Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: We must not padlock the EPA

In 2000, the national unemployment rate averaged 4.0 percent; now it is 9.1 percent. With 25 million Americans unemployed, or in part-time jobs but seeking full-time ones, or too discouraged to look for work last month, we have a monumental jobs problem. However, we also have serious environmental problems that cannot be ignored — many created by the very corporations that conservatives strongly support. It is funny that a job that injures the environment is “good,” while one that heals it is “bad.”

Environmental regulations may cause job losses in some industries, but they also create new jobs and more investment, which creates even more jobs. Regulations also improve the quality of life for Americans; they wouldn’t be needed if industries were less destructive. Conservatives tout the job losses from regulation, but seldom the gains.

Clean water, breathable air, waste disposal systems (for both liquids and solids) that work, restrictions on toxic chemicals — these should be essential for all of us. If you disagree, ask yourself why. Don’t let conservatives fool you into believing that their friends at the big coal, oil and natural gas companies are looking out for your health.

President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, charging the agency with protecting human health and the environment. Even President Reagan said that “Many laws protecting environmental quality have promoted liberty by securing property against the destructive trespass of pollution.”

Then the tea party appeared. Now Michelle Bachmann wants to padlock EPA’s doors. Other Republican presidential candidates have harsh words for the EPA as well, showing how far rightward the Republican Party has shifted.

We need millions of jobs. No change at the EPA would bring many of them soon. However, padlocking the agency would add another 17,000 or more to the ranks of the unemployed and diminish our quality of life as well.

Republican leaders have a jobs plan, CRAT (cut regulations and taxes), based on their belief that the free enterprise system, left alone, will work miracles. Their version of the free enterprise system can best be described as “allow corporations to plunder the planet for private profit.”

Most Americans disagree, and you should be among them. A CNN/ Opinion Research Corp. poll in April found that 71 percent of adult Americans favored continuing government funding for the EPA to enforce environmental regulations, including those on greenhouse gases. The EPA is not the enemy, but it makes a great scapegoat for conservatives.

In the meantime we have an urgent jobs crisis which, according to a majority of economists, is caused mainly by a lack of demand for goods and services. Though Republican memories are short, deregulation of our financial industry and its subsequent collapse helped lead us into the Great Recession in late 2007. Then Republicans and many Democrats focused on healing Wall Street, while doing little for Main Street. Majorities in both parties are indebted to the needs of corporate America above all else. The old adage that “power corrupts” has never been truer.

Since the 1970s our national income distribution has shifted steadily upward. By 2009, 50 percent of national income went to the top 20 percent of American households, while the bottom 20 percent received only 3 percent.

During the same time taxes were being lowered, especially on higher income groups. If you are in one of our nation’s top 5 percent of American households, which had an average income of $295,388 in 2009, you are doing well.

If not, you should start asking Republicans what they really have planned for your future.

A majority of Americans want a cleaner, healthier environment and an economy that provides decent jobs so that they can be both consumers and tax payers.

So long as we continue to make the rich richer, cutting taxes along the way, inequality will increase. These trends are both unsustainable and unhealthy for the nation, no matter what corporations and the politicians they support try to tell us. Listen carefully.

Gary L. Peters is a retired California State University geography professor. He has authored or co-authored 10 books, and has lived in San Luis Obispo County since 2003.