Saturday, December 8, 2012

How the Government Destroys the Environment


The environment is always a hot issue. After all, who doesn’t want clean air, safe drinking water, healthy foods, fuel efficient transportation and an environment free of toxins? Yet, federal, state and local governments have done more to fund environmental disasters than anybody on the planet.

Take our coastal, wetlands and beach areas that were once lovely, pristine and sparsely inhabited. They are now high density urban disasters that are cramped, crowded and lined with endless rows of high-rise buildings, beach houses and shopping centers. But how did this happen? Just ask John Stossel, the ABC journalist and 20/20 host. Stossel wrote a piece titled: Confessions of a Welfare Queen, How rich bastards like me rip off the taxpayers for millions of dollars.

Stossel’s own beach house was destroyed in a storm and he wrote:
If the ocean took my house, Uncle Sam would pay to replace it under the National Flood Insurance Program. Since private insurers weren’t dumb enough to sell cheap insurance to people who built on the edges of oceans or rivers, Congress decided the government should step in and do it.
For more information on how the government subsidizes environmental holocausts in environmentally sensitive coastal areas, see:

Hurricanes, Sandy, Federal Flood Insurance and the Environment
Federal Flood Insurance is a federal entitlement that insures a ton of beach front properties and other properties in flood zones that typically include low lying real estate in areas highly susceptible to floods, storms and hurricanes. Low cost federal flood insurance only encourages real estate development in environmentally sensitive areas that are prone to storms and flooding.

Then there is the issue of private insurance and/or federal flood insurance and whether or not it is a Constitutional function of the federal government to spend into oblivion to keep a city or geographic area afloat with chronic rebuilding and rehabilitation following a destructive storm in areas that may in fact be geologically doomed to nearly constant flooding and storm surges.

The free market has a built-in conservation mechanism simply because so much of what is built these days is subsidized with tax dollars and public bond proceeds, and certainly would not be financially feasible without government subsidies. If developers and home builder were not loaded up with subsidies and public bond proceeds, the true cost of economic development in flood plains would definitely act as an economic conservation measure because it would deter development in environmentally sensitive areas. Government entities are notorious for saddling tax payers with the cost of development bonds for infrastructure like roads and bridges and the Federal government is notorious for its various subsidies, loan guarantees and insurance programs. If the true economic cost of a project was allowed, costs that would include un-subsidized insurance and construction costs, there would be a whole lot less development. Folks who constantly complain about suburban sprawl never realize that it is government that mostly funds and subsidizes it.

The Federal Flood Insurance Program and various state insurance schemes to subsidize the wealthy is not only welfare for the wealthy but it’s also responsible for endless development in environmentally sensitive areas that would never have been developed without government subsidies. It’s the government that taxes citizen to subsidize growth that destroys the environment. In a free market system such development would be significantly reduced simply because these projects would not be financially feasible. For starters, insurance costs would be incredibly high and this alone would act as a deterrent as well as a free market approach to conservation. Furthermore, many environmentally sensitive properties would simply be 'free market' uninsurable without massive government subsidies and programs. Few businesses or individuals would risk the massive financial losses of investing resources into uninsurable or prohibitively expensive to insure properties, especially in areas highly susceptible to floods, hurricanes and natural disasters.
While a ton of environmental devastation is the direct result of builders and developers bribing federal and state public officials for government financing and cheap taxpayer funded flood insurance, government entities have even built public housing in high risk coastal areas.  Astoundingly, NY government officials built nursing homes and public housing projects in Hurricane Sandy ravaged Rockaway Beach, NY.

This is Truly EPIC, the NYT Admits that the Government Built and Subsidized Nursing Homes and Public Housing in Sandy Ravaged Rockaway Beach
The ravages of Hurricane Sandy are extensive as is the human misery.

Along comes, lo and behold, the New York Times with an article documenting that the Federal government and local government officials encouraged and subsidized the development of nursing homes and public housing projects for the poor in Rockaway Beach, NY. The Rockaways were especially hard hit by Hurricane Sandy...

Welcome to government central planning! It's deadly and dangerous. Putting the poor, the old and the sick on a beach and in the path of storms and hurricanes is so liberal, so statist, so totalitarian and undoubtedly very profitable for the politically connected real estate developers who made fortunes off of these taxpayer funded projects.
Even more shocking, on 4/1/10 the Washington Times reported on a bill in Congress written by Florida Democrat Ron Klein, dubbed the Homeowners Defense Act, and reported that it was “nothing more than a targeted TARP-style taxpayer-funded bailout….there are no income-level or home- or property-value restrictions on who benefits from this beach-house bailout. In fact, the Florida system provides massive subsidies to homeowners of $2-million-plus properties. The claim that this bill will help low-income families is so egregious that state Sen. Al Lawson of Tallahassee said, "You're robbing from the poor to take care of the rich ... to subsidize these million-dollar homes built on the coast."

