Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Reverse New Deal: Prohibiting and outlawing responses to environmental problems

(WPA workers cleaning the Pocomoke River in Maryland, 1937. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

During the New Deal, there were massive efforts to preserve the environment. For example, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted between 2 and 3 billion trees, the Soil Conservation Service taught farmers how to avoid erosion, and the Works Progress Administration cleaned rivers, stocked fish, built firebreaks, sealed old mines, and much, much more. Also, through the efforts of various New Deal policymakers, vast areas of land were protected from development, e.g., additions to the National Park system.  

Today, the story is quite different. Right-wing politicians--and the right-wing donors & media groups that support their efforts and control their puppet strings--are attempting to prohibit and even criminalize efforts to keep our environment clean. For a group that is so adamant about "personal freedom" and "liberty" and "don't tread on me," it's amazing to see how they are so eager to clampdown on personal freedom and liberty when it threatens the continuance of greed, corruption, white collar crime, and pollution.

Consider these six amazing efforts by the political right to keep people from discussing, finding, reporting, or responding to environmental problems:

1. No photos of pollution allowed:

A new law in Republican-controlled Wyoming makes it illegal (among other things) to take a photo of pollution on public land and show it to government officials. After highlighting similar laws in other Republican-controlled states, a professor of law at the University of Denver stated, "This is sort of a new tactic we’re seeing, where state governments are trying to build legal rules that prevent people from uncovering information about favored industrial groups" (i.e., their pollution-creating and resource-wasting activities). See, "In Wyoming, taking a photo of a polluted stream could land you in jail," Think Progress, May 13, 2015.

2. Defense agencies must ignore the effect of climate change on national security:

In 2014, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives "passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization bill...that would bar the Department of Defense from using funds to assess climate change and its implications for national security." The writer of the amendment, Congressman David McKinley (R-WV), and his colleagues, were upset with several defense reports that concluded that global warming was a security threat. See, "House directs Pentagon to ignore climate change," Huffington Post, May 23, 2014.

3. Not allowed to prepare for environmental threats:

In 2012, Republican-controlled North Carolina created a law prohibiting "the state from basing coastal policies on the latest scientific predictions of how much the sea level will rise," thus putting the state's coastal infrastructure in jeopardy. See, "While the seas rise in the Outer Banks and elsewhere in NC, science treads water," The News & Observer, March 15, 2014. Comedian Stephen Colbert summed up the law by stating, "If your science gives you a result you don't like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved."

4. Law enforcement protecting illegal dumping?

In 2014, again in Republican-controlled North Carolina, the group Waterkeeper Alliance tried to find a source of water pollution at Duke Energy but were warned off by a police officer in a sketchy confrontation (see a video of the encounter here). Given surrounding events (e.g., fines and lawsuits against Duke Energy) and given Republican Governor Pat McCrory's deep ties to Duke Energy, one has to ask: Were the police intentionally protecting illegal dumping, by barring Waterkeeper Alliance from finding and photographing it? (Aerial photos later showed what appeared to be intentional and illegal dumping.)

5. No discussion of climate change allowed, First Amendment rights be damned:

In at least two Republican-controlled states, it appears that government employees are not allowed to speak about climate change or global warming. See, for example...

"For some Wisconsin state workers, 'Climate Change' isn't something you can talk about," Bloomberg Business, April 8, 2015.

"Report: Florida banned state workers from saying 'Climate Change,'" Mother Jones, March 9, 2015.

6. That kind of talk isn't allowed here!

A scientist appearing on the Republican news show Fox & Friends said a producer told him not to speak about climate change. See, "Science Editor: Fox News told me not to talk about climate change," Huffington Post, April 30, 2014.

(WPA workers planting oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, 1936. Across the nation, the WPA planted 8.2 million bushels of oysters. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

It is not hard to imagine a time in the near future where air quality in the United States is so bad that people will want to wear breathing masks when they go outside (if you think that's far-fetched, see what happened in Utah here). And it is also not hard to imagine, given the events I've highlighted above, that the political right will try to make it illegal to wear breathing masks - since doing so would reflect negatively on Corporate America and the super-wealthy Americans who get rich by polluting our nation.

We've come a long way since President Roosevelt said, "Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to the people." And we've even come a long way since Republican President Richard Nixon said, " is not too much to ask that each American assume a large, personal responsibility for renewing and preserving our environmental heritage." Today, "personal responsibility" is a burden that the political right places only on the unemployed and the homeless, not on corporate executives or super-wealthy investors. Today, the political right is on a mission to absolve Corporate America of personal responsibility for pollution and instead make it illegal for us to resist, respond to, or talk about pollution. And American voters are following along, as evidenced by the political right's takeover of American governments across the country.



  1. Hi Brent. I have some disagreements with the tenor of your post. However, whenever any discussion on this subject comes up, I find it difficult to get around the profound change that happened during the late 60's paradigm shift toward post industrialism and the growth (pun intended) of the modern environmental movement, that, along with the parasitical forms of financial speculation has largely eliminated most of the former industrial companies that once provided for a stable middle class and relatively high living standards for the majority of the population. If find it paradoxical that Professor Gray Brechin of the Living New Deal opposes policies like the North American Water and Power Alliance (NAWAPA) type of continent wide water management that was supposed to be the follow up to FDR's 4 corners development of the water resources in the Northeast, Southeast, Southwest and Northwest, which seems to reflect the powerful propaganda effort at equating our industrial progress with fascism, and a rehashed Malthusian outlook that equates population growth with a virus. Americans rightfully can point to the destructive role that environmental groups have played in the increasing poverty by their blocking efforts that stop anything from being built due to the increased costs of all the studies and lawsuits that delay development and construction and make building anything prohibitive. There is much to say about the subject of Climate Change, except that the debate has become entrenched without anyone pointing to the role of Malthusian propagandists like Al Gore who promoted GW for the benefit of financial speculation in carbon futures that his company is involved in and his stated belief in Prince Philips hatred of "inferior" races of people and his wish to have them all killed off.

  2. With this particular blog post, I was more focused on efforts to get people to stop talking about pollution, but see my reply to your other comment, which I think touches on some of the issues you raise: