Americans who care about our environment are suffering from more than a mite of “outrage fatigue.”
These past five years, we have witnessed wholesale environmental plunder. We’ve watched the destruction of formerly protected lands, the relaxation of air- and water-pollution standards and the erosion of a network of federal laws and rules designed to protect species in danger of extinction.
But having endured this era of “personal greed trumps nature and science,” I was beginning to think no new stunt could be outrageous enough to faze us. Then came perhaps the most outrageous act of all: the White House’s duplicitous editorial spin on global warming.
If I were to write a fictitious account of special-interest manipulation of public policy, I could do no better than the following: “Longtime oil-industry lobbyist rewrites scientific government treatise to downplay the dangers of global warming. Systematically revises government report so as to nullify the now-proven dangers of global warming on the eve of U.S. president’s meeting with British prime minister on global pollution control treaty.”
It’s so unreal and outlandish, one’s first reaction is, it can’t possibly be true. But it is, verified by the whistleblower and scientist whose work was being “edited” (read: distorted) as a sop to corporate interests, who then leaked the story to The New York Times. Wait, there’s more.
Initially, the White House endorsed the hack job by lawyer and former American Petroleum Institute lobbyist Philip Cooney as part of “a normal interagency review of all documents related to global environmental change.” Excuse me while I disgorge.
Then quietly, over the weekend, Cooney, who had been “serving” as chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, resigned.
The reaction from White House spinmeisters? Cooney had already planned to quit, he just executed his exit a bit earlier than originally announced.
Perhaps Cooney’s editorial exuberance might be palatable if he were the only former oil-industry lobbyist appointed by the White House to edit (read: distort) scientific material, while lacking any scientific credentials.
According to the Times’ editorial board, he’s one of many: “President Bush moved quickly after the 2000 election to fill many of the important environmental and energy jobs with corporate lobbyists who had spent their careers trying to weaken the laws they would then swear to protect. Most were vetted by Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. The result has been an erosion of the regulatory framework protecting the country’s air, water, public lands and wildlife, combined with a chronic unwillingness by the administration to address difficult environmental issues.”
Unlike Cooney, his counterpart rapacious types still see fit to feast off the government trough in decision-making environmental roles. In those posts, they generously reward their former employers, who will likely, in turn, reward them with big jobs or lucrative contracts when they return to the private sector.
Perhaps the Bush administration’s assault would be palatable if the voting public stood up and returned fire. Yes, the president’s job-approval numbers are down (48 percent in the latest ABC-Washington Post poll). And the Post reports, “a plurality said Bush is doing worse in his second term than in his first, and 58 percent said he is not concentrating on the things that matter most to them _ the worst showing Bush has had in this measure in Post-ABC polls.”
But environmental degradation is not the reason most Americans cite for the president’s declining popularity. Voters are most unhappy with administration handling of the war in Iraq and the other war _ the one on terrorism. Those concerns are valid, and the losses are immediate.
Meanwhile, environmental destruction has longer-term consequences.
The lack of clean air, clean water, abundant wildlife and open space will affect future generations much more so than this one. The Cooneys of the world get rich, the rest of us lose out. When will we finally notice?
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)