Nash column: Environmental protections sent down river

Nash column: Environmental protections sent down river

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When I was little, my mother would take me shopping in downtown Cleveland. As we approached the city the air grew dirtier till we were squinting through a yellow-brown fog. Even before we crossed the Cuyahoga River bridge, our eyes stung from the putrid smog. Upriver, the smokestacks of steel mills and other factories spewed black fumes that permeated the city.

Layers of thick, iridescent oils and other chemicals swirled and drifted along on the river currents. The Cuyahoga River was so covered in flammable fluids that it often caught fire. The worst one, in 1952, destroyed a building and several boats.

Needless to say, that stretch of river was devoid of fish. Flying out of the Cleveland Hopkins Airport over Lake Erie, I could see the rusty, sludge-filled river blurring many miles out into the lake. Along the beaches, signs warned against swimming in the polluted water.

When I was older and driving around Chicago, yellow smog made it impossible to see more than a few cars ahead. Gary, Ind. and Chicago were such cesspools of air pollution, scientists claimed that just breathing in that area held the same dangers as smoking three packs of cigarettes a day.

Then those doggoned tree-huggers fought hard for regulations to protect our land, air and water. As a result, in 1970 with President Richard Nixon’s approval, the Environmental Protection Agency was established, and by the 80s, air around industrialized cities was much cleaner. The Cuyahoga River no longer caught on fire, while other rivers and streams ran clear and once again sustained fish. Thanks to those tree-huggers and the EPA, humans and wildlife were finally protected.

Now, enter the current Republican presidential candidates. All of them except Mitt Romney declare they want to completely eliminate the EPA. And Romney claims that carbon emissions do no harm to human health, despite indisputable facts that prove they do. An 18-year, extremely comprehensive study, released in 2008 by Stanford University scientist Mark Jacobson, cited concrete evidence that proved increased carbon emissions result in severe respiratory illnesses and death. Other studies come to the same conclusion.

So why would Republicans want to eliminate the EPA? Uh, who funds their campaigns? Corporate interests that say businesses will regulate themselves, if we only leave them alone. Well, we left them alone for more than 100 years, and what happened? They did not, and will not, regulate themselves.

Here in Wisconsin, Gov. Walker and the Republican majority are largely supported by corporations like Koch Industries, the company that paid the highest fines in U.S. history for dumping millions of gallons of oil and benzene into states’ waters, violating the Federal Clean Air and Water Acts.

And that was only one of their transgressions; they got away with many more under President Bush. An Internet search of “Koch Industries and pollution” will reveal the sordid story and show how those paltry fines were peanuts compared to how much they spend to have amenable politicians elected.

And amenable they are. Wisconsin Republicans have passed and/or introduced bills that weaken or repeal many of our environmental protections. These include laws that allow development on fragile wetlands, relax regulations on mining operations, allow more phosphorous and other contaminants to be dumped in our waters, eliminate the requirement that municipalities recycle, take money that helps cities control water pollution, and one that takes $19.5 million a year from the program that cleans up discharges from petroleum storage tanks.

Walker’s budget bill eliminated the Office of Energy Independence, $20 million in funding for this year’s energy efficiency programs, and made restrictions on wind farms so prohibitive that two companies that were going to build large wind farms in Brown and Calumet counties canceled their plans.

Also, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Alliant Energy canceled wind farm projects in Green Lake and Fond du Lac counties. Furthermore, because the Republicans are so amenable, industrial polluters no longer have to notify residents when they release contaminated wastewater.

Finally, who did Walker appoint to head the DNR? Cathy Stepp, a private home-building contractor with no paid experience or formal education in the area of natural resources. What a joke on the people who elected this crew to represent us and be good stewards of our Earth.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Don’t be fooled again — vote them out.

Pat Nash is a Baraboo resident.

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