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 were 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 more than four decades later.
Rather, it was something that Dave said in passing as we motored north into the American rust belt, past belching smokestacks, 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. Environmental Protection Agency 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 the Cuyahoga River 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.
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 defanged the EPA? We elected them.
Ditto the politicians who are dragging Florida to the brink of environmental catastrophe.
Don’t blame Mother Nature. The source of all that pollution is coming right out of Tallahassee, complements of a governor and a Legislature that has long since sold out to the polluters.
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.
As we get closer to the next election we ought to talk more about precisely which rascals need to be thrown out before they kill us with contamination.
And shame on us if we don’t do it.