Posts Tagged ‘utah legislature’

Air Pollution and “Draconian” Environmentalism

March 6, 2010

I’ve been having a lot of personal and online conversations about environmentalism with self-described conservatives lately, and noticed an interesting trend. All agree in theory with the root concept of environmentalism. They all agree that we need to be good stewards of the land, air, and water upon which we rely. But they still bristle about environmentalism, because they see it as “restrictive.” The agenda of the movement has been referred to by such terms as “draconian,” “coercive,” “autocratic,” and “repressive.” According to their philosophy, environmental protection and stewardship should be advanced through non-coercive and non-punitive means.

It’s a wonderful idea. Sadly, it doesn’t work in the real world. Exhibit A: Utah. Our conservative legislature has persistently maintained an attitude ideologically opposed to regulation, insisting that individual agency is the best method of environmental stewardship. This year, the only bills related to pollution or the environment making headway through the Utah legislature are a message bill discouraging federal legislation based on the “global climate conspiracy” (despite opposition from BYU and U of U scientists, who are apparently part of the nefarious global climate cabal) and bills whose purpose is to enable increased extraction of fossil fuels in Utah—fuels the consumption of which contribute to air pollution. And the fruits of this attitude and agenda? Utah can lay claim to the worst air quality in the nation.

Many people of all stripes are sincerely concerned about the environment, and make laudable efforts to minimize their environmental impact on a voluntary basis. Despite the fearmongering of the Right, no one supports a green police a la the absurd and insulting Audi Superbowl commercial. But without any sort of restrictions— “coercive” though some might consider it—there is too much incentive for society collectively to pollute the public commons upon which we all rely for life. There must be rules based on an understanding of the the limitations of the ecosystem which prevent us—”draconian” though that may seem to some—collectively from damaging the environment (and ultimately each other). Unrestrained consumption/pollution and the sort of sprawling exurban communities which maximize automotive use, and which conservatives seem to favor, are simply unsustainable in our geographic circumstances. Some combination of pollution tax, restriction on polluting activities, and reorganization of our communities is imperative if we want to avoid the increasing harm to human health associated with air pollution. Given that government is the only entity which has the authority to do these things, the Reagan mantra is wrong: government is in part the solution. The idea that government has no role in using its power to prevent people from harming others by their consumption decisions? That’s the problem.

Utah Legislature and Fair Boundaries

September 16, 2009

A couple of years ago I wrote a post on the gerrymandering going on in Utah, and the need to reform the districting process to focus on maintaining the integrity of communities and on eliminating the overwhelming advantage of incumbents. This year a movement has arisen to attempt just that. Fair Boundaries is promoting a citizens initiative to establish an independent, non-partisan commission to offer districting plans with those goals in mind.

While there has been some fairly high-profile bi-partisan support (including from former Representative Jim Hansen, with whom I rarely agree), the response of Republicans in the legislature has been less than enthusiastic. They deliberately ignored the implications of the initiative and assumed two redundant redistricting processes to inflate the published cost of the initiative. Utah House Speaker Dave Clark has staunchly opposed the initiative, complaining that the initiative would invite lawsuits (from whom and on what grounds, Speaker Clark appears to be less forthcoming), and assuring Utahns that the current redistricting process “embraces the system of checks and balances,” —seemingly ignoring the fact that the very nature of gerrymandering insulates incumbents from checks. When a poll on his own website went in favor of the initiative, it mysteriously disappeared. And most recently, Republican legislators attending “Conservative Day” at the University of Utah forced organizers to eject a Fair Boundaries booth staffed by a former Huntsman intern.

One of the central traits of conservatism is a healthy skepticism of government. It is the very nature of government to seek to protect and expand its power, conservative theory correctly asserts. Government should therefore be viewed cautiously. It should be structured in such a way as to minimize the potential for any given government entities to abuse government power, and to subject government entities to accountability.

Except, these conservative government officials seem to believe, when it comes to them. We should just trust them, because they are above reproach. To consider any checks to potential abuse is to insult their integrity.

Just as they did when they attempted to install the school voucher system against the wishes of the citizens of Utah, these Republican legislative leaders show a disregard for the democratic process and their status as representatives of the people.

No system of districting can be perfect. But it is reasonable to try to create a check on the power of the legislature and their incumbents with an independent commission. On such an important issue—and one in which the legislature has such a clear conflict of interest—the public should be able to decide. If you are a registered Utah voter, please go to Fair Boundaries, find out where you can sign the petition*, and if possible, help collect the signatures necessary to put this initiative on the ballot in 2010.

*I currently have a petition available for signatures.