I’m not the least bit surprised that Rep. Matt Gaetz, who wants to dissolve the EPA, is from my former home turf, Northwest Florida.
The Florida Panhandle is one of those areas as red as you can get, a mix of military, military retirees, rural southerners and right-wing Christian theocrat-lovers. The area went for Trump, though not as much as for Romney. And for a large number of the residents, “environment” is lumped in with civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, questioning the government (which is only okay if Democrats are in the White House) and all the other terrible things that happened in the 1960s when the world went to pot. And so it must be utterly and completely destroyed. Plus, of course, regulation on business is evil. And lots of developers and businesses dislike the restrictions imposed by environmental law in particular.
Despite which, Gaetz insists he doesn’t want an environmental apocalypse. It’s just that we’ve come so far since Nixon created the EPA, the states can now handle things. And cities, too. And they’ll do a much better job without that big, overbearing federal bureaucracy. And possibly some states will But speaking as a former, 40-year Florida resident, Florida won’t be one of them. Even the state Department of Environmental Protection, a much more modest operation, draws people’s ire, both for bottom-line and political reason. Despite his lies to the contrary, Gov. Rick Scott has cut environmental spending. The chance the state will spend enough money to make up for the loss of the EPA? Zero.
So the most charitable view of Gaetz is that he’s clueless. Much like Alan Greenspan, who declared after the financial meltdown of a decade ago that when he advocated for looser regulations, it never occurred to him that financial companies wouldn’t be responsible. Or Danielle Pletka, who said after post-occupation Iraq collapsed into civil war that she’d never imagined the Iraqis would fall to civil war and anarchy if we overthrew Saddam. Gaetz is a sunny, naive guy who assumes that the state will do the right thing. He’s wrong, but he’s swallowing his own snake oil.
The alternative view is that the snake oil is strictly for us. He knows perfectly well the loss of the EPA means a massive uptick in pollution, he just doesn’t care because deregulation! Freedom! State’s rights! He may genuinely believe that’s the right course, or he may simply be aware that voters and big money will reward him for his stance. And years from now, when the consequences of erasing environmental protection become clear, Gaetz will wring his hands and assure us that gee, he was soooo sure the states would carry the ball. He had no idea they wouldn’t use their freedom from regulation responsibly! And it’s unlikely he’ll live with any consequences, other than breathing whatever toxic hell he caused.
(1968 LA smog photo from Herald Examiner Collection. Technically smog is covered by the Clean Air Act even if the EPA goes away. At least for now)
Over the years one of the anti-liberal arguments I’ve seen tossed around is that conservatives care more for the future than liberals because they have kids and families where liberals are smug, selfish bastards who stay childless to enjoy their yuppie lifestyle. But it’s liberals who push for a healthy environment, conservatives who advocate passing the buck to the next generation. Let them get elected, let them make their pile while gutting the ecosystem, who cares about tomorrow. Like Louis XV supposedly said when criticized on his policies, apres moi, les deluge — after me the flood. As long as it’s far enough after, they don’t care.