Katy Burns: Is America overregulated? Hardly!
So Scott Brown – the erstwhile Massachusetts senator who recently took it into his head that the scenery in New Hampshire is so much more attractive than that in the Bay State – is finally ending his elaborate political tease.
He wants back in the U.S. Senate – but this time to represent New Hampshire. And his platform as a candidate – like his platform as the guy who was “testing the water” and “doing a listening tour” of the state – is pretty simple.
Obamacare is bad. Obamacare is very bad.
He will first test this message against others in the Republican primary, all of whom interestingly also think that Obamacare is very bad. And if he succeeds in winning that contest, he will run against Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who will presumably campaign on the premise that the Affordable Care Act is actually good. It just needs a little fixing.
And this scenario is a bit disheartening, since there is a whole raft of other issues that urgently need sober, thoughtful discussion in this second decade of the 21st century.
One of them is government regulation and its role in America’s future. The GOP generally holds that regulation – of any sort – is, like Obamacare, bad. It stifles innovation in business and industry, it kills jobs. And the Environmental Protection Agency – the EPA – is particularly bad. It should be reined in, stopped from its pesky meddling in free enterprise. It should in fact be abolished. Killed. It is irrelevant at best. After all, industry today is enlightened. Everything is now clean, and we don’t need the EPA anymore.
Which is all very interesting considering the Department of Justice’s announcement, just a week or so ago, that a corporation called Anadarko had agreed to pay $5.1 billion – yep, billion – to the EPA to clean up the toxic waste that a company it acquired had for decades left in dozens of communities stretching from coast to coast. And that had methodically and deliberately tried to dodge responsibility “in a corporate shell game.”
It was the largest settlement over toxic waste contamination in Justice’s history.
But then it’s not every day that a company – in this case, once known more familiarly as Kerr-McGee, the massive oil, gas, chemical and energy behemoth – pollutes so egregiously as this one did for 85 years. Think about that: 85 years! This isn’t a Johnny-come-lately to the polluting game. Its operations left the landscape littered with such toxins as hexavalent chromium, perchlorate, radioactive uranium, creosote and thorium.
It left abandoned uranium mines in the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico. It polluted Lake Mead, which feeds into the Colorado River, a major source of drinking water for the Southwest. It left creosote waste in the Northeast, Midwest and South. It abandoned radioactive thorium in Chicago. And on and on it went.
A housing development was built over one abandoned site. Residents had no idea what was under their houses until “sludge literally began to bubble up into a resident’s basement,” said one U.S. attorney.
Kerr-McGee wasn’t enlightened. It wasn’t a responsible corporate citizen. It was an outlaw company that for many decades methodically despoiled America and put American citizens at risk. And then tried to avoid any responsibility with a series of fraudulent maneuvers.
Kerr-McGee was eventually foiled in large part because of the investigative work of that vilified EPA. It is that same EPA that will use the settlement money to clean up the appalling mess left by the outlaw company.
Yet the EPA – and its regulatory role in American society – is very much in doubt in the nation’s future as envisioned by the national Republican Party, including, apparently, Scott Brown.
For while Brown has been very cagey about what he does or does not support as a matter of public policy – other than, of course, his belief that Obamacare is very, very bad – he has left a few clues along the trail. Mainly in what he did or didn’t do when he briefly served in the office for which he is now running.
And in 2011, Scott Brown, then the junior senator from Massachusetts, most emphatically did not support the EPA. As a matter of fact, Brown (who loves to portray himself as an “independent” and “bipartisan” politician) voted in lockstep with other Senate Republicans to essentially gut key responsibilities of the EPA.
He and his cohorts voted to strip the EPA of its authority to regulate any – any – greenhouse gases. And for good measure to bar any improvements in auto fuel efficiency standards after 2016. The GOP votes were characterized at the time as “gifts to the oil and gas interests.”
Why did he vote that way? Who knows? If you see Brown out there on the campaign trail, you could try asking him.
That ill-conceived measure didn’t pass, but it offers a clue as to GOP lawmakers’ opinions about regulatory agencies and their commitment to protecting the health and safety of Americans. There’s a whole alphabet soup of such agencies, too: EPA, FDA, OSHA, CPSC, NLRB, NLRB, FTC, FAA, SEC, FDIC, NRC, the Departments of Justice and Labor and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which Republicans have tried mightily to strangle in its cradle and which coincidentally this week announced a major recovery of consumers’ money from Bank of America for illegal credit card practices).
Look them up, if you’re not sure what they do.
And while you’re looking, bear in mind a few of the messes weakened regulations have brought to us lately. Poisoned drinking water for 300,000 people in West Virginia. A coal ash spill in North Carolina that’s threatening the Dan River, a vital waterway flowing through several states. And a number of catastrophic spills of heavy crude oil from poorly maintained pipelines in rural America.
Now go out and find a candidate (or several) for senator from New Hampshire. And ask him or her about the future of regulatory agencies in 21st-century America. A 21st-century America that doubtlessly harbors more than a few other Kerr-McGees.
And when that candidate tries to distract you with an “Obamacare is bad” mantra – or tries to tell you that in our enlightened age there are no more Kerr-McGees to worry about – just walk away.
(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)