The Republican Platform’s Plan to Eviscerate Environmental Protection

by Daniel Farber

September 05, 2012

Ben Somberg posted here recently about the Republican platform and the environment. He noted that the platform uses a discredited estimate of regulatory costs, calls for making environmental regulations into guidance documents for industry, and proposes a moratorium on new regulations for the indefinite future.

Unfortunately, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. If you can think of an anti-environmental measure proposed by any Republican since Reagan took office, there’s a good chance you’ll find it tucked away somewhere in this platform. Since there are so many of them, it’s helpful to organize the proposals into four bins: (a) regulatory reform; (b) climate change and energy; (c) wildlife, water and property rights; and (d) enforcement.

Regulatory Reform. As Ben noted, the platform calls for a moratorium on all new regulations pending White House review of all existing ones. New regulations will also be difficult to enact, if and when the White House review ever concludes. The platform would require congressional approval for all new major rules. The overall goal is to shift the balance away from the environment: “Reining in the EPA” is critical, and we need to put increased weight on “economic development and private property rights,” as compared with health and safety. In short, “The bottom line on regulations is jobs,” not protecting workers from on-the-job hazards, not protecting consumers from defective products, not protecting people who breathe from polluted air, and so on.

Climate Change and Energy.  The platform would prohibit EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, and pledges to resist any possible new cap-and-trade law. For the nuclear industry, the platform promises faster processing of pending applications for new plants and more proactive search for permanent waste disposal. The real emphasis is on encouraging the fossil fuel industry, with more drilling offshore, in ANWR, and on federal lands; approval of the Keystone pipeline; leaving regulation of fracking to the states, and encouraging coal production by ending “the EPA’s war on coal.” Mass transit is apparently getting too much funding for the GOP’s taste: highway funds should be used only for highways, rather than transit, and we need to reassess California’s “high-speed train to nowhere,” as it refers to a train linking Los Angeles and San Francisco. (Which one of those is "nowhere"?) In order to speed energy and other projects, the Platform says, we need to limit current requirements for environmental impact statements. If you were to just ask what measures would most benefit the fossil fuels sector, you could do a pretty good job of figuring out the platform’s proposals.

Wildlife, Water, and Property Rights. Since the early Clinton Administration, at least, Republicans have wanted to strengthen the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which limits the government's power of eminent domain. The platform demands just compensation for restrictions on water rights and environmental regulations that destroy property value.  It’s unclear why it is a priority for the Republican Party, but the platform also calls on Congress to legalize the sale of products using wildlife illegally killed abroad, thus helping to create a market for such goods.

Enforcement.  The platform calls on the GOP to take a more industry-friendly approach to implementing regulations, as Ben notes. Consistent with this idea, the platform’s section on criminal law calls for the elimination of all criminal penalties for violating agency regulations. The platform also calls for limits on the issuance of environmental injunctions by courts and for limiting government’s ability to settle environmental lawsuits.

The key concept behind the platform is that the United States has gone too far in protecting the environment over the past 40 years – including the Bush Administration, apparently – and that the whole system needs to be revamped in favor of industry in the interest of economic recovery. The drafters seem to have done an excellent job of implementing this rollback effort, presumably with the agreement of Romney staff.

In short, the platform lays out the plan in admirable detail. No one will be able to complain that they didn’t know where the GOP was heading in terms of the environment.

If I were an American, after reading the above, I'd definitely vote Republican.
— Michael Cunningham
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Daniel A. Farber is the Sho Sato Professor of Law and Director of the California Center for Environmental Law and Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

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