Such legislation is like welfare for Rush Limbaugh who happens to have a monster mansion on the beach.  However, the government has a very long history of providing welfare for the wealthy and a beach house or ocean front condo on the taxpayer's nickel is just one of the many financial perks of the governments numerous programs to subsidize the rich.

Water is becoming a scarce resource, especially in the notoriously dry western parts of the  US. California is famous for droughts, wildfires and earthquakes. The media is reporting that water taps to farmers have been cut-off in some areas that have simply run out of water or have run low on water.

In Tom Bethell’s book The Noblest Triumph, Property and Prosperity Through the Ages, Bethell puts forth a convincing and documented position that free market capitalism is a much more efficient conservator of scarce resources than politicians and government. Although Bethell’s book was published in 1998, it’s a timeless classic.

Bethell talks extensively on how the State of California kept the cost of water cheap by subsidizing it and he’s point blank in his analysis:
Why don’t government agencies charge more for water? The answer is that they have been captured by their clients. “Without the farmers, the government agencies would never have been able to get the political support they needed to build the dams in the first place,” said the economist Gordon Tullock. ….The relevant dam-building agencies were able to expand from small beginnings by actively seeking out customers who “demanded” their services. These agencies – the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, primarily, then enjoyed political support from farmers and could rely on them to lobby on their behalf when budget appropriations were needed....

With California’s population growing rapidly, and water being poured into the ground for farming, the water agencies saw shortages ahead. As before, they weren’t concerned….as before they would build more dams…the farmers would still get cheap water….By the 1970’s, however, there was a new variable in the political equation: Environmentalists.
Environmentalists recognized that the cheap water that was drenching the CA farm belt areas also held the potential to dry up rivers, streams etc. and affect fish and wildlife. These days this drama has exploded into a full-fledged hot potato political and judicial issue as farming interest line up in the courts against what they consider unreasonable and punitive environmental policies. Obviously, the California water disaster has significantly intensified since Bethell’s 1998 book. A fairly recent court ruling held that the fish trump the subsidized farmers, and with the current draught, the situation is acute. The NYT reports, here:
TULARE, Calif. — For the third year in a row, Mark Watte plans to rely on the aquifer beneath his family farm for three-quarters of the water he needs to keep his cotton, corn and alfalfa growing, his young pistachio trees healthy and his 900 dairy cows cool. That is 50 percent more than he used to take, because the water that once flowed to the farm from snow in the Sierra Nevada has been reduced by a long dry spell and diversions to benefit endangered fish.

Since 2006 the surface of the aquifer, in the Kaweah subbasin of the San Joaquin basin, has dropped 50 feet as farmers pumped deeper, Mr. Watte says. Some of his pumps no longer reach far enough to bring any water to the surface….

Beginning in midcentury, the state enjoyed a respite with completion of the Central Valley Project, a large hydroengineering effort to redistribute surface water around the San Joaquin Valley.

But this year, the Westland water district— the state’s largest, in the San Joaquin Valley — got a taste of what the future may hold when its allocation of surface water from the Central Valley Project was cut by about 90 percent. As a result, area farmers expect to pump two and a half times the usual amount of groundwater this year.
The California water nightmare is the direct result of government subsidizing farmers, Big Agriculture and Big Food.

The Central Valley Project is a project of the federal Bureau of Reclamation. The federal government poured money into subsidizing California’s farmers. But the State of California gave the powerful farm lobby the authority to pump all the ground water it wanted. As the water tables in California are now vastly reduced as a direct result of prolonged drought, water in California is quickly becoming a scarce resource. Meanwhile, California gets its congressional contingent to get more and more federal money for more water projects.

With 1.64 million acres of farmland that supports a $30 billion agricultural industry, the economic ramifications are huge for CA and so is the burden upon taxpayers and water starved residents of California. As water dries up, farmers in California are being paid by the federal government not to produce which is another corporate welfare subsidy program concocted by the statist central planners.

Moving on from the water nightmare, the federal US Forest Service is another boondoggle that has been rapacious in its pursuit of wholesale environment destruction. Another government environmental disaster that was exposed by Bethell involves the Forest Service, dubbed “the world’s largest road-building company” by John Baden of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment. The Forest Service as of 1991 had constructed 360,000 miles of roads which is 8 times the length of the entire U.S. Interstate Highway System. Bethell documents how the Forest Service went on a taxpayer funded road building extravaganza post WW II and actively engaged in the timber business.
The cost of road-building was paid out of the U.S. Treasury, but some receipts from the timber sales could be retained in the service’s own budget. So it didn’t matter to the Forest Service if it lost money on every sale. According to one study, below-cost timber sales cost taxpayers $5.6 billion in the 1980’s alone. In effect, the treasury subsidizes the Forest Service to cut down trees, and Congress permits the service to retain part of the proceeds...

