Last week, we wrote about the dangers of the ongoing assault on science in Washington. This week, we have examples much closer to home.
As we’ve previously reported, Minnesota’s Republican-led Legislature, with the tacit support of some rural DFL legislators, is waging its own assault on environmental protections, and those assaults are directly connected to the ongoing rejection by the GOP of both the scientific method and well-established scientific facts.
Take the Legislature’s attempt to block the DNR from prohibiting the use of lead shot on some state wildlife management areas. This does not affect lead bullets, only the use of lead pellets in shotgun shells. Wildlife management agencies have pushed for a ban on lead shot for years in areas where waterfowl hunting is intense and where the amount of lead shot that builds up in the lake and marsh sediments can prove toxic to wildlife up and down the food chain. Ducks ingest the lead shot as they feed and die from it. And raptors like eagles and peregrine falcons ingest the lead from ducks and other waterfowl they prey upon.
We know that this happens because wildlife researchers have demonstrated, through science, the connection between lead shot and the entirely unnecessary deaths of large numbers of birds.
But what happens when your party constantly dismisses science as some sort of liberal conspiracy? You get people like Nisswa Republican legislator Josh Heintzman telling his colleagues that lead is just fine, since it’s a “natural substance, found in the soil.” Heintzman must know, since he clearly spends a lot of time with his head in the sand.
In a more perfect world, Heintzman could simply be dismissed as a know-nothing, but in the brave new anti-intellectual, anti-knowledge world inhabited by hardcore conservatives these days, this is considered mainstream. And these folks are running the country, and, could well be running Minnesota from top-to-bottom in 2018.
We’re not going to recite the long list of studies that have documented the toxicity of lead. Heintzman’s “it’s all natural” shtick isn’t worth humoring. Water hemlock root is all natural and it comes from the soil… that doesn’t mean it won’t kill you.
In the past, we used to be able to dismiss such comments from the deluded, because we could comfort ourselves in the knowledge that there were grown-ups in charge of our government— and that, in the end, they would take actions based on the world as it exists, not as it appears in the hyperbolic ravings of an Alex Jones. But now the fringe is running the government, and there will be consequences.
To those on the far right, environmentalism and science have become inextricably linked, all part of an over-arching leftist conspiracy to undermine large, traditional industries through over-regulation.
There is no doubt that science, particularly in the areas of public health and the environment, has greatly expanded our understanding of the health risks that many chemicals that industries introduce into the environment can represent. And based on laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, which were designed to protect the environment and public health, our regulatory systems have tended to grow stricter over time as we’ve continuously learned more.
Conservatives recognize that those laws remain overwhelmingly popular with the American people, which means a frontal assault on the law is politically out of the question. Instead, they resort to attacks on science. If they can halt the advance of knowledge by limiting scientific research, they can halt advances in the regulation of industry. Every new regulation, after all, must be based on scientific evidence that demonstrates the need. Limiting new science is a backdoor way of undermining landmark federal environmental legislation.
Here in Minnesota, the Legislature is exploring side doors as well. The omnibus environmental bill includes a provision that would prevent any new regulation enacted between 2014 and 2019 from requiring any upgrades to pollution controls by industry. In other words, even if science demonstrates the need for new regulations, and the agencies have gone through the lengthy process to enact new pollution rules, the Legislature says it won’t let those agencies actually enforce them. Perhaps it’s because pollution is “all natural.”
Rep. Josh Heintzman may come across as a loon, but, sadly, he has plenty of company in St. Paul.