September 14, 2004

Exactly the opposite, Mr. Leavitt

Here's the Bush administration's interior secretary, Mike Leavitt:

"There is no environmental progress without economic prosperity. Once our competitiveness erodes, our capacity to make environmental gains is gone. There is nothing that promotes pollution like poverty."

Sentence 1: "There is no environmental progress without economic prosperity." Leavitt has it exactly reversed. If you consider the long term, there can be no economic prosperity without a healthy environment. If, however, you consider the worldview of this administration--maximum short-term economic gain for favored elements of society, regardless of the costs borne by others--then Mike Leavitt is 100% correct.

Sentence 2: "Once our competitiveness erodes, our capacity to make environmental gains is gone." This is simply wrong. It presumes that a well-functioning economy and environmental health are mutually exclusive. They aren't. If, however, by "competitiveness" Leavitt refers to the Bush administration's commitment to maximum windfall profits for the energy industry regardless of the cost to everyone else, then Mike Leavitt may once again be 100% correct.

Sentence 3: "There is nothing that promotes pollution like poverty." Irrelevant, since responsible environmental stewardship does not force us to choose between "poverty" and some other condition. What Leavitt should have said is that there is nothing that promotes pollution like Bush administration policies that enrich energy industry tycoons and increase the risk of poverty for many other citizens. Then Mr. Leavitt would have been 100% correct.

Posted by Carey at September 14, 2004 08:31 AM

I think what Leavitt is referring to is the abundant pollution from so-called People's Republics, where state-owned businesses screwed (and continue to screw) the environment with outdated technologies and absent cleanups, in an effort to squeeze more out of their factories and compete with the free world.

Damn, that was one long sentence! this way, you've got less to fisk! But there's more: The role of technology in cleaning up pollution, and reducing original emissions, has arguably done as much for the environment as regulations. I think Leavitt is trying to say regulations hurt prosperity, which hurt technology, which hurt the environment. I think the two work best hand-in-hand, and don't interfere with each other unless regulations dominate to an absurd extent. But I don't think he's "exactly wrong" either.

Posted by: Nick at September 15, 2004 05:49 PM

But without regulations, there much less economic incentive to develop the technologies for cleanup and reduction in the first place.

Posted by: Larry at September 16, 2004 10:49 PM

Mr. Leavitt is invoking the ancient wisdom that worked so well for us in Vietnam ("we had to destroy the village in order to save it"). Updated and translated to environmental policy, the argument is that we have to destroy the environment in order to earn the money we need to save it; we can't afford to fix it unless we wring every nickel we can get out of it first.

There is, in fact, a correlation between poverty and environmental damage in undeveloped countries. Of course, it has nothing to do with the policy choices we face in the United States, but - as with everything else - these guys just find it easier to be simpleminded and dishonest.

Posted by: Scot at September 17, 2004 12:14 PM