ThinkProgress filed this report from Pella, Iowa.
In 1969, a river in Ohio caught on fire and the world watched as flames burned on a polluted body of water. The Cuyahoga conflagration caused only minor damages but ignited a public movement towards environmentalism which ultimately led to the passage of the Clean Water Act and the establishment of the EPA.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich cited the incident as an example of poor stewardship of the environment during a campaign stop Monday with the FAMiLY LEADER Presidential Lecture Series in Pella, Iowa. After calling the EPA a “job-killing, anti-business, anti-local control, Washington-centered radical bureaucracy,” he touted the “common sense steps” taken to successfully clean up and revive the Cuyahoga River:
VANDER PLAATS: Brenda from Pella asks, “What are your views on the care of our creation? Specifically, how would you balance our need for natural resources with God’s command to care for the world?”
GINGRICH: I think that’s a very good question. I used to teach environmental studies. I love the outdoors. I wanted to either be a zoo director or a paleontologist when I was young. I have a real interest in the natural world.
But I’m also in favor of an Environmental Solutions Agency to replace the Environmental Protection Agency. The Environmental Protection Agency has become a job-killing, anti-business, anti-local control, Washington-centered radical bureaucracy. It’s fundamental. You talk to small towns all across Iowa about how much they’re going to be bankrupted by EPA regulations. You talk to farmers about how much EPA now makes no sense at all. I’m not a chemist by background, but the idea we should treat milk as gasoline makes no sense at all. Something happens to bureaucrats in Washington. Common sense leaves and dictatorship enters, and they issue rules that make no sense . . .
When I taught environmental studies, the Cuyahoga River was on fire in Cleveland. Now, I don’t care how conservative you are, you do not want rivers to be on fire. It’s a really bad sign of how much pollution there was. So the steps that we took were common sense that cleaned up the Cuyahoga River, that cleaned up all sorts of places around this country… those are the good steps. We have a cleaner, healthier environment today than we did in 1970.
Although he praises the “cleaner, healthier environment” created by the EPA, he wants to scrap the agency and now regularly attacks the agency for trying to enforce the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act for today’s pollution threats.
The Clean Water Act gave the EPA regulatory rights to monitor the amount of pollution that manufacturing companies dumped into the river. When regulations took effect in 1972, the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration found “no visible signs of life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms that usually thrive on wastes”. Today, EPA scientists have found 40 different species of fish. “The Clean Water Act made a big difference early in the effort to clean up the Cuyahoga,” said Jim White, director of the Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization. “The federal government had the muscle to make things happen.”
For Gingrich, whose campaign has been defined by missteps, his approach to environmental issues rests somewhere between nonsensical and hypocritical.