“When you consider all the new rules pouring through the regulatory pipeline, and those still to come, it is staggering,” Donohue said in his annual speech on the state of American business.
Ruckelshaus, famous for his role in the Watergate scandal as the deputy attorney general who resigned instead of following Nixon’s order to fire a special prosecutor, made his mark in politics as a moderate Republican. But he said he’d voted for Obama twice, accusing his own party of abandoning environmental issues.
“They’ve become not only neutral on the subject but antagonistic to it. I think that’s a very bad mistake, myself,” Ruckelshaus said.
When environmentalism was more popular during the Nixon years, he recalled, four executives from the U.S. automobile industry came to Washington to try to stop the Clean Air Act from passing.
“They didn’t get anywhere,” Ruckelshaus said. “They simply misunderstood the strength of public opinion on the issue, and that was true of a lot of industrial leaders at the time.”
Today, he said, special interests are better organized, better able to stop environmental regulations with arguments that jobs are at stake. He said history proved that it was harder to get Americans to accept more regulations when the economy was weak, and he predicted that there’ll be a growing appetite to tackle global warming as the economy improves.
“This is true all over the world,” Ruckelshaus said. “Whenever people have the ability to feed, clothe and shelter themselves, then they begin to worry about some of these more esoteric issues, like the environment and public health.”