Published on February 20th, 2018 | by Zachary Shahan0
With Republicans In Power, Pollution Is King & Wealth Is Further Shifting To The Super Rich
February 20th, 2018 by Zachary Shahan
Last week, I wrote an article about Republican policy benefiting the rich at the huge expense of the poor & middle class. The style and format didn’t seem perfect for CleanTechnica, so I’m not reposting it here, but I feel compelled to make some of the same points in a different way.
One way to examine our political choices through a cleantech lens is to take a look at what a Republican White House, Senate, and House of Representatives have prioritized while in power for over a year. Another is to take a look at what hasn’t been prioritized.
Dropping health care: The first matter has a loose relationship to cleantech, but one that is unfortunately tied to other issues discussed below. Basically, using the simple theory and talking point that the government should not be very involved in the population’s fundamental survival and health care, Republicans had used Obamacare as a political attack target for several years. Once they got into power, because they had repeatedly and obsessively committed to repealing Obamacare, that’s what they felt a need to start with. The problem was that a large portion of the population would be hurt if Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act) were killed, which meant that even a Congress controlled by the Republican Party wouldn’t agree to repeal Obamacare.
(Eventually, it should be noted, the party repealed the individual mandate, which is a key foundation of the Affordable Care Act. Also, due to uncertainty about the law and the Republican focus on repealing or harming Obamacare, several markets were severely damaged as health insurance providers pulled out. With these fundamental attacks on the health care system, Obamacare is all but doomed to weaken and develop problems as time goes on — and the attacks actually continue. Even though these problems are caused by Republicans, the Republican Party will surely misdirect the fairly uninformed electorate and claim that the problems stem from the underlying system — not what they did to undermine and harm the system.)
Even though the Obamacare system was essentially a market-driven approach to health care that was first pushed and implemented (on smaller scales) by Republicans, what Republicans in control of the country over the past year have indicated is that they think the government should not try to ensure that American citizens have health insurance, or affordable health insurance. They do not see it as a fundamental requirement in a developed society and they feel so strongly about that perspective that they spent much of 2017 trying to kill a program that Americans largely wanted rather than create something new and helpful for the US economy or citizenry.
The ironic (and sad) thing is that attacks on government-guaranteed health insurance accompany attacks on policies and programs that are focused on preventing cancer, preventing heart disease, and preventing other major and minor health problems. The two things combined mean that more people will develop cancer, severe heart problems, and other health problems and then not have the health insurance to cover the treatment.
Tax cuts for the rich and super rich: As is practically always the case, the top priority for the Republican Party seemed to actually be tax cuts for the rich and super rich. After several failed approaches to changing or repealing Obamacare (which were largely framed as roundabout ways to cut taxes on the rich), the party finally put enough effort in to actually pass some legislation — unprecedented tax cuts for the rich. The middle class got much smaller tax cuts that expire in a handful of years. By contrast, some of the core tax cuts for the rich and super rich do not expire. Looking at how the cuts play out in terms of actual tax savings, the tax cuts for the middle class look minuscule in comparison and seemed to be a fig leaf offering more than anything else.
The underlying theory (proven wrong over the course of many years of implementation and research) is that giving more money to the rich and super rich will result in everyone else benefiting financially/economically as well. It used to be highlighted as “trickle down theory” or “trickle down economics” among proponents, but that has been so thoroughly debunked and proven wrong that Republicans no longer use these phrases. However, the policies they’ve pushed (and passed in late 2017) are the same.
One problem with this policy focus is that giving more money to the rich and super rich doesn’t actually end up helping the middle class and poor to a significant degree. Another problem takes looking 2 or 3 steps down the line. If you cut taxes on the rich by billions and billions of dollars, that means billions and billions less for governmental programs (or more and more government debt). Who are you hurting when you cut funding for education programs, transportation infrastructure, the environmental protection agency, the department of energy, and health care? Are you hurting the rich and super rich? Not so much — at least, not directly. You are hurting the middle class and the poor, who rely much more on these services for a basic or high quality of life.
In other words, cutting taxes on the rich and super rich — priority #1, #2, and #3 for the Republican Party — means taking money away from services that benefit society as a whole, especially the middle class and poor. That includes efforts to clean up our air, fight climate change, and stimulate cleantech industries.
Deregulation: Outside of what Congress has focused on, the most dramatic changes implemented by the Donald Trump White House have been various instances of deregulation or stifled/stalled/obstructed regulation. The EPA has been attacked from the top down (from its own director) — programs have been cut or stalled, deadly substances have not been regulated or have been deregulated, and a broad attack on climate action has been obsessive. There has also been an effort through various agencies to let dirty fossil fuel power plants pollute more.
There has been unprecedented deregulation in other realms of society as well — like the open internet and finance/banking — but those aren’t areas of CleanTechnica‘s focus, so I won’t get into them.
Immigration: This is one of the topics most loudly discussed, but the Republican Party is quite torn on the key matters and they are not very big ones for cleantech — aside from overall economic ramifications — so I won’t get into the topic.
Inaction: The GOP was termed “the party of No” during the Obama years. The interesting thing has been how that characterization has carried forward into a GOP-dominated Congress. The party still gets almost nothing done because of how focused it is on blocking progress. (Again, it was only tax cuts — primarily for the rich and super rich — that pulled the party together enough to pass legislation in 2017.)
On the White House side, Donald Trump and his enablers were so unprepared for office that they have left many positions unfilled to this day. Furthermore, there have been a record number of firings among chief staff — often related to scandal or presumed scandal. Also, Trump and team don’t actually have a broad range of societal aims. All of these things taken together, the administration has done much less in support of “its agenda” than it might have otherwise, and what that has also meant is that many programs just keep running as they were before via the leadership and daily work of career staff. At the Department of Energy, this has been a big relief and one that Tina Casey has been keen to highlight time and time again. Nonetheless, the lack of EV leadership, renewable energy leadership, and energy storage leadership compared to what the Obama administration did is depressingly evident.
Anything else I’m missing? Any other ways our Republican-controlled government is hurting or helping cleantech and its underlying aims? Any hopes, dreams, or signs regarding what is to come in the rest of 2018?
For further reading on some of these core topics and the support coverage for the points above, check out our archives on the EPA, the DOE, Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump, and Obama. I also recommend checking out articles on those topics published on ThinkProgress: the EPA, the DOE, Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump, and Obama.
Top image by Mother Jones