...With employees in 46 states, the service keeps many private logging companies in business…..Since 1976, then, the service has logged a lot of timber...
Bethell then goes on to quote a Forest Service volunteer who said “entire mountainsides were shorn of cover, and rough roads crisscrossed their faces, creating terraces that bled topsoil into the rivers when the snow melted in spring…The Forest Service is deforesting our national timberlands….”.

The economics of government funded deforestation are insane and Bethell quotes the Washington Post who “reported that in just four national forests in North Carolina in l989, the Forest Service spent $4.8 million selling trees worth $2.9 million”.

Logging is very expensive and it is not financially feasible in many areas because of exorbitant costs and accessibility issues. But hey, with the Forest Service paving roads for loggers with taxpayer dollars, who won’t jump on the bandwagon of easy subsidized timber profits?

What environmentalists fail to grasp is that much of our environmental degradation was actually caused by the government subsidizing special interests that fill campaign coffers. In DC, it’s all about money and special interests, nothing more.  However, the destruction of the environment by the government is vastly magnified when we factor in the environmental impact of the US military and our endless wars.

US Department of Defense is the Worst Polluter on the Planet
Our unconstitutional and murderous wars are destroying the planet and the US Military burns through about 350-400,000 barrels of oil a day. One of my favorite blogs (Washingtonsblog.com) posted some great information in a piece titled “The Elephant in the Room: The U.S. Military is One of the World's Largest Sources of C02” that includes:

"The military accounts for a full 80 percent of the federal government's energy demand." Sixteen gallons of oil. That's how much the average American soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan consumes on a daily basis -- either directly, through the use of Humvees, tanks, trucks, and helicopters, or indirectly, by calling in air strikes. Multiply this figure by 162,000 soldiers in Iraq, 24,000 in Afghanistan, and 30,000 in the surrounding region (including sailors aboard U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf) and you arrive at approximately 3.5 million gallons of oil: the daily petroleum tab for U.S. combat operations in the Middle East war zone.

And in 2008, Oil Change International released a report showing that:

The [Iraq] war is responsible for at least 141 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) since March 2003. To put this in perspective, CO2 released by the war to date equals the emissions from putting 25 million more cars on the road in the US this year.

The fact that the U.S. military is one of the world's largest sources of C02 is an open secret that no one is addressing. If C02 causes warming and the military is one of the largest producers of C02, then any talk of climate change which does not include the military is nothing but hot air."
Environmentalists Against War (http://envirosagainstwar.org) disclosed some of the horrific consequences of our wars.
War destroys human settlements and native habitats.

War destroys wildlife and contaminates the land, air and water. The damage can last for generations.

US clusterbombs, thermobaric explosions, electromagnetic bursts and weapons made with depleted uranium are indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction.

Bombs pollute, poisoning the land with unexploded shells and toxic chemicals. Bombs can't locate or neatly destroy hidden chemical or biological weapons (CBW), but they can cause the uncontrolled spread of deadly CBW agents.
Although this blog post only deals with a few of the nasty ways in which government massively contributes to environmental destruction, they are very significant and have a lasting and profound impact on the environment. Millions of folks live in low lying coastal areas that are highly susceptible to hurricanes and flooding, and largely because the government subsidizes building in environmentally sensitive and high risk areas. Big agricultural interests in areas that are prone to drought lobby government officials for endless supplies of cheap water; hence the water nightmare in California. The US Forest Services builds taxpayer funded roads and leases federal lands to loggers with the net result being that entire forests have been shorn of trees, courtesy of government intervention and subsidies. The US military is the biggest polluter on the planet and its criminal activities are devastating to people and their natural resources.

No sane environmentalist can morally defend such government interventions on any grounds. But in America, it's all about politics at the DC and state level wheels of fortune where special interests line up and bribe the politicos for their cut of government largess, regardless of the consequences.  Unfortunately, many unsuspecting environmentalists get sucked into to supporting nasty government programs and wars that actually harm the environment.

None of the above discussed environmental degradation and devastation could have been possible without government interference and subsidies to special interests and defense contractors.  Accordingly, when we think about the environment we need to recognize that secure property rights and free markets are indeed the best path to a healthy and toxin free environment, as well as sound public and foreign policy that doesn't contribute to the carnage.  Private interests have a vested interest in maintaining the value of their property while government officials just feed off the disease of crony capitalism, special interests and rent seeking corporate welfare recipients.

The free market libertarian solution to the environment is simple:  I own a patch of dirt and I can do anything I want with it and without government permission so long as my actions don't pollute, devalue or molest your neighboring property in any way, and that includes the surface of the land, the air above it and everything under it (water rights are an extremely complex legal issue).  Once property rights get moved from the private realm to the public realm, that is a recipe for chronic environmental holocausts.

2 comments:

  1. At least with free markets there are reasonable considerations about the financial feasibility of a project knowing that the loss, if any, will be born by the project and investors.
    Throw the government into the mix and all reasoning goes out the window!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bingo natejbank! The private sector will always be a far better custodian of the environment.

    ReplyDelete

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