Paul Krugman Reveals the Culprit Behind the GOP's Rabid Anti-Environment Stance

Since when did breathing clean air become so politicized? It predates President Obama's recent attempts to install regulations to curb ozone emissions, but not by that much. Paul Krugman takes up the truly bizarre Republican opposition to even the most tepid attempts to protect the environment in Friday's column and digs deeper to find the root cause. Of course, polluters will defend their right to pollute, he points out, but why can they always depend on Republican support?


Some background from Krugman: 

It wasn’t always thus. The Clean Air Act of 1970, the legal basis for the Obama administration’s environmental actions, passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote of 73 to 0, and was signed into law by Richard Nixon. (I’ve heard veterans of the E.P.A. describe the Nixon years as a golden age.) A major amendment of the law, which among other things made possible the cap-and-trade system that limits acid rain, was signed in 1990 by former President George H.W. Bush.

But that was then. Today’s Republican Party is putting a conspiracy theorist who views climate science as a “gigantic hoax” in charge of the Senate’s environment committee. And this isn’t an isolated case. Pollution has become a deeply divisive partisan issue.

The Republicans have moved to the right of Nixon and Bush. That's part of it, but, again, why?

Money in politics is part of the answer, no doubt. Mega polluters like the Koch brothers pour mega doses of cash into politics, and while it used to flow to both parties, it goes "overwhelmingly in one direction" today. What changed? Rabid anti-government, pro-market ideology is part of the answer. Krugman peels the onion further to conclude that this pernicious ideology is just "a symptom of the underlying cause of the divide: rising inequality."

The basic story of political polarization over the past few decades is that, as a wealthy minority has pulled away economically from the rest of the country, it has pulled one major party along with it. True, Democrats often cater to the interests of the 1 percent, but Republicans always do. Any policy that benefits lower- and middle-income Americans at the expense of the elite — like health reform, which guarantees insurance to all and pays for that guarantee in part with taxes on higher incomes — will face bitter Republican opposition.

Protecting the environment has become a class issue, in part. Everyone breathes, but only the super-wealthy own huge amount of stock in coal companies. Krugman concludes: 

In the case of the new ozone plan, the E.P.A.’s analysis suggests that, for the average American, the benefits would be more than twice the costs. But that doesn’t necessarily matter to the nonaverage American driving one party’s priorities. On ozone, as with almost everything these days, it’s all about inequality.

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