Mother Earth and Uncle Sam

Mother Earth and Uncle Sam

RENA I. STEINZOR
Copyright Date: 2008
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/716896
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Mother Earth and Uncle Sam
    Book Description:

    In this compelling study, Rena Steinzor highlights the ways in which the government, over the past twenty years, has failed to protect children from harm caused by toxic chemicals. She believes these failures-under-funding, excessive and misguided use of cost/benefit analysis, distortion of science, and devolution of regulatory authority-have produced a situation in which harm that could be reduced or eliminated instead persists.

    Steinzor states that, as a society, we are neglecting our children's health to an extent that we would find unthinkable as individual parents, primarily due to the erosion of the government's role in protecting public health and the environment. At this pace, she asserts, our children will inherit a planet under grave threat. We can arrest these developments if a critical mass of Americans become convinced that these problems are urgent and the solutions are near at hand.

    By focusing on three specific case studies-mercury contamination through the human food chain, perchlorate (rocket fuel) in drinking water, and the effects of ozone (smog) on children playing outdoors-Steinzor creates an analysis grounded in law, economics, and science to prove her assertions about the existing dysfunctional system.

    Steinzor then recommends a concise and realistic series of reforms that could reverse these detrimental trends and serve as a blueprint for restoring effective governmental intervention. She argues that these recommendations offer enough material to guide government officials and advocacy groups toward prompt implementation, for the sake of America's-and the world's-future generations.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79444-3
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-4)

    America entered the twenty-first century on top of the world. We had the most successful democratic government, the strongest economy, and a national defense second to none. We were universally acknowledged as the most powerful, if not the most popular, nation on earth. And we got that way by combining hard work, unprecedented civil liberties, and extraordinary fortune in the natural resources that endow the country. Many of us rail against the country and its culture. Few would live any other place.

    Yet just as a new millennium of prosperity got under way, we suffered the most spectacular and terrifying...

  5. PART I. Diagnoses
    • Introduction to Part I
      (pp. 7-8)

      Part I of this volume is analogous to an annual physical, with the “patient” defined as policies and programs designed to protect children from toxic environmental hazards. Chapter 1, “Predicates,” evaluates the conditions that have contributed to the patient’s poor state of health, including the excessive complexity of policy-making decisions, the erosion of scientific integrity, unrealistic statutory mandates, and the gross underfunding of government efforts to protect public health and the environment.

      Chapter 2, “The Rise of Conservatism,” traces the patient’s cultural history, explaining how broader currents of social change have disabled and undermined its government caretakers. The chapter concludes...

    • CHAPTER 1 Predicates
      (pp. 9-25)

      The adverse health effects caused by children’s exposure to toxic chemicals are subtle. Often, they do not kill outright but instead undermine their victims’ quality of life. Neurological damage, diminished intelligence, chronic respiratory illness, hormone disruption, birth defects, and infertility take a great, often hidden, toll. The damage we do to our children and their children’s future is especially discouraging because we have made great progress in improving environmental quality. But those hard-fought achievements are slipping from our grasp.

      By any ethical code, sense of morals, or religious belief, we have no right to impose such risks on our children....

    • CHAPTER 2 The Rise of Special-Interest Conservatism
      (pp. 26-44)

      Political dissonance—defined as the contradiction between what people want and what government does—dominates our troubled efforts to protect children from pollution. It is safe to assume that the vast majority of parents would never accept the idea that their children will be significantly harmed by pollution, either in the short or long term. Almost the same number would not sanction harm to anyone else’s child. Yet U.S. government policies routinely fail to address these concerns. Not only is government intervention largely ineffective, the underlying policies responsible for these outcomes would offend most people if brought to light. Few...

    • CHAPTER 3 Battered-Agency Syndrome
      (pp. 45-74)

      In 1973, a mere three years after it was founded, EPA took the extraordinarily courageous step of setting limits on the amount of lead allowed as an additive in gasoline. Lead served as an “anti-knocking” agent to prevent engine damage. But disturbing scientific evidence regarding the health implications of lead exposure, especially for children, was beginning to emerge. The initiative was courageous not only because EPA was so new, but because it inspired a tsunami of negative reaction from the oil and automobile industries, among the most powerful special-interest constituencies doing business with the Agency. The young Agency was fortunate...

