note: This is a previously unpublished piece written in March 2017
It doesn’t take long to find evidence that the Republican party has it out for the environment, whether it’s adding more pipelines or voting against bills that would protect our water sources, Republicans have amassed quite the portfolio of anti-environmental legislation. But one representative from Utah may as well be the party poster boy for their aggressive stance against nature. So who is Public Enemy #1 in the battle between corporate interests and basic human interests? Jason Chaffetz, the nutria of politicians.
Now it is sane of you to wonder how Jason Chaffetz and an oversized river rat are even comparable. However, to understand Jason Chaffetz, one must understand the nutria (or coypu). Introduced to Louisiana via South America in the late nineteenth century, the nutria provided a cheaper source of fur for what was a thriving market until its collapse in the 1940s. At that point, nutria farmers, unable to care for the now worthless rodents, released them into the wild. Since then nutrias have proven to be a devastating invasive species that is quite proficient at gnawing away the roots of plants that hold vital marshland together.
Louisiana and Maryland have both experienced the loss of thousands of acres of marshland as a result of nutria. Yet to blame an invasive rodent entirely for that problem isn’t fair. After all, the degradation of marshland, a vital part of the ecosystem that acts as a filter between fresh and salt water, has been expedited by legislation that works to undermine our own habitat.
This is where Chaffetz and the Republicans come in. The League of Conservation Voters, a political activist group of roughly two million members, regularly tracks Congressmen’s voting records on environmental issues. Mr. Chaffetz has a lifetime rating of 3% with his 2016 rating being 0%. His Republican peers from Utah did equally as poor in regards to their voting record on legislation regarding the environment.
Nevertheless, the breadth of legislation that Chaffetz supported or opposed is monumental. Most recently he introduced two bills H.R. 621 and H.R. 622, while staunchly opposing the Bears Ears National monument in Utah. His actions prompted severe backlash from his constituents and the outdoor community, forcing Chaffetz to rescind H.R. 621, a bill that would allow the sale of “excess” public lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.
Meanwhile H.R. 622 still remains on the agenda, and given Chaffetz’s odd decision to target rogue National Park Service Twitter accounts instead of the President’s ties to Russia, the bill appears to be further partisan legislation aimed at weakening opposition policies. H.R. 622 would ultimately terminate the law enforcement functions of both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, whose role in eco-conservation efforts are significant. Without them, numerous laws that protect clean water and local habitats will go unenforced, opening the door for widespread environmental issues.
But the recent attempts by Chaffetz to further weaken policies put in place to protect America’s geography and ecosystems should not come as a surprise. Practically every bill aimed at reining in greenhouse gases or chemical pollutants has been opposed by Chaffetz, and legislation aimed at undermining regulations has earned a vote of support from him. Again, the sheer volume of legislation is impossible to adequately document in this article, but by all means, please verify the insanity of Chaffetz’s environmental voting record at any of the following sites: Congress.gov or OpenSecrets.org
In 2014, Chaffetz said the following in regards to a question about climate change, “Is our air and is our quality of life affected by what we throw into the air and in the water? Yes, of course, but the Al Gore defined global warming is a farce, it is.”
It’s not the only time Chaffetz has used “farce” to describe climate change, and his expression of such views goes back to 2008 when he first ran for Congress.
So if he’s aware that pollution, particularly industrial pollution, causes harm to our environment yet he still votes in favor of allowing such pollution to continue, what’s the motive? Oddly enough, Chaffetz has comparably small campaign contributions by fossil fuel interests when put alongside someone like Ted Cruz ($1,242,557) or Donald Trump ($820,272). Even in his own chamber, the House, Paul Ryan ($646,883) and Kevin Brady ($392,050) far surpass Chaffetz’s $51,800. In fact, if you look at the Top 20 largest recipients of fossil fuel money, Hillary Clinton is the only Democrat on the list. Scale your search down to the Senate and House, and you’ll find only one Democrat between forty other Senators and Representatives.
Yet Chaffetz has become one of the largest recipients of money from the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry. An industry who donates across both aisles, and continues to reap the benefits. This is a prime example of the maddening complexity of corruption in politics.
In a report from August 2011, the GAO (Government Accountability Office) produced evidence that pharmaceutical waste has contaminated our water supply, stating, “According to USGS scientists, the main source of human pharmaceuticals in the environment is likely treated wastewater from households, industry, and commercial facilities.”
Just as it is the nutria’s nature to destroy ecosystems in pursuit of sustenance, it is the nature of politicians to prolong their survival by destroying their own habitat in pursuit of their donors’ interests. And when those donors are companies who peddle dependency at the expense of the environment, everyone loses long-term.
Whether you’re a rock climber or a person who enjoys an occasional hike or access to clean water, the Republican policy seems like a spiteful vendetta against those who oppose them. But like the nutria’s quest for roots, this isn’t as personal as it seems. It’s simply transactional politics, where the ones with the most money have the biggest seat at table.
Unfortunately, this kind of governing and the apathy it’s inspired is not sustainable. So while pundits and citizens spit back and forth about immigrants and who can use what bathroom, Executive Orders and Congressional actions are quickly working to pull the ground out from underneath us. There won’t be mountains to climb, forests to camp and hunt in, rivers to swim in if politicians are allowed to continue to enable industries that reduce them to toxic by-products. There is no issue more urgent than defeating the persistent efforts by government and special interests to sacrifice our environment and hundreds of billions in annual revenue for short-term gains and nearsighted pursuits. And for what? Money? What good is money if we’re all dead?