The deep roots of conservative opposition to the environmental state, explained.
That screeching sound you hear this Earth Day is the sound of our federal government making a U-turn on the environment. What a difference a year and an election have made.
Last April 22, the United States was making notable progress on some of our toughest environmental problems. Grassroots mobilizations and other forms of pressure helped nudge America’s political leadership to halt pipelines and craft new policies on climate change, fracking, and toxics. The rest of the world, even China, was coalescing around a commitment to curb greenhouse gases, and the Paris accord had been signed into force.
Trump’s electoral victory has changed much of that. As part of Steve Bannon’s agenda for the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” Trump’s appointees are sharpening their axes for environmental agencies and science. Among their targets: Obama’s climate policies, and the EPA’s budget, which they’ve proposed to cut by 31 percent.
It’s ironic that today’s Republicans see America’s environmental state as such a liability, given that Republican presidents had such a big hand in constructing it. In the early 20th century Teddy Roosevelt pushed a federal system of parks, forests, and monuments. In 1970, it was Richard Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed many foundational laws. Even during the last Republican administration of George W. Bush, longtime EPA employees have told me there was considerable if often tacit support by party leaders.