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Race To The Bottom: 7 States Where Republicans Are Ruining The Environment

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"Race To The Bottom: 7 States Where Republicans Are Ruining The Environment"

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As the budget standoff between the Republican controlled House of Representatives and the Democrats reaches a fever pitch, much of the media attention — and frustration — has been focused on reaching a solution to avert a government shutdown. But, under the radar, newly-elected Republicans across the country are proposing disastrous environmental legislation to achieve radical-right aims, such as opening state parks for fracking and exposing their citizens to industrial waste.

OHIO: At the behest of then-Vice President Dick Cheney, an exemption was inserted into a 2005 energy bill — dubbed the “Haliburton loophole” — which stripped the EPA of its power to regulate a natural gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing. This method, named fracking, entails drilling a L-shaped well deep into shale and pumping millions of gallons of water laced with industrial chemicals — chemicals which the energy companies are not legally bound to disclose. The poisonous fluid fractures the shale and releases natural gas deposits for collection. But the public health risk associated with fracking doesn’t seem to bother Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and state Republicans. The Ohio House introduced a bill early last month that would create a panel to open any state-owned land for oil and gas exploration to the highest bidder. Subsequently, in Kasich’s budget proposal, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources would be given authority to lease 200,000 acres of state park land for oil and gas exploration. Faced with a litany of problems related to fracking — even including a house exploding in Ohio — Kasich has fully endorsed drilling in Ohio state parks, saying, “Ohio is not going to walk away from a potential industry.” State Rep. John Adams (R), the House bill’s sponsor, said drilling in state parks can help erase a projected $8 billion budget deficit, and “keep our parks and our lakes up to the standards that the citizens of Ohio want.”

PENNSYLVANIA: After injecting fracking fluid deep into the earth to extract natural gas, the waste that returns becomes a nasty byproduct of saltwater mixed with radioactive materials. Most states require energy companies to inject the waste thousands of feet deep back into the earth — a technique that caused earthquakes in Arkansas. But Pennsylvania, one of the major states at the center of the natural gas boom, dumps the radioactive leftovers directly into rivers and streams, where communities get their drinking water. As a result of the atrocious practice, Pennsylvanians have gotten sick from drinking tap water. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) doesn’t seem to be bothered whatsoever by releasing radioactive waste into rivers, recently saying that he wants to make Pennsylvania “the Texas of the natural gas boom.” In fact, Corbett’s draconian budget cuts funding for environmental oversight, and contains no increases in fines for environmental damages related to fracking. Corbett has even said that the regulation of the natural gas industry has been too aggressive. Not surprisingly, an analysis of Corbett’s campaign contributions has found that he has accepted more money from the natural gas industry than all other Pennsylvania candidates combined.

NORTH CAROLINA: With moratoriums on fracking in Arkansas, New York, New Jersey, and potentially Maryland, state Rep. Mitch Gillespie (R) plans to introduce a bill that would permit fracking in North Carolina. Currently, dating back to rules and regulations put into law in the 1940s, fracking is illegal in North Carolina. But Gillespie wishes to change the law, saying to the House Environment Committee, “It’s my intention to move ahead” with legislation, and natural gas is “a resource” that “North Carolina should be compensated for.” Energy companies are seeking to drill in southern Granville County through Durham, Chatham and Lee counties. But Robin Smith, N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ assistant secretary, said that fracking will “endanger water sources in the area,” citing problems that have occurred in Pennsylvania.

TEXAS: Not only is Texas the biggest polluter in the country but it isn’t complying with federal air quality standards. Texas leads the nation in carbon dioxide emissions, and in 2008, Houston was ranked the fourth worst city for ozone. Texas has not been in compliance with federal air quality standards since 1994, when the state submitted a system of issuing flexible air pollution limits to the EPA — which allowed for a portion of a refinery or chemical plant to emit more pollutants than federal standards authorize as long as the total emissions did not infringe on federal air quality standards. In June 2010, the EPA published its “disapproval” of Texas’ air quality standards, stating that the Texas program “does not meet several national Clean Air Act requirements that help to assure the protection of health and the environment.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and state Republicans responded by filing a lawsuit that challenges the EPA’s ruling. Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples also pushed back against the EPA’s decision, saying, “[u]ltimately, in this process, it is the consumer, American families, that will be picking up the tab for” stronger air quality enforcement. Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s top air official, responded to the agency’s critics, citing that “enforcement of the Clean Air Act has saved lives and allowed the economy to grow.” In fact, the EPA just released a study which concluded that the Clean Air Act will “prevent 230,000 premature deaths and result in $2 trillion in economic benefits in 2020.”

MAINE: Newly elected Gov. Paul LePage (R) — who infamously told the NAACP to “kiss my butt” and that he would tell President Obama to “go to hell” — announced that he will be trimming dozens of environmental protections in order to make Maine more “business friendly.” LePage will be changing a minimum of 36 environmental laws, including opening up 10 million acres of northern Maine for business development, weakening a new law that that requires manufactures take back and recycle old products, relaxing air emission standards, and replacing the state Board of Environmental Protection with an appeals panel. In another remarkably atrocious move, LePage wants to reverse a ruling that the chemical BPA — which has been linked to learning disabilities in children, obesity, and cancer — should be phased out of children’s products. Thankfully, in a significant policy defeat for LePage, a Maine legislative committee unanimously ruled to ban BPA last week.

MONTANA: Instituted in 1971, the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) is a “look before you leap” policy, “requiring state agencies to consider the environmental, social, cultural and economic impacts of proposals like mines, power plants, [and] subdivisions.” Allowing for public input and deliberation when considering new industrial projects, MEPA is largely considered a success. But state Sen. Chas Vincent (R) has proposed a bill to gut the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), citing that it’s what “venture capitalists” need. Moreover, state Rep. Joe Read (R) has introduced a bill declaring global warming a “natural occurrence and human activity has not accelerated it,” and that “global warming is beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana.” In an effort to help business projects tied up in lawsuits, state Republicans have even proposed amending the Montana Constitution’s guarantee of a “clean and healthful environment” to a “clean, healthful, and economically productive environment.”

MINNESOTA: State Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R) convinced a committee to amend the House outdoors bill to include a provision that allows the for-profit logging industry to cut trees in Minnesota’s Frontenac and Whitewater state parks. The provision was ultimately taken out of the outdoor spending bill, and Drazkowski expressed regret, saying that black walnut trees — worth up to $5,000 — will be left to “rot on the stump.” But the fate of 24 existing state parks and plans for the development of Lake Vermilion State Park are still on the cutting block as the House and Senate begin negotiating their outdoor spending bills.

These assaults on the environment have very little to do with budget shortfalls, but they do conveniently provide a platform of austerity where state Republicans can justify their ideological attacks on behalf of corporate polluters — who are not just stripping states’ natural resources but also the health and the jobs of their citizens. The Republican attacks on the environment are just the tip of the iceberg, though. Koch’s ALEC is underwriting radical-right legislation across the country, having major influence in efforts to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, helped draft Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration law, and is the major driving force behind anti-union bills in many states. In short, state Republicans have fallen ill to a larger pattern — carefully orchestrated and implemented by Koch’s ALEC and AFP — where the environment and the safety of their citizens are sacrificed, in favor of lining the pockets of the wealthy.

-Paul Breer

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