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Business as Usual Is Destroying America

(Photo: Brent Danley / Flickr)

The national efforts to stem the tide of pollution in the 1960s and 1970s made a difference: Americans had the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and cleaner air and water. In 1972, EPA dared to ban DDT, the silver bullet of the farmers against all insects. This decision united farmers, the chemical industry and all polluters to reassert their authority. Business as usual was back on the driver's seat.

So, the honeymoon with the natural world was more ephemeral than real.

The Republican administration of Ronald Reagan declared war on nature and started the subversion of EPA to a polluters' protection agency.

This was a bipartisan effort to rein in the environmentalists who wanted real protection from the trillions of pounds of hazardous chemicals used or dumped all over the country.

Of all the presidents in the last 50 years, George W. Bush was the most formidable enemy of environmental protection. This was a president who invented terrorism as a mantra for perpetual war. His obsession was to defeat the invisible Muslim fanatics who bombed Washington, DC, and New York. He mobilized the Pentagon and countless mercenary soldiers to invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan with the result that he brought the country near bankruptcy. With this single-minded commitment to war for theology and petroleum, Bush cared less about environmental protection. Bush only remembered the legacy of Ronald Reagan. He used the Reagan models to cut down on the little the EPA was still doing to keep the air breathable.

As a result, during the Bush administration, the air was permeated with more pesticides, toxic soot, lead and smog; the drinking water was permeated with more arsenic, pesticides and the rocket fuel perchlorate; the land was permeated with more untreated waste, slipping into streams, ground water, rivers and lakes. This extra pollution killed countless thousands, but it was profit in the pockets of polluters.

Second, factories, car manufacturers and power plants did not bother to replace old-fashioned equipment, exacerbating pollution. The EPA's enforcement lawyers kept suing the factory criminals, only to have the White House prevent their prosecution. In 2002, Eric Schaffer, director of enforcement, quit in disgust.

Third, the chemical industry gave millions to the EPA to help them test their products on America's infants and toddlers. They called such unethical and shameless experiment CHEERS – Children's Environmental Exposure Research Study. The testing did not last for long, but it created an additional way the industry could save money by preying on vulnerable populations in need of a little cash.

According to Sen. Barbara Boxer, who, in 2008, investigated the malfeasance of the Bush administration, the political men of the EPA worked closely with the White House and Pentagon officials to undermine the evaluation of toxic chemicals. “National security” trumped safety for our children.

Fourth, the Bush administration had an industry man, Philip Cooney, who censored government research and reports about global warming. The Bush administration knew the United States was the largest global producer of carbon dioxide, a key agent in raising the temperature of the planet. Yet, it wrecked international efforts to bring the warming of the earth, a juggernaut of future calamities, under control.

This ugly policy of business as usual so disheartened Elizabeth Kolbert, a writer for The New Yorker, that she concluded her 2006 book, “Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature. And Climate Change,” with this: “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”

Kolbert is right. Business as usual is slowly killing America, especially its children.

In his 2008 book, “Poisoned Profits,” Philip Shabecoff, former reporter for The New York Times, issued the following chilling warning: “Our children are conceived, born, live and sometimes die in a sea of pollutants…. We and our children are exposed to toxins invisibly, stealthily, without our knowledge. Trillions of pounds of tens of thousands of toxic chemicals pour into the environment and into the products in our homes, workplaces and schools and their number is growing daily. There's no place to hide from them.”

Clearly, environmental protection was never a luxury to be weakened or taken away so that industry can go on making profits at the expense of human health and the undermining of life on earth.

Yet, the political unanimity in business as usual is remarkable: money from the industries in question pollutes scientists at our universities and our politicians and presidents, both Republican and Democratic.

The transition from the Republican George W. Bush to the Democrat Barack Obama brought some cosmetic changes to environmental protection, but the essentials of protecting business rather than human health and the natural world remain in place.

In this context, it's rather naïve to assume, much less to believe, that the EPA “is drafting a scientific integrity policy” to keep politics out of its science. That is out of its current mission.

The New York Times reported on February 24, 2011, that, because of the Obama administration's “saber rattling,” the pesticides industry “is applying extra doses of lobbying in an effort to eradicate federal requirements it considers harmful.” In practical terms, the chemical industry and its purchased politicians on Capitol Hill use the budget and the White House to freeze the EPA, a tested and successful strategy for having their way.

As long as the industry is allowed to fund – bribe – politicians to allow industry to keep doing its thing, there's no hope. The EPA will continue on its frozen state. Our children will have no place to hide from the assault of the myriad chemicals around them.

We need to reassert our authority over the industry, approving essential chemicals only under strict science and health rules. Corporations must learn to live in a democracy or be abolished. Under such conditions, the EPA will flourish as originally conceived.

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