The Strange Case of the Anti-Earth Day GOP

Georgia-Pacific mill along lower Columbia River. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

It’s been 53 years since the first Earth Day in 1970, when a whopping 22 million Americans participated in events centered on taking better care of our beautiful blue planet whirling through the blackness of space. This year, more than 190 nations around the world are now honoring that tradition.

Yet, in both the Montana statehouse and the halls of Congress, Republicans have decided to turn their boiling anger against the very measures our scientists and the majority of our population deem necessary to ensure a livable future on Earth. One can only wonder if they have some secret planet stashed away somewhere since they don’t seem to think this one is worth saving.

Perhaps they have forgotten what prompted Earth Day in the first place. Rivers were on fire from industrial discharges. DDT was killing bald eagles. The Great Lakes, the largest freshwater lakes on the planet, saw a thriving commercial fishery shut down due to toxic pollution from PCBs. We were poisoning our children with exhaust from leaded gasoline.

These horrific abuses of the environment, fisheries, wildlife and humans drove Congress to act — and it did, passing the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and establishing the Environmental Protection Agency to oversee and enforce those bedrock environmental protection laws. The Superfund law followed, holding polluters responsible for cleaning up their toxic industrial sites.

Yet, today’s GOP also seems to have forgotten that many of those measures were not only passed with broad support from both major political parties, they were signed into law by Republican presidents like Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

In their latest charade of “fiscal conservatism,” the GOP majority in the U.S. House of Representatives decided they needed to reduce federal spending. Ignoring the $2.3 BILLION a day spent on the military, they instead targeted the tax breaks and incentives in the infrastructure bill for installing solar panels, heat pumps and buying electric vehicles to reduce the carbon emissions driving the climate crisis. Given the ever-mounting toll of extreme climate-driven droughts, floods, melting ice caps and rising sea levels, the old saying of “pennywise and pound foolish” certainly applies.

Closer to home, the GOP supermajority in the Montana Legislature likewise seems to be off the rails in its dogged support for fossil-fuels generation. Despite the much cheaper cost to produce solar energy, NorthWestern Energy is one of the few, perhaps the only, utility in the nation that is actually acquiring more coal and methane generating facilities. In an almost unbelievable move, Montana’s GOP is actually supporting legislation to exempt polluting industries from environmental analysis for greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s well known that the carbon already in the atmosphere will be there for decades and perhaps centuries. The very last thing we need is to prohibit state agencies from regulating new carbon pollution; yet for some reason, our Republican legislators are sticking their heads in the sand by ignoring proven science and logic.

Simply put, a clean future will not happen by wishing and hoping. It takes a serious reduction in new and existing sources of carbon. Likewise, it requires an equally serious investment in technologies to end our dependency on fossil fuels and transition to clean, renewable resources like solar generation.

This is not about political campaigns, culture wars or corporate profits; it’s about having a livable Earth for generations yet to come. But we won’t get there if the anti-Earth Day GOP continues to ignore the climate crisis — and clings to its strange and highly illogical affinity for the fossil fuels that are killing the planet.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.