It would seem the logical course of action. If something is hurting the environment, it should be stopped. However, right ignores the other issues of why environmental health is a political issue. Economics are often at the root of such issues.
Some business practices focus on ways to save money. Cutting overhead is one way businesses can make a profit which may explain the reluctance to accept some green practices. Electronic waste or e-waste is a classic example.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans discarded over 300 million pieces of electronic equipment in 2005. Yet, less than one-quarter were recycled. For businesses, recycling e-waste often means an extra charge.
To force businesses to do the environmentally-sound thing, many states have enacted legislation targeting e-waste because of the hazardous materials they often contain. According to the National Electronics Recycling infrastructure Clearinghouse, 20 states passed laws regarding e-waste since 2003.
Human-caused fossil fuel emissions are known contributor to climate change and acid rain. Scientists believe reduction of emissions is imperative for the health of the planet. However, fossil fuels have a strong foothold in the U.S. and global community. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that fossil fuels provide over 85 percent of U.S. energy needs.
A particularly volatile issue surrounded the installation of scrubbers on coal-burning energy plants to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. Companies argued that the expense would drive energy costs up. They also argued that jobs were on the line, making the issue highly political. The EPA moved forward despite objections to the revisions to the Clean Air Act in 1977 that required the installation of scrubbers.
Since President Nixon formed the EPA in 1970, the agency has worked to improve the air and water quality of the United States. One target has been agriculture.
Pesticide and fertilizer application are some of the greatest contributors to pollution. They affect not only the land they are applied to, but also adjacent areas and those downstream from runoff. The EPA has banned several products because of their harm to the environment including ethylene dibromide (EDB) and DDT. These actions pitted the interests of agriculture against the environmental damage these products caused.
Power of Lobbying: Why Environmental Health a Political Issue
Lobbying has made seemingly clear cut environmental issues into political ones. Industries which may be impacted by environmental regulation will surely challenge any possible legislation which may affect them. Many special interest groups have formed their own lobbying groups to speak on their behalf.
The financial bottom line is behind environmental health being a political issue. No longer is environmentalism a matter of simply doing the right thing by the environment. It also has become an issue of balancing the economic needs of business with the changes needed for environmental health.
Issues of environmental health will continue to be debated as new research illuminates the impact of human activities on the environment. Because of economic interests, decisions regarding the health of the planet will always carry political baggage.
Photo by Adam Jakubiak