Mass Production, Mass Transportation and Weapons of Mass Destruction, pollution was more micro then macro. The second half of the 20th century has more then made up for the slow start.

But is wasn’t always like this. Republicans have not always been such shills to the religious right and corporate handouts, or at least not as much and at the expense of absolutely everything else. There was a time when they saw the importance of being able to breathe and stuff, and also….you know, maybe be able to drink water and eat food that wouldn’t make us sick, like, even Lettuce! As hard as that is to believe now, and there has been two generations born since a Republican was a friend to the environment, so as a reminder of what’s possible, I have compiled a brief history of Republicans who actually pushed policies that preserved and protected the environment.

It must be said that given the enormous social, economic and political changes in our nation’s history, this list couldn’t possibly reflect all the issues involved, but it is a cursory look at highlights in the evolution of environmental policy and protection from Republican leadership.

Abraham Lincoln, even before the idea of large scale pollution had the foresight to protect as much land as possible by establishing, together with Senator John Conness (also a republican) California’s Yosemite Valley and its Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias as a public trust, marking the first time land was set aside specifically for public enjoyment (and laying the groundwork for the national parks system). In 1862 Lincoln established the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 1863 he authorized the establishment of the National Academy of Sciences which has exposed the dangers of GMO’s and the impact of Climate Change to name a few, and would go on to lead the world in promoting and fostering innovation.

Ulysses S. Grant created Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the world. Good job buddy! Been there, Love it!

I started with Lincoln because he came first, but obviously the gold standard for Republican environmental leadership begins with Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909), surely the most aggressive and effective when it came to these issues. He consistently lobbied Congress for wilderness protection, used the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 to set aside 150 million acres of timberland as public domains, and oversaw creation of the U.S. Forest Service. Roosevelt created 50 wildlife refuges and five national parks. He is also remembered as changing how we view the environment and are relationship to it. Challenges inherent with the industrial revolution made this a particularly delicate time with years of heavy logging, mining, urbanization and rapid human expansion, but seeds of this consciousness were sown.

Distracted by the World Wars and wars in Vietnam and Korea, not to mention 20 years straight of Democratic presidents between FDR and Truman there is a pretty large gap between Republicans with the power and penchant to make environmental difference. It wasn’t until Richard Nixon that the Republican’s return to the role of stewards of nature; and for all his faults, Nixon was one of the most environmentally conscience of all our Modern Presidents.

For starters, Nixon signed the bills that established the Environmental Protection Agency and the landmark Clean Air Act, pretty big deals I would say. In 1972 Nixon signed the Coastal Zone Management Act; the Ocean Dumping Act; the Marine Mammal Protection Act; the Federal Insecticide, Fungide, Rodenticide Act; and the Toxic Substances Control Act. Nixon’s term also saw passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 and the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974. Clean water, good.

William Doyle Ruckelshaus, (born July 24, 1932) A Republican in the Indiana House of Representatives was also the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He laid the foundation for the EPA by hiring its leaders, defining its mission, deciding priorities, and selecting an organizational structure. He also oversaw the implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1970. Clean Air, kinda important.

John Phillips Saylor (July 23, 1908 — October 28, 1973) was a Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania. While in Congress he advocated for a number of important environmental causes, including the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways Act, National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and in opposition to the Kinzua Dam Project, controversial due to the displacement 600 Seneca tribe members and cost the reservation 10,000 acres, nearly one-third of its territory and much of its fertile farmland. A position no doubt unpopular with local business owners. He was reelected to twelve succeeding Congresses and served until his death. Nothing like courage in leadership.

Sherwood Boehlert, a Republican Congressman from New York from 1983 through 2007 is best known for his work on environmental policy. In the 1980s with the acid rain crisis, he became a strong advocate in the Republican party for the environment. He was a major contributor to the acid rain provisions of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. He fought to increase Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for automobiles and was the lead GOP sponsor of numerous CAFE amendments. Due to Boehlert’s constant battles over environmental legislation, he was often at odds with his own party’s leadership. How novel.

The infrastructure for conversion of all these ‘dirty’ fossil fuel sources has been in place for over a century. It is going to take a tremendous commitment of reinvestment and re-education to change our thinking, power grid, waste disposal, transportation systems and over all efficiency to limit and eventually eliminate our reliance on planet damaging energy sources. There is also a tremendous opportunity to create mass employment to accomplish this feat. Leadership is needed to; the Republicans must get back to their legacy of conservatism and get their party out of the hands of those whose loyalty lies in fantasy, or lettuce will be the least of our problems.