Don’t Get Me Started, Regulars and Shorts

Don’t Get Me Started: Campaign Contribution-Based Science

By John deJong

Utah’s 2nd District congressional representative Chris Steward versus science.
by John deJong

Two Utahns have stake in pollution health data fight” blares an August Salt Lake Tribune headline. Judy Fahys covers the story like a horse race, detailing Utah 2nd District Rep. Chris Stewart’s quixotic pursuit of “dubious science.” Stewart, one of the biggest externality deniers in the country, has subpoenaed Arlen Pope, renowned BYU economist and for all practical purposes the discoverer of the extremely harmful effects of PM 2.5s, to defend the 1980 studies that proved the link between pollution and a wide range of illnesses. The only problem with revealing study data in the detail Stewart and the right wing media echo chamber are de­manding—and it is an important concern—is the confidentiality agree­ments between the researchers and the millions of participants in the studies.

With all the hubris of a first-term congressman, Stewart has assumed the royal prerogative of being above the law. Legally confidential data has about as much meaning to Stewart as the scientific method or the precautionary principle. Which is to say none. Funded by the Koch brothers and their fellow externality deniers, Stewart is portraying Pope’s unwillingness to break his confidentiality agreements as evidence of bad science.

Externality denial is one of the basic tenets of capricious capitalism. It’s been with us since before the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. The idea is that the burden of pollution and ruined environments should fall on the general populace rather than the industries that create it.

Face it. Republicans don’t see science’s quest for the truth the way the rest of us do. For them, scientific truth is determined by the weight of campaign contributions. Stewart raised $470,092 to win his election in 2012.

$68,100 from the finance/insurance/real estate sector (banks and their ilk); $67,000 from energy/natural resource sector (the Koch brothers and Exxon Mobil among others). And, most disturbing for the future of democracy in this country, $67,000 from the ideology/single-issue sector.

It’s hard to tell from the scant evidence available whether Stewart professed his externality denier beliefs in order to woo potential donors or whether he was a good listener and chameleon and took the utterances of his campaign contributors as dogma. I would guess it’s a lot of both.

What do you think the chances are that, at the end of the hearings, Rep. Stuart will say he’s convinced by the evidence? More likely he’ll say the data is unconvincing and that more research should be done before such onerous regulations be imposed on free enterprise and then vote to eliminate any funding for such studies.

You may remember, or may want to forget, that Chris Stewart gained the Republican nomination by a political ju jitsu move that made it look like four of his Republican opponents were colluding to deny him the nomination.

Chris’s brother and campaign manager, Tim Stewart, has been linked to the last minute low blow that scuttled Senator Bob Bennett’s last bid for a primary berth known as the Temple Mailer.

If you have any doubts as to Chris Stewart’s real character, Glenn Beck’s calling Stewart a “decent and honorable man” should lay them to rest.

This article was originally published on August 30, 2013.