Column: An Oxymoron worthy of a Pulitzer for rhetoric |

Column: An Oxymoron worthy of a Pulitzer for rhetoric

John O'Neill

Our new administration is not quite two months old, and already we have the foxes lining up to “guard the hen house!”

A case in point: From the Associated Press, we learn that a group calling itself the “Business Roundtable,” comprised of the chief executive officers of large corporations, has sent Congress an 18-page report dubbed “a nonpartisan blueprint for lawmakers” that calls for “constructive changes in our environmental protection system” and “a more business approach to managing the environment.” Using terms such as “performance-based” and “market-driven,” this (nonpartisan) report goes on to suggest a “shift in regulatory controls away from the Environmental Protection Agency and toward the states along with voluntary self-auditing” (here come the foxes again) and “an overall climate of fewer regulations on business”… I wonder what would happen if we took these key words and phrases, dropped them all into a paper bag…shook them up, then drew them out one at a time?

OK, here goes…first out of the bag is “nonpartisan”…I like that…has a nice ring to it…let’s put it aside for future reference. Next we have “…business approach to managing the environment” followed by “chief executive officers of large corporations;” “an overall climate of fewer regulations on business;” “shift in regulatory controls away from the Environmental Protection Agency;” ” voluntary self-auditing”; “market-driven” and lastly “Business Roundtable.” Wow…if we were to preface all these with our “nonpartisan,” we would have a wonderful, multi-layered oxymoron worthy of the Pulitzer Prize for political rhetoric!

Let’s take a look at just a few examples of previous “market-driven” business approaches to managing the environment: New York State’s notorious “Love Canal,” the destruction of Northern California and Oregon’s coastal watersheds by the timber industry, leading, along with the (market-driven) policies of the fishing industry, to near depletion of the fisheries; and indiscriminate damming of our rivers, making it impossible for salmon to reach their centuries-old spawning grounds. Closer to home, California’s Leviathan Mine and the extinction of the Truckee River Lahontan Cutthroat due to industrial pollution and commercial fishing…and what about the overzealous developers who, with the obvious blessings of our county commissioners, were allowed to build homes in the Carson River flood plain?

Just for fun, try to imagine a breakfast meeting of this august body: after an invocation by the Reverend Jesse Helms (Mr. Non-partisan, himself), we find on the menu “Poached Bald Eagle Eggs over Toast” with a choice of “Smoked Filet of Sea Turtle” or “Broasted Breast of Spotted Owl.” For entertainment, James Watt lecturing on “The Importance of Preserving America’s Precious Corporate Environmental Heritage.” Then, from our new Interior Secretary, an emotional remembrance of an epic moment in corporate environmental history: California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s remarks, upon viewing the new Redwood National Park, in which he intoned the immortal words, “A tree is a tree…if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” (hardly a dry eye in the place!). And to close, a rousing rendition of their theme song, “Drill Ye Terriers, Drill”…led by special guests Dick Cheney and the CEOs of Exxon and Arco.

John O’Neill is co-director of the Carson Valley Violin School and may be contacted at: or through his Website,