The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Clean Air?
Not in Corporate America

Sep 17, 2012

A federal appeals court just ruled against the EPA’s latest method to clean up air pollution. It was just another means – among many used by the biggest polluters over the last 40 years – to avoid restrictions on their “right” to pollute.

Both the EPA and OSHA grew out of a time period when much of the population was in motion against an array of injustices. The 1950s and 60s saw the civil rights movement grow, then the women’s movement and the anti-war movement grew in the 1970s.

All of this was joined by militancy in the work places, for example, the struggle of miners against black lung. The federal Coal Mine Safety Act was passed in 1969, to gather data on this deadly disease and propose regulations to protect miners. The Occupational Safety and Health Act became law in December of 1970, due to health and safety issues raised by union workers in many different industries. The Environmental Protection Act was also passed in 1970.

While these regulations helped diminish some of the worst dangers in both work places and in communities located close to manufacturing or refining facilities, industries have sabotaged the intent of such regulations every step of the way.

It’s not enough to have an EPA and an OSHA set up when we still have a society based on profit. In this system, companies fight legally and extra-legally to delay implementing even minimal regulations so long as to make them nearly meaningless. Today the EPA has a list of 300 manufacturing sites and refineries that are “high priority violators.” These sites have been in violation for at least 10 years. And many other sites have been identified by the EPA with lesser amounts of pollution.

Companies say the cost of environmental and safety and health regulations would force them to raise prices. What they really mean is that they will not accept anything that impinges on their profits.

Today, the EPA and OSHA seem like paper tigers. Yet it is quite possible to monitor pollution and work place safety. There are forces able to do it – all those who work in every industry and the neighbors who live in every community affected by nearby dangerous sites.

It would be possible to clean up the air, the water and the land – but only if working people take control out of the hands of a class that puts profit first.