The Mystery of Newt Gingrich
The Mystery of Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich is a very smart, very intellectual kind of guy. Not only does he hold a Ph.D., but he professes to love science. In May 2002, after leaving Congress, he could be found calling for a tripling of the budget of the National Science Foundation.
Just look at this 2008 Slate exchange, discussing Gingrich’s plans to use market mechanisms to address global warming:
I identify with it. While Gingrich and his revolutionaries were running the congressional show in the 1990s, they dismantled their own scientific advisory office, the Office of Technology Assessment. Then they held show hearings to cast doubt on the science of climate and the science of ozone depletion.
They loved science–except when they didn’t.
Now Gingrich is back again, as a possible GOP presidential candidate. And he is calling for nothing less than dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency.
There is a more thorough explanation of what Gingrich means on his website, where this Republican-founded agency is dubbed a “job-killing, centralizing engine of ideological litigation and regulation that blocks economic progress at every turn.” We are not going easy, then. What’s the central charge?
Wow, more than $ 10 billion? I didn’t know the EPA’s budget off hand before reading this, and I have to say, I find that pretty cheap in light of what the agency is actually charged with doing.
Gingrich’s contention, however, is that the EPA cannot be reformed to make it more market friendly; it must be replaced entirely by an “Environmental Solutions Agency”:
So that’s the proposal–and reading it, you really have to wonder what Gingrich is playing at here. Clean air and clean water are known to be overwhelmingly popular, and a frontal assault on the EPA seems highly unlikely to succeed.
Anti-government rhetoric, though, is always a campaign plus. And further, we know that deep down Gingrich really cares about environmental issues, albeit in a rather idiosyncratic way. His book A Contract With the Earth espoused an admittedly far softer form of the same business-oriented environmentalism, calling for governments to set up incentives to help companies help the environment.
In other words, you might think of the call to abolish the EPA as a kind of curious love child of Gingrich the environmental policy wonk and Gingrich the aspiring candidate.
Nevertheless, the whole enterprise founders not only on the popularity of environmental protections, but the basic fact that, guess what, environmental regulations are already economically efficient. According to a recent Office of Management and Budget analysis, notes Columbia University Earth Institute director Steven Cohen, “EPA issued 30 major regulations from 1999 to 2009 at an estimated cost of $25.8 billion to $29.2 billion against estimated benefits ranging from $81.9 billion to $533 billion.” Those are returns any investor would kill for.
The good news, I suppose, is that if Gingrich does indeed run for president, he may have to explain his anti-EPA position at some point to mainstream America, and not just to the voters in Republican primaries.
Good luck with that.