Money Beats Brains Again: EPA Gives Up on Smog

smokestack in Chicago

The EPA was thinking of restraining air pollution such as this, into Chicago's air in January. But it has thought twice. (Photo by Andrew Ciscel/Flickr)

Since industrial America lost its grip on the White House, when its first wholly-owned and -operated president, George W. Bush, was replaced by the upstart Barack Obama, it has been pouring money into reasserting its grip on the Congress in order to prevent governmental interference with the making of profits. And Wednesday was payoff day. The Environmental Protection Agency surrendered.

Since January of 2009, the EPA has been acting as if its job really were to protect the environment, something it did not do under Bush’s leadership — or Cheney’s thumb. It was the industrialists’ worst fear: an executive agency unrestrained by one of their own or by their Congress, actually requiring them to restrain pollution.

One of the worst examples, from industry’s point of view, was the proposed new rule on smog. which was going to require that when smog reached levels of 60-70 parts per billion for eight hours, industries contributing to the smog would have to cut back emissions of the implicated compounds. The limits were much tighter than the Bush EPA imposed, and much looser than the EPA scientists thought necessary. The rule was to have become official last August, then was delayed until Wednesday.

In the mean time, industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars supporting people who want to prevent the Obama administration from bothering them. Apparently they did not find enough people in the Republican Party two years ago who were willing to put the interests of industry above that of the country and its people, so they started the Tea Party.

Now, it is one of the fondest delusions of American political life that politics is a contest of ideas, and political movements arise from the breasts of an aroused people. In the real world politics is a money sport, not to the extent that money guarantees success, but to the extent that lack of money just about guarantees failure. And political movements arise to the extent — and only to the extent — that they are well funded. When the Supreme Court last summer ruled that the right to spend corporate money for political ends is as sacred — is really the same thing — as individual freedom of speech, the torrent of money being directed toward crippling the federal government became a tsunami.

The fiction that the Tea Party is a populist eruption has pretty well been demolished by the revelations of the hundred-million-dollar role played by the Koch Brothers — who own every other brand of consumer product you ever bought — in the party’s spontaneous combustion. (Here is the New Yorker article that started it all.) The more we learn about the murky flows of millions to shadowy organizations active in last November’s election, the more we understand how vast was the amount of money involved.

Was it worth it? Well, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, looking forward to taking over as chairman next year, vows he will have a monthly Congressional investigation into EPA over-reaching on smog, greenhouse gases and the like. “The Committee will make sure that the EPA follows the law and doesn’t kill jobs,” he said. This is Joe Barton, the guy who apologized to BP, while its well was gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, for its treatment at the hands of the US government.

And on Wednesday the EPA announced it had to study its smog science at greater length, and would not be troubling industry further with it until next July at the earliest, and when hell freezes over at the latest. Being able to pull the fangs of the only agency with the power to restrain pollution? Priceless.

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