Green Politics is Local Too

In my business, people tend to focus on the big ticket elections: the presidential and Congressional cycles. But after watching one state after another try to undermine the safeguards that protect our health and the environment, I am reminded that every election matters, from your state senate on down to your county zoning board. And if we don’t keep our eyes on these officials, many of them will do what the Tea Party asks instead of what the voters told them is important.

Here’s what happening in statehouses across the country. In New Jersey, Tea Party favorite Governor Christie says a law that protects the watershed for half of the state’s drinking water infringes on private property rights. In Maine, Governor LePage, another Tea Party darling, wants to suspend a law that monitors toxins in children’s products. And in North Carolina, the legislature wants to gut the budget of the state’s environmental protection agency by 22 percent. As the New York Times puts it: “When Republicans wrested control across the country last November, they made clear that reducing all government was important, but that cutting environmental regulations was a particular priority.”

That may sit well with Tea Party leaders, but it is not what voters want. I know Tea Partiers don’t always credit scientific evidence, but poll after poll confirms that Americans value environmental and public health safeguards, and they respect agencies like the EPA that keep them safe from dangerous pollutants.   NRDC conducted polls in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minnesota, Virginia, and Wisconsin and across the board, voters firmly support protecting clean air and keeping the EPA’s authority to set limits on pollutants, including greenhouse gases.

In Michigan, 76 percent of respondents said the EPA should decide which pollution reductions are necessary, including 73 percent of Independents. In Pennsylvania, 72 percent support limiting carbon pollution from big power plants and other industrial facilities, including 65 percent of Independents. We got similar findings in every state that we polled.

While anti-government sloganeering may draw crowds, support fades once people realize what it actually means for their families. Slashing the budget for water programs rather than ending oil subsidies may make energy companies happy, but it won’t help beachgoers who get sick because city governments cannot afford to keep raw sewage out of the water.

When we reveal the true consequences of anti-environmental maneuvers, voters get mad. We handed out fliers in malls in Representative Fred Upton’s (R-MI) district describing how he is trying to undermine the Clean Air Act. People took those fliers and turned up at Town Hall meetings to question him about it. Upton was quickly put on the defense and had a hard time defending himself, even misstating how his bill wouldn’t limit the much revered law.  He was defensive because he knows voters wouldn’t like what he was up to.  The message is clear: Americans want to protect their air and water.

The trouble is that not all lawmakers are listening. The Tea Party thinks they have more of a mandate than they do. Many people voted for Tea Party nominees based on one issue. My sister-in-law, for instance, only votes for pro-life candidates. That doesn’t mean she likes everything else they do.

The majority of voters don’t support the Tea Party attack on environmental safeguards. But even if the party doesn’t have the voters, it has something else: bully power. It keeps intimidating and threatening lawmakers that if they don’t move further to the right, they will pay in the next election.

That’s why it is so important for all us—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—to tell our elected officials at every level that we support environmental protections. We need to make our voices heard so that the champions on the city council, the county commission, and the state legislature know that, if they stand up for clean air and water, they will get our vote in 2012.

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