Highly politicized debates over the federal government's role in protecting the environment — whether it be setting pollution standards or providing renewable energy subsidies — are being distorted and manipulated by the biggest polluters in the country, according to an industry observer speaking Thursday night in Watertown.
“The Republicans have said, 'This is about jobs.' It's not about jobs; it's about profits,” environmental writer Bob Deans said at a forum hosted by Jefferson Community College in the Sturtz Theater.
Less than 0.3 percent of jobs in 2010 were lost due to governmental regulation and intervention of all types, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But federal regulation forces corporations to bear the costs associated with pollution — a byproduct of businesses or everyday activities we conduct.
“The only question is who is going to bear those costs? And if I'm running a corporation, it's in my best interest to say, 'Well, you know I'm not going to bear those costs. Let's just dump it in the river. Let's just dump it in the air. Let's just leave it on the land.' Because then I don't have to pay for it,” Mr. Deans said.
But somebody will pay the price – namely our children, our seniors, our lands, our water and our air, he said.
In the past year and a half since the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, he said, the House has voted hundreds of times to “undermine common sense safeguards” for the sustainable protection of the environment that took decades to put in place by Republicans and Democrats together — effectively channeling the rewards to corporations while asserting the risks onto the greater public and the region in which they conduct business.
“Forty years of progress and 300 votes in committees and the floor of the House to try to undermine these safeguards. It is reckless, it is radical, it is relentless, it's wrong,” he said.
Mr. Deans is a veteran journalist who had spent eight years covering the White House and served four years as chief Asia correspondent for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other Cox newspapers. He is the associate communications director for the Natural Resources Defense Council and a staffer with the NRDC Action Fund.
Industries are now free to spend unlimited millions of dollars attacking our representatives who are “looking out for the best interest of the country and not just the shareholders,” Mr. Deans said.
“We have the obligation to stand up to those people and say, 'American democracy is not for sale.'” he said.
The oil industry — beneficiary of $4 billion in annual subsidies and armed with 700 lobbyists in Washington alone — inparticular is trying hard to unseat President Barack Obama and end the federal wind tax credit, he said.
Referring to a Sept. 13 New York Times article, Mr. Deans said the oil industry already has spent more than $153 million on television ads this year aimed at getting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney elected, nearly four times what their opponents — clean-energy advocates, the Obama campaign and Democratic groups — have spent.
The Obama administration hopes to renew the $12 billion tax credit — which provides 2.2 cents per kilowatt for the first decade of a wind farm's operation — while Mr. Romney wants it to expire this year.
While wind farms aren't the “right fit for everywhere,” there are places where wind turbines are appropriate, Mr. Deans said.
For farmers in Colorado and Kansas, these turbines have served as an “economic lifeline” in a year of drought.
Wind energy provides 4 percent of the nation's electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's August report.
By 2030, Mr. Deans said, the Department of Energy believes wind power can provide 20 percent of our electricity — about the current level provided by nuclear power that has been subsidized by the federal government for more than 60 years.
“It's important that the entire community share the benefits of that wind power,” he said. “The places where it has caused all kinds of friction is when a small group of people collect all the benefits.”