Fund the safety concerns first

By Steve Estes

It appears as though our do-nothing 113th Congress, led by a bevy of Republicans in the House of Representatives, who by the way have already said they plan to do nothing again in the coming year, has found a way to do nothing and still effect negative change.

Last week a chemical storage facility in West Virginia leaked, spilling thousands of gallons of bad chemicals into the largest potable water supply in the state, overwhelming the treatment plant’s ability to ensure contaminant-free drinking water.

West Virginia residents were forced to buy water, bottled elsewhere obviously, or not be able to drink the life-giving substance. The state gave out some water, but up to 300,000 people had to be careful not to contact the water coming from their own faucet for up to four days, some longer, some still in that situation.

When the fallout reached the ears of Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) in Washington, he was quick to try and turn the tragedy that has cost lives and made hundreds sick into a political football against the current administration.

We have to say that we agree with Boehner’s position that we don’t need more regulation, we need to get better at enforcing the regulations we have on the books already.

Where we have to diverge from Boehner is his placing of blame.

It has been Republican mantra for the last 22 years to slash government spending on social safety net programs and for regulatory agencies.

It makes no difference if regulatory agencies are given a job to do by Congress if the agencies then aren’t given the money to enforce the regulations given to them by Congress. If that sounds like chasing your tail, rest assured you’re not the only one with that feeling.

The Federal Environmental Protection Agency is charged by Congress with inspecting potential disaster-inducing sites like chemical plants and storage facilities. The problem has been that predominantly Republican-dominated Congresses have steadily slashed the operational budgets of agencies like the EPA, making it nearly impossible for those agencies to carry out the inspections they are mandated by Congress to perform.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio bragged last week after the unveiling of the newest grand budget plan that the EPA operations budget has been slashed by more than 20 percent since 2010 when the Republican party regained control of the House of Representatives.

The cost of doing business continues to rise, but Congressional Republicans revel in being able to hog-tie those agencies that protect the American people from runaway corporate negligence by constantly insisting on less and less spending for everything but the Pentagon.

The same scenario holds true for most worker and citizen safety agencies where Congressional insistence on lower business taxes, lower high-income earner taxes, higher defense spending and increased Congressional perks have given us a situation today where we can’t balance a budget.

And yet the agencies take the blame when they can’t do what is asked of them because the money isn’t there.

For instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency charged to regulate worker safety, took a 10 percent cut in operational funding, then took the 10 percent sequestration cut to operations. And in the last budget cycle was given less money with the caveat that only a fixed portion could be spent on agency travel.

There’s a passive/aggressive way to cut a regulatory agency’s feet out from under it.

If the inspectors can’t travel to the inspection sites, they can’t perform the inspections. If they can’t perform the inspection, the only solution is to ask the company if everything is alright.

That makes us feel safe.

Politicians must stop running from responsibility. If safety for the public is the priority, start allocating money like that’s the priority. If it isn’t the priority, and we’re sure it’s not, admit you don’t care who dies as long as corporate negligence can go unpunished and just cut everybody’s taxes to a bare bones government.

But that’s a coward’s solution.

Stand up, admit you’re heartless, and slash some unnecessary and unwanted Pentagon spending to put public safety inspectors back to work full time to do what needs to be done to safeguard your future votes.

Even the rich can’t survive without potable water. Tax breaks mean nothing to a corporation that has no customers because they’ve all been poisoned by tainted drinking water.

Wake up Congress.

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