No Need For Clean Water Regulations Because Freedom!

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

It’s no secret that lots of Republican politicians loathe the Environmental Protection Agency. Aside from Obamacare, it’s one of the party’s favorite whipping boys. Never mind that the agency was the creation of President Richard Nixon, himself a hyper-partisan Republican. (The Watergate scandal arose out of an attempt to undermine Nixon’s Democratic opponents in the 1972 presidential race.) What a Republican president created in 1970, the current party is bound and determined to dismantle today.

The Republican party largely denies the existence of global climate change and assiduously pooh-poohs the necessity of environmental regulations. While its 2008 party platform addressed environmental concerns at length, the 2012 platform demanded that Congress  “take quick action to prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations.”  In line with that official statement of hostility, the party has been casting about for ways to prevent the Obama administration from using the EPA to advance its environmental agenda. Obstruction by any means is the strategy of the day. The party’s aversion to the EPA has been one of the principal hurdles in filling the empty seats in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Now the Republican controlled House of Representatives has come up with another way to hamstring the agency by undermining its ability to clean up heavily polluted sites via the Superfund. The bill, H.R. 2279, coyly titled  the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act of 2013, is intended to make it harder to hold companies accountable for environment damage from toxic waste and to give states more control over regulating toxic waste. The bill would also make it more difficult for the president to demand financial assistance for cleanup projects from state governments.  The bill has virtually no chance of passing in the Senate, and the president has already promised to veto it should it make its way to his desk. But it is a pure expression of the party’s loathing of federal environmental regulations.

Undercut the EPA’s ability to clean up toxic waste, devolve environmental control to the states, hobble the ability of the feds to coordinate financing with the states – what could possibly go wrong? You know exactly what could go wrong and, as if on cue, it did. The very same day the House passed the bill, a chemical spill near Charleston, West Virginia essentially shut the capital city down.

Thousands of gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a foaming agent used in coal production, leaked from a holding tank into the ground and then into the Kanawha River in downtown Charleston. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told inhabitants not to drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water. The only appropriate thing to do with municipal water is to flush toilets. You certainly can’t drink it. You can’t even wash your hands with it. The National Guard has been called up to distribute drinking water, and police and firefighters are controlling long lines as people cue up to get their share. As of Sunday, some 300,000 West Virginians were still without clean tap water and the city has come to a virtual standstill. Even flights in and out of the local airport have been cancelled due to the lack of potable water.

So far, nobody knows how long the chemical had been leaking or how long it will take to clean it up and get it safely out of the water supply. Nor does anyone have an idea what the costs will ultimately be. With visitors and residents alike fleeing the capital, local businesses are in a state of suspended animation.

And the name of the company whose chemicals have poisoned the capital’s water supply? Freedom Industries. The Onion couldn’t have come up with a more ironic name. The company has been studiously mum about the spill. Apparently it didn’t report the spill to the water company which supplies most of the household water in the area.

So by all means, let’s slash the EPA’s ability to clean up contamination. Let’s shift the burden of regulatory enforcement to the states. Let’s make it harder for the feds to share cleanup costs with the states. It’s all in the name of freedom.

UPDATE: Speaker of the House John Boehner has now weighed in, arguing that the spill is President Obama’s fault and that the real problem lies with “those regulations that we think are cumbersome, are over the top, and that are costing the economy jobs.” Remember, regulations are always “job killers.” What Boehner neglected to mention is that he received $5,000 in political donations from Freedom Industries last year.

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