On Christmas break in 1974 Dave Smith and I took a road trip to Washington, D.C. and on into Pennsylvania.
Dave was editor of the Independent Florida Alligator and I was his managing editor. And these momentous times indeed for two young journalists to go to D.C.
Richard Nixon was gone. Our U.S. Senator, Ed Gurney, freshly indicted for influence peddling, had one foot out the door.
Helen Thomas got us into a White House press briefing. And William Raspberry invited us to the Washington Post, where we chatted with Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward.
Heady stuff for a couple of guys who aspired to ink stained wretch status.
Oddly, though, none of that moved me to write this column 44 years later.
Rather, it was something that Dave said in passing as we motored north into the American rust belt, past belching smokestacks, over polluted rivers and through communities that reeked of the effluvia of the post-war Industrial Age.
“What have they done to my country?” Dave asked.
An excellent question then. Even better now.
At that time the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection was just four years old. It was signed into law by a Republican president after DDT had driven the American bald eagle to the brink of extinction, oil spills had blackened California beaches and an entire river, the Cuyahoga, had burst into a chemical-fueled fire.
Thank goodness those days are behind us.
Listen, except for the algae choking Florida’s rivers, the red tides that are killing marine life, the fact that South Florida is sinking, – not to mention rising ozone levels, raging wildfires, dying coral reefs and slowly acidifying oceans – things are looking…well…
Like it’s 1974 all over again.
Only now the EPA has gone over to the enemy.
Stay with me here and try to follow the logic.
They tell us that if we don’t reverse Obama’s fuel efficiency goals, 1,000 more Americans each year will die in auto accidents because driving will be cheaper and we will want to do more of it.
But we also must reverse Obama’s emission limits on coal plants even though that will cause 1,400 additional premature deaths a year.
Because, you know, the War On Coal. Plus, windmills kill birds.
And if the folks running the EPA sound like a bunch of verbal contortionists they are not alone. Over the past eight years we Floridians have stood idly by while our leaders in Tallahassee have systematically dismantled state environmental enforcement and gutted our water management districts.
All of which brings me back to Dave’s question: What are they doing to my country?
They aren’t doing anything. We are.
Not doing anything, I mean.
Those people that weaponized the EPA against us? We elected them.
Ditto the politicians who are dragging Florida to the brink of environmental catastrophe.
Listen, Nixon and Congress didn’t create the EPA because they woke up one morning feeling green.
They did it because a well organized and vocal environmental movement had gained enough momentum by the 1960s to force elected officials to act lest they lose their jobs.
Nobody in public office worries about that anymore. The pols act like the only things we care about are guns and abortion. And they are kept in office by the lobbyists – big ag, big oil, big chem – who bankroll their campaigns.
That’s got to stop. Starting this year.
As we get closer to the election we will talk more about which rascals need to be thrown out before they kill us with contamination.
And shame on us if we don’t do it.
(Published in the Gainesville Sun Aug. 26, 20188)