Monday, March 9, 2009

Is economic stimulus an enemy of the environment?

The Associated Press reports (via ProPublica's Eye on the Stimulus):

One bill [in Montana] gets straight to the issue — promising to exempt hundreds of millions in economic stimulus projects from the state's landmark environmental policies. Environmentalists are ramping up lobbying efforts as a wave of measures eroding regulatory rules gain serious traction in the face of a recession and shrinking state coffers....

In California, lawmakers relaxed environmental laws for road projects and construction equipment in the name of economic stimulus as part of a recently approved budget package. In Idaho, lawmakers shut down new regulations for septic-tank drain fields because they feared it would hinder Idaho's economy, especially during a recession.

Utah is even considering a company's offer to take nuclear waste in exchange for needed cash. In Kansas, lawmakers are pushing for legislation that would pave the way for coal-fired power plants in the southwest part of the state....

Huffington Post gives this story the headline, "Some States Still Don't See Economy-Environment Connection." The implication is that this kind of thing is a strange aberration occurring in a few out-of-step states. But it seems like there's a pretty straightforward leap from "We need to stimulate the economy with big infrastructure projects and new blue-collar jobs or else the world as we know it is going to collapse," to "Hey, wouldn't it be worth loosening up a bunch of environmental regulations?"

Of course, one reaction is: don't worry, everything's fine, because you can stimulate the economy through "green jobs." I'm all in favor of stimulating the economy with green jobs. But that's not the only thing or even the main thing being done as part of the stimulus plan. The overall plan is clearly in tension with environmentalist goals, but people are just hoping we won't notice this.

An excellent letter to the New York Times makes the broader point:
We consumers are getting contradictory messages about spending. On the one hand, we are told that our overconsumption is polluting and cluttering up the earth with garbage, using up resources and showing insensitivity to all the needy people in the world. On the other hand, we are told that until we start buying more goods and services, the economy will be in the dumps and we will leave many of our fellow citizens jobless, homeless and hungry.

Something is wrong with that picture.


Ron said...

I've always found it funny that we are hectored about our savings rate, when practically all the other signs in American culture about spending and consumption! Look at the sheer volume of ads we are plastered with daily! Maybe at one point buying something large in cash had some social praises, but not nearly as much as just getting the object of your desire, period, by whatever means.

Here's what I wonder. I wonder if people haven't really objected to real wages remaining stagnant for quite a long time because expenditures were hidden by credit purchases. And all those business busting their butts to reduce labor costs? When those people lose their jobs or have to at least cut back a lot, do you think they'll be buying your products?

These things are interconnected, and yet it seems like we talk about them in isolation.