Dr. Eileen Lynch
6. The Politics of the Environment
Identify and evaluate the political forces that are involved in making environmental policy.
As the Senator for Corpus Christy, Carlos F. Truan, correctly surmises, the government should set the example by passing laws that would protect everyone from anyone polluting the air we breathe and the water we drink. And so it is: the federal government provides its citizens with environmental policies of protection to the natural resources and the population of the country in the form of the Environmental Protection Agency. This agency manages to provide guidelines and regulations about the minimum standards of environmental controls that every state should follow. However, every state has to find its own way to comply with federal statutes. And, in case they wished it so, to establish even more stringent measures above and beyond the EPA’s standards. In this state, we have the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission to evaluate the economic and environmental impacts of conducting and operating manufacturing and industrial concerns in the state and of the policies involved. Its chairman, Mr. Barry McBee, explains (and I paraphrase) that the TNRCC’s mission is to protect the land, the water and the air in this state and protect its people and its resources, but in a way that is consistent with sustainable economical development.
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However, as Senator Truan expresses again, the problem with most of those hearings for the crafting of environmental policies are political in nature, and unfortunately, many times the special interest groups of the manufacturing and industry sectors are very keen to curb the amount of control the government will impose on them. How they manage to do this is open to debate, but the fact remains that the economic focus of the debate seems to carry the day against the ethical focus of it. Unfortunately, as Senator Truan said, we sometimes let people whose sole focus is profit to determine a sound environmental policy when, pragmatically, these two points of view are diametrically opposed to each other.
The textbook offers in its analysis the point of view that, when the cost of operating dirty industries and municipal waste facilities is cheaper than operating environmentally-friendly ones, the problem is not that no one wants to protect and nurture the environment, is just that they balk at the cost of it. I suppose that this analysis is a euphemism to express the point of view held by the citizens of Midlothian, Texas, in the grassroots organization called “downwinders at risk”, whom we met in the video program. Concerned with the environmentally oblivious business conduct apparent in the operation of plants by Txi Cement Plants when they decided to apply for a permit to expand the amount of toxic waste they burned as fuel, they took it upon themselves to educate the public at large. Having managed to create a social conscience, the concerned public came to the TNRCC to present their worries. Of course their concerns are understandable, since the downgrading of the environmental quality affects their health and the health of their loved ones. And of course the reason why Txi wants to burn more toxic waste is understandable, too. They get paid to burn the toxic waste, and so they waste no money in buying their own fuel. It’s a profitable situation for them.
And to add another dimension to this already convoluted and complex situation, one has to take into consideration another group of concerned citizens, whose main concern rests in the fact that, if excessive amount of government controls ensue, the “sound economy” for which they advocate might be severely compromised, and the negative results of over-regulating the environment could be costly in economic terms to the whole state. In the end, one has to wonder if an utilitarian approach might not be a more correct perspective in this and other related issues: The good of the many supersedes the good of the few, or of the one… And so I ask myself, “How many more are they, the future humans, than the few thousands making a profit out of endangering the environment?”