Monday, February 23, 2004

Editing the Script: In a Kerry vs. Bush race (or Edwards vs. Bush, for that matter), the environment will be a major issue. It's a freebie for the Dems because they are on the environmentalists' side. After all, the only people who could be against environmentalism are the greedy capitalists who get sexually excited by the idea of dumping toxic chemicals into the earth at night, right?

For this reason, it's nice to have someone like Gregg Easterbrook reading the standard environmentalist script and pointing out those tired cliches and examples of illogic that are pushed forth every election year and never questioned. Last year he carved away the foolishness over New Source Review regulations. Now he's turned to Superfund:

This morning's full-page MoveOn.org ad in The New York Times, featuring Al Gore, also complains about declining Superfund spending. But declining Superfund spending is good news! Toxic emissions by U.S. industry have been falling for more than 15 years; the total number of Superfund sites has been falling, owing to completed cleanups. So of course Superfund spending is declining--less is needed because there's less to clean up.
So why does a temporary, outdated solution to toxic waste need to maintain funding? If you guessed "pork" then, well . . .
Like other "temporary" government efforts, Superfund has morphed into a permanent fixture whose initial purpose has been forgotten, and is now dominated by budget politics. Superfund's initial purpose--protecting the public from old toxic wastes--has long since been fulfilled. Now it's viewed by Congress as a public-works funding mechanism for funneling contracts to favored districts. Fundraisers like MoveOn.org view Superfund as a scare mechanism with which to solicit donations. Superfund hasn't been about environmental protection or public health protection in years. It's about who gets how much money and who can denounce whom.

. . . hardly any Superfund locations have been created in decades, with a few exceptions. (Officials declared some of the spots where debris from the space shuttle Columbia fell to be Superfund sites, on the reasoning that the shards of metal had become "waste.") Most Superfund cleanup effort is focused on sites that are old and as the old sites are cleaned up, the scope of the problem declines.

This stuff is worth mentioning, and it always seems to fall to environmentalists themselves to do the mentioning (both Easterbrook and the current bete noire of the greens, Bjorn Lomborg, are effective in part because they have solid enviromentalist credentials, and can't be passed off as corporate-funded pollution apologists). I'd love to see environmentalism included in the list of issues open for debate. Further, I think the Bush administration has been abysmal on environmental issues -- not because of bad policy, but because they've refused to engage in the debate. Drilling in ANWR, market-based pollution controls, rolling back regulation that ignores cost-benefit reasoning: these are defensible policy positions, dammit. The way the administration skulks about on the issue, though, it's as if they've decided they'll take the hit on the environment no matter what, so they shouldn't bother to mount a credible defense.


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