Strengthen environmental forces

Recent legislative initiatives in the Minnesota Legislature reflect a demand for environmental regulation.

The Environmental Protection Agency under the Bush administration is losing credibility not only because of a lack of funding and ability to enforce compliance, but also by preventing effective environmental progress. This can be illustrated by the agency’s unwillingness to permit states to regulate greenhouse gas emissions of vehicle exhausts, and also by the cease of funding to a program which was charged to assess potentially harmful chemicals in commercial products. The Bush administration seems to place more emphasis in protecting business interests than the environment.

Recent legislative initiatives in the Minnesota Legislature reflect a demand for regulation on these issues. In 2007, legislation was introduced to adopt the Clean Cars standards, which the EPA denied California the right to enforce. In 2008, the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group recommended that Minnesota adopt these standards. However, little progress has been made because automobile manufacturers and dealers have been sending lobbyists to speak to our representatives against these standards.

Legislation recognizing harmful chemicals in consumer products has also been introduced in Minnesota. This bill would enact a statewide phase-out of two chemicals commonly found in children’s products: bisphenyl A and phlates. Products with these chemicals present have been linked to health concerns such as reproductive disorders, but can be replaced with safe, cost effective products which are already on the market. This bill has also experienced setbacks because of lobbyists from the major chemical companies.

The EPA’s unwillingness to act on these issues has allowed corporate interests to subside those of the public. However, this is not the first time the agency has suffered from lax enforcement and funding. The agency experienced substantial cuts in its budget and executive power in the 1980s because of the Reagan administration’s efforts to reduce scope of government regulation and rely more on the private sector. This agenda ultimately invigorated environmental movements by creating issues for grassroots organizations to organize around and other levels of government to address.

We have the opportunity to use the similar concerns of the Bush administration’s environmental policy to strengthen environmental forces. Minnesota Public Interest Research Group is currently working on campus and across the state with organizations such as Clean Energy MN and the Healthy Legacy Coalition to organize public support on these issues. Anyone can participate in these initiatives simply by calling their legislators and voicing their concerns. As we use our collective voice to shift the power from corporate to public interests, perhaps the EPA will recognize it must reclaim responsibility to work for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people.

Bridget Ulrich is the MPIRG Campus Sustainability Task Force Leader. Please send comments to [email protected]