Has the rhetoric on environmental policy shifted in Washington in the past year? During today's OnPoint, Bob Deans, author of the new book, "Reckless: The Political Assault on the American Environment," published by the NRDC Action Fund, explains why he believes 2011 was the worst year for environmental policy in modern history. He also explains why he believes strong environmental policy can help boost the economy.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Bob Deans, author of the new book "Reckless: The Political Assault on the American Environment." "Reckless" is published by the NRDC Action Fund. Bob, it's nice to have you on the show.
Bob Deans: Thanks Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: Bob, with all the regulatory action coming out of EPA last year on air rules you still argue that in 2011, the U.S. weathered the worst legislative assault on the environment in modern history. Why was 2011 such a pivotal year?
Bob Deans: Because, Monica, the House of Representatives voted more than 200 times, in a little more than a year, to undermine the safeguards that we all depend on to protect our air, our water, our children's health, our wildlife, our lands or to delay, water down or block needed new measures that we need to address emerging threats. We've never seen anything like that before. Republicans and Democrats have always had a robust conversation if you will about how best to protect our environment. But never has one party just abandoned it all and said we're going to undo the environmental safety net.
Monica Trauzzi: Is a really the legislative assault on the environment or is it just a greater focus on issues that might be considered more relevant or important right now?
Bob Deans: I would say it's definitely an assault on the environment, because if you look at the vision behind these votes, again, 200 votes in committees and on the full floor of the House, if you look at what they would do, cut the legs out from under the EPA and its authority to save streams in the Appalachians, prohibit the EPA from implementing a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, rollback protections for the Gulf of Mexico offshore drilling, on and on and on. Air quality in Cleveland Ohio. It was an absolute assault on the environment. These are not, you know, legislative games are being played. This, more than perhaps any other agenda we might mention, has a direct impact on the life of the nation, on the life of Americans.
Monica Trauzzi: Most of the discussions on Capitol Hill last year centered on the economy and often the thinking is that environmental policy is not sound economic policy. Is it prudent to move forward with environmental legislation at this point in our economic history when we have so many issues?
Bob Deans: You know, Monica, every single time, going back to Richard Nixon, that we have implemented environmental safeguards somebody has stood up and said the economy is going to collapse and it hasn't. We've grown from about $1 trillion during Nixon's time to a $14 trillion a year economy. And so the doomsayers are never correct on that one. The other thing that we know is that by investing in energy efficiency and in wind, solar, other types of renewable energy, we've created jobs for 3.1 million Americans over just about the past decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These jobs really didn't even exist a decade ago, so they have been a lifeline in tough times for 3 million American families. They're helping to keep the economy afloat during a challenging period.
Monica Trauzzi: Industry would argue that last year was an assault on their business practices with all of the action that we saw coming out of EPA. Isn't the administration compensating for the lack of legislative action by moving forward on these regulations?
Bob Deans: In some ways what's happened is the EPA, in some cases, was acting on statutes that were passed by Congress 20 years ago. But through court hurdles, challenges by industry and others it has taken this long to get these rules written and put into place. But I would say that the industries that we are hearing from are big polluters who thrive when they're able to let others bear the cost of their pollution, whether that means destroying our streams and our airs or increasing asthma for young people. This is not the way we want to go in this country. We think polluters ought to do exactly what we ask of every kindergartner everywhere in America and clean up their mess and that's all they're being asked to do in these safeguards.
Monica Trauzzi: But does that mean job losses?
Bob Deans: It doesn't. On balance we create jobs. Now, are there sometimes job dislocations? Yes, there are, but on balance these environmental safeguards are responsible for creating jobs. It's about a $300 billion a year industry in this country to create scrubbers to keep our air clean, to create the monitors that we need to make sure that our waters are safe and to put people to work, professionals whose job it is to help clean up the environment for all of us. That's good work.
Monica Trauzzi: We've heard so many studies pointing to the fact that the green jobs movement has not rendered the jobs numbers that we were initially expecting. What's your take on the progress there?
Bob Deans: Well, you know, we're coming out of the worst recessions since World War II. I don't think any sector in the country would say we are satisfied with what we've seen. But that's why when the Bureau of Labor Statistics came out with this number just a month ago saying we have 3.1 million green jobs in this country, that was an important number. That's 2.4 percent of the American workforce. And so the jobs in solar, more than 90,000 Americans getting up every day, suiting up, putting in solar panels. More than 100,000 Americans around the country building wind turbines, putting that up. And so we're seeing a lot of progress. People who are making thermal panes for energy-efficient buildings, helping to build the next generation of energy-efficient automobiles, electric cars, batteries. Billions of dollars being invested in our industrial heartland for that. We're seeing enormous progress, we certainly hope to see more.
Monica Trauzzi: And if tax credits aren't extended for renewables the industry would argue that they may see job losses.
Bob Deans: It's so important that we continue public investment in this sector. You know, one of the great strengths of this country has always been our ability to identify national goals and then spool together the national resources we need to attain those goals. That's how we won World War II. That's how we won the Cold War. That's how we put a man on the moon. And for the 21st-century, investing in these renewable and alternative energy sources is important to our country's future.
Monica Trauzzi: Specifically what role do you believe the Tea Party has played in Washington in the rhetoric surrounding environmental policy?
Bob Deans: Well, it's an interesting question. The Tea Party, if you-and I've looked at polls that show Tea Party Republicans are twice as hostile to environmental safeguards as Main Street Republicans are. And the Tea Party in the House of Representatives seems to be driving the bus. And the Tea Party, finally, has been, I would say, hijacked, the Tea Party agenda, by corporate polluters. Old-line coal, petrochemical, oil and gas interests have pumped scores of millions of dollars into providing buses, Tea Party rallies, town halls, speakers, all manner of support for the Tea Party. And when the tea party grassroots folks stand up and say, "We want less government," they mean one thing, but when a polluter stands up and says "We want less government," they mean something very different. I think the Tea Party movement has been hijacked. I don't think the typical tea partier out in the heartland understands what's happened, but they have been driven and guided by these big polluters and they are now carrying that smokestack agenda up on Capitol Hill.
Monica Trauzzi: So, what role will the environment play in the presidential election, if any?
Bob Deans: A huge role, because 80 percent of Americans want to see our environmental safeguards either strengthened or left alone. When you have a house that has voted 200 times to undermine those safeguards, that is way out of step with where the American public is. We hope that the Republican Party will regain the voice of Teddy Roosevelt, of Dwight Eisenhower, of Richard Nixon, of other Republicans who throughout the past century have stood up for nature, has stood up for our environment and have said we're going to do what's best for the country, not what's best for deep-pocketed polluters.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll and there. It's an interesting read. Thank you for coming on the show.
Bob Deans: Thank you, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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