by Molly Ivins
there is no new in the news: violence in the Middle East, United States may have Osama bin Laden cornered yet again (that could become chronic) and the Senate once again debates energy policy. And even when you think something is new, you look at it closely and it turns out to be just a variation on a long-running story.
"Prolonged exposure to air tainted with tiny particles of soot significantly raises the risk of dying of lung cancer or other lung and heart diseases, according to a new study," reports The New York Times. "Snowmobilers Favoring Access to Yellowstone Have Found an Ally in Bush," reads another headline. And it's all, like the energy-policy debate, the same story.
Look further down in the story, "The Environmental Protection Agency has written rules to crack down on soot pollution, but they have been held up by lawsuits brought by vehicle manufacturers and operators." Anent the snowmobile controversy, Michael Finley, recently retired as a superintendent of Yellowstone, said: "They (the Bush administration) decided they were going to have snowmobiles in Yellowstone no matter what the facts demonstrated. They never asked to review the facts. They had their minds made up. I watched an administration with a preconceived agenda unravel a thoughtful and scientifically based decision."
And of course, in the famous energy policy debate: "Most Democrats want to raise the mandatory gasoline mileage standards for automobiles, including sport utility vehicles, for the first time since 1985. Interest groups (read, "the automobile industry") are spending millions of dollars on advertising to try to influence the outcome," according to the Times.
There it is again: Whether it's health, safety or natural beauty, it all gives way to "special interests" that outspend, out-organize and defeat the interests of what can still be called the silent majority. I have always found snowmobilers an amiable, if noise-addicted, lot, but it is the snowmobile manufacturers and dealers -- and their campaign contributions -- that are the real muscle in that battle. As Upton Sinclair observed, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
As Finley points out, there is no real question about whether snowmobiles degrade the most precious jewel in the park system. The air pollution and noise pollution they produce is the polar opposite of the silent, pure splendor of Yellowstone in winter. Not to mention the panic they inflict on the animals.
As a longtime witness to the titanic resistance polluters put up against any form of control, I find the soot-particle fight is no surprise. The worst polluters in Texas, the state with the worst air pollution in the country, have been successfully dodging clean-air laws for 30 years. They have the money, they buy the political clout, they block the courts, and to hell with the people who have to live and die with the results of their greed.
As a rare case of principled resignation reminded us last week, people's lives are in fact at stake. Eric Schaeffer, head of the EPA's Regulatory Enforcement, quit in protest over the Bush administration's efforts to undermine tough legal action against dozens of aging coal-fired power plants that are in violation of federal law. The EPA believes 10,000 deaths a year are caused by the millions of tons of pollution by these plants. When 3,000 Americans were killed by terrorists, we promptly went to war -- one that is now spreading around the globe -- in order to get the killers. When American industry kills Americans, this administration accommodates them endlessly.
Environmental debates are too often reported in MEGO (my eyes glaze over) terms concerning the allowable parts per million of benzene or whatever toxic substance is under debate.There is no hysteria in reporting that people's lives are at stake in these dry lawsuits. They are at stake.
As for the energy debate -- drill, dig and pump against why-don't-we-stop-building-gas-hogs? -- the special interest stakes are obvious. I don't quite understand why Congress is all upset and suing the vice president over who had input on the energy plan. You'd have to be dumber than a stump to think the Bush energy plan is anything but the product of the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries.
I bring up the familiarity and the similarities of these issues not to point out that it's all the same-old, same-old, but precisely to make the opposite point. How long will it take for people to get angry enough to take action? How many children must die?
As we all know, democracy has reached such a point of inanition in this country that hardly anyone thinks he can affect any of it. But in fact you can. Hundreds and thousands of groups of activists all over this country are fighting and winning against polluters. If you don't have much spare time or energy, the oldest tool of citizenship -- take pen in hand and write your congressman -- still actually works. Individual Americans do have power. And with power comes responsibility. So let's get up off our duffs and into the fray.
March 7, 2002 (http://albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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