What do you get when polluters go unpunished? Dirty water and degraded streams.
Just look at Kentucky's waterways for proof.
As state funding for environmental protection plunged under Kentucky's past two governors — Democrat Steve Beshear and Republican Ernie Fletcher — so did environmental enforcement actions.
Using Kentucky's Open Records Act, WFPL's Erica Peterson has quantified the scope and effects of budget cuts and lax enforcement.
What she found is more miles of degraded streams flowing off Kentucky's mountains now than 20 years ago, as fewer state dollars flowed into policing pollution, especially by surface coal mining.
In the Lower Cumberland basin, more than 500 miles of stream were classified as fully supporting aquatic life in 1992. That number had declined to just more than 100 miles in 2012, according to data that Kentucky reports to Congress.
In the Big and Little Sandy, an additional 300 miles were classified as unable to fully support aquatic life from 1992 to 2012.
State funding for the Department of Environmental Protection has declined 42 percent since 1992 when adjusted for inflation.
WFPL documented "a precipitous drop" in the incidence of the state citing pollution violations, taking polluters to court and obtaining stiff fines against them during the Fletcher and Beshear administrations when compared with their predecessors, Democrats Brereton Jones and Paul Patton.
Enforcement actions have dropped precipitously even though permits to discharge wastewater into Kentucky's streams and rivers have doubled since 1992.
Patton had been a coal operator, but during his two terms the environment cabinet's legal office handled an average of 230 cases from the Department of Environmental Protection each year. Fletcher's handled an average of 73 cases a year and Beshear's about 78 a year from 2009 to 2014. The state's environmental lawyers are on track to handle even fewer cases in 2015.
While funding to almost all of state government has been slashed repeatedly since the 2008 recession, environmental protection took especially savage cuts. At the same time, the message from the top was to protect the coal industry.
Republican Gov.-elect Matt Bevin could serve Kentuckians well by applying his conservative values to conserving land and water. After all, despoiling our mountains and streams has not made Kentucky wealthy.