I wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon or so blatantly, but I wasn’t really that surprised when the Administration pulled the plug on EPA ozone regulations.
Why did this happen. and what does it all mean?
I think we can dismiss the possibility that the issue was decided on the merits, that the Administration became convinced by the Republicans’ contention that the way to stimulate the economy is to increase hospitalizations for respiratory disease. The move was political in intent. Perhaps the Republicans’ argument was polling well, and the Administration wanted to coopt the issue. That’s not really plausible, either. If you are doing something because the polls show it is popular, you don’t do it, in classic bad news fashion, on the Friday before a holiday weekend.
What has happened is that the environmental movement has become politically irrelevant. And it goes back to the last election.
I think that the 2010 election will be recognized as the most significant election since 1860. There is an optimistic analysis of the election, which I don’t really buy, that there are two electorates now — a large, liberal leaning electorate that shows up in Presidential years, and a smaller, right-wing electorate that votes in the midterms. Even if you believe this, you have to deal with the consequences of the 2010 election, which are that the winners rewrite the rules for elections. So when the quadrennial voters show up next time, many will find that they have been stripped of their right to vote, and those who can still vote will discover that their votes no longer have any impact on who controls the House or their state legislatures, because of aggressive redistricting.
Here is how I think about what happened in 2010. A third party, which had not existed before, became the majority party, by taking over the party that had been the minority party, driving it to the right ideologically, and somehow in the process increasing that party’s support. It doesn’t make any sense that such a thing could occur, but it did.
And something else happened as well. The party that was the majority party, in fact, the party that had achieved the largest legislative majority of any party in more than a generation, ceased to exist. There had since the late sixties been a party that supported strong environmental laws and widespread consumer protections. That party had also been, from long before the sixties, the party that supported the labor movement. That party, the majority party in the country, simply disappeared after the 2010 elections.
What changed everything, what made 2010 possible, was the Citizens United decision. There can no longer be a majority party that supports positions that industry opposes. And since majority parties want to regain the majority after an electoral reversal, the choice between corporate contributions and the support of environmental activists becomes a no-brainer.
The environmental movement has become politically irrelevant. There can be a scientific consensus on what levels of ozone are harmful to human health. Such inconvenient truths, along with others, are best ignored if they are likely to be harmful to a party’s political health.
But there is no getting around this inconvenient truth — for environmentalists, the party is truly over.