    • CHAPTER 4 Corporations and the Commons
      (pp. 75-92)

      In 1968 Garrett Hardin, a microbiologist by training, wrote an essay titled “The Tragedy of the Commons,” which was published in the influential journalScience.¹ This brief, beautifully written piece provided the conceptual foundation for modern environmental statutes. Hardin’s hypothesis, based in part on work by Thomas Malthus, a political economist in nineteenth-century England, was stark and compelling. Hardin began with the proposition that the world’s natural resources were finite. If human populations consumed resources without restriction, no amount of human ingenuity in the invention of technology would prevent the eventual destruction of the planet’s environment. Only the government could...

  6. PART II. Symptoms
    • Introduction to Part II
      (pp. 95-102)

      Because efforts to protect children’s health from pollution have produced a welter of conflicting information, it is no small task to produce convincing evidence that the diagnoses made in Part I are correct. Should the case be made using a raft of statistics assembled into patterns that appear utterly compelling, as Gregg Easterbrook and Bjorn Lomborg have done? How about well-selected anecdotes modeled on Philip Howard’s best-selling work? Or would it be better to interview eminent experts to see if there is some kind of consensus about aspects of what I have said?

      In the end, I decided to present...

    • CHAPTER 5 Mercury Case Study
      (pp. 103-125)

      The Mad Hatter inAlice in Wonderlandis the first well-known, if fictional, victim of industrial mercury poisoning. Mercury was used to make hats stiff in the days when Lewis Carroll picked up his pen, and hatters were poisoned to such an extent that they suffered irreversible dementia. Fortunately, the acute poisoning that drove hatters mad is relatively rare today. Unfortunately, scientific research has revealed that far lower doses of mercury can cause irreversible neurological damage not in workers handling the toxin, but in the very young and the unborn. The Industrial Age has produced such widespread infusion of mercury...

    • CHAPTER 6 Perchlorate Case Study
      (pp. 126-149)

      Perchlorate, sometimes called “powdered oxygen,” is the central component of rocket fuel and has been used in this country since the 1940s, when the Navy asked Theodore von Karman, an aeronautics professor at the California Institute of Technology, to develop engines powerful enough to lift planes off aircraft carrier flight decks.¹ Von Karman and his colleagues founded a company called Aerojet to commercialize their discovery: a mixture that produces strong explosive power but can be managed safely on ships. Within a few years, perchlorate became the military’s fuel of choice for rockets and other explosive ordnance and was also used...

    • CHAPTER 7 Ozone Case Study
      (pp. 150-170)

      Few people noticed the announcement in September 2004 that EPA had designated 474 counties as “non-attainment” for ground-level ozone, more commonly known as smog.¹ EPA labels areas non-attainment when they have failed to lower ozone to levels that do not threaten public health. The primary group affected by ozone non-attainment is what participants in the epic struggle to contain the pollutant have euphemistically labeled “the outdoor child”—a child who is physically active during the summer months in one of the nation’s major cities.² Elevated ground-level ozone in metropolitan areas exacerbates children’s asthma and other respiratory diseases because they breathe...

  7. PART III. Cures
    • Introduction to Part III
      (pp. 173-174)

      The ink was barely dry on the Nixon administration’s executive order creating EPA when its many critics, not to mention its numerous friends, started compiling proposals to improve it. Such critiques have intensified in the past decade as a series of bipartisan institutes, multi-stakeholder groups, academics, and investigative committees have issued thousands of pages making hundreds of recommendations for reform. These suggestions fall somewhere along a continuum from modest changes designed to accomplish a gentle redirection of the existing system to radical overhaul that would rebuild it from the ground up.

      The enormous popularity of environmental protection among the public...

    • CHAPTER 8 A Question of Values
      (pp. 175-194)

      In the winter and spring of 2004, I did a series of talk radio interviews aboutA New Progressive Agenda for Public Health and the Environment, a book that I wrote with my colleagues at the Center for Progressive Reform.¹ There I was, saying similar things to what I have said in these pages, confronted by right-wing hosts and listeners who quickly lost patience with me. One listener was so enraged by what he heard that he took the time to tell me off by e-mail:

      Your logic makes me sick to my stomach. We should, you say, want to...

    • CHAPTER 9 New Government
      (pp. 195-214)

      With the full backing of the White House, single-minded focus, and a thick skin, an EPA administrator could accomplish far-reaching, meaningful, and effective reforms. With the participation of a critical mass of the Agency’s key constituencies and skillful negotiating, many of those reforms could happen within a relatively short time—say, two to four years. If Congress was able to participate in the dawning of this new day, the changes could be even more profound and wide-ranging, although they might take longer to accomplish. And once reforms take hold, changing the way EPA conducts business, the Agency might renew its...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 215-240)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-256)
  10. Index
    (pp. 257-271)