Senator Brown Tries to Distract From the Real Issue

Last week, the League of Women Voters launched an ad campaign to let the public know that Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MI) both voted in April to undermine the Clean Air Act.  The proposal didn’t pass the Senate, but if it had, it would have endangered people’s health. That’s why the American Lung Association, the American Academy of Pediatricians, the American Thoracic Society, and many other medical groups opposed it.

But Senator Brown doesn’t like being confronted with the consequences of his vote.  Ever since the ads appeared, he has deployed a classic political tactic: when you are held accountable, don’t provide answers. Attack the messenger instead. Rather than address the fact that his vote would have made kids sick, Brown has accused the League of Women Voters of “demagoguery,” said the League has “gone into the gutter,” and challenged the nonprofit to reveal its funders.

The name of this game is distraction, and too often, we let politicians lure us into playing along. But remember, the issue here isn’t where the League gets its funding. It is a nonpartisan voter education organization that has been around since 1920 and has been working on Clean Air Act issues for decades.  And it is acting in full compliance with the law.

The issue here is why Brown was willing to undermine a major public health protection. He’s invoked his fatherhood as a sort of shield of credibility. “As a father,” he wrote in a recent Boston Herald op-ed, “I would never put my two daughters or anyone else’s children in harm’s way.”

I don’t judge Brown’s parenting skills; that’s none of my business. But whether he acknowledges it or not, blocking the EPA from updating clean air standards would make some kids sicker.  There is no arguing that point. The medical evidence is clear.

Even if Brown tries to distract us with the shiny ball of funding sources, the facts still matter. We must return our eyes to the truth presented in the League’s ads.  And Brown is in no position, by the way, to cast aspersions about donors.  He has opposed measures to require disclosure of donors. And from what he has had to reveal, we know of at least $133,000 that Brown received from big polluters and their corporate front groups.

Think Progress has a tape of Brown thanking David Koch for supporting has last Senate campaign and hitting him up for the next one – in 2012. – Koch is co-owner of one of the ten most toxic air polluters in the US and a key backer of efforts to gut the Clean Air Act. So Brown was elected thanks in part to money from one of America’s dirtiest polluters; and he’s on tape making it clear he’s coming back for more, explaining that “We’re already banging away.” Is it any wonder he wants to block the safeguards that would make Koch and other polluters clean up their messes?

I would have more respect for Brown if he stood by his vote and said "yes, it will make some children sick, but the corporations who support me think it’s worth it." I would still find that morally reprehensible, but at least it would be honest.

Instead, he is taking the easiest and the weakest way out: shoot the messenger.

Dirty Money for Dirty Laws

What can nearly $80,000 buy these days? Judging from recent campaign filings, it can buy a handful of oil friendly bills in Congress.

During the first quarter of 2011, ExxonMobil contributed $79,000 to members of the two main House committees that are driving the assault on President Obama’s clean energy policies. About 97 percent of ExxonMobil’s money went to Republicans, according to POLITICO.

ExxonMobil isn’t the only polluter spreading money around. One year after the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon, BP wrote out checks totaling $29,000 to the campaigns of House Republican leaders.

Energy companies are getting a good return on their investment. Last month, Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA) introduced three bills that would:

  • Mandate drilling off the entire coast of the United States, including the Arctic, and eliminate in perpetuity the ability of U.S. presidents to decide not to drill in these areas.
  • Accelerate offshore permitting, making the regulatory process even weaker than it was before the BP disaster.
  • Compel the Obama Administration to hold lease sales in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia and block the courts from challenging the Environmental Impact Statements made by the companies vying for the leases.
It’s hard to understand why oil companies need a helping hand right now. ExxonMobil made nearly $11 billion in the first quarter. And drilling in the federal Outer Continental Shelf has increased by more than a third in the past two years.

According to data from the nonpartisan Energy Information Agency, even if we dramatically expanded offshore drilling, we wouldn’t see an impact on gas prices until 2030, and even that it would be a matter of just five cents.

These Hastings bills are not about the public good. Nor are they about responding to what voters want. A new poll conducted from NRDC Action Fund found that only 29 percent of respondents would vote for a candidate calling for more offshore drilling instead of one who supported cleaner ways of dealing with America’s oil addiction.

No, these bills are about expanding profit margins for the oil industry.

And unfortunately, they aren’t the only polluters getting into the act. A new website created by a coalition of environmental groups (including our sister organization, the NRDC) makes it easy to find out which lawmakers are voting on behalf of the polluters who helped finance them.

Coal companies, for instance, are also using the legislative process on behalf of their own self interest. Last week, the largest coal-burning utility in the nation shopped around a bill that would exempt utilities from a host of pollution rules; some lawmakers supporting the bill even acknowledged the bill was drafted by the company.

Meanwhile, Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee drove through a bill that would undermine the Clean Air Act and prevent the EPA from reducing dangerous carbon pollution. Polls show that Upton’s constituents didn’t support this bill; they know it is bad for their health. But then again, less than 10 percent of Upton’s donations actually come from his constituents, while he has collected tens of thousands of dollars from out-of-state polluters like ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and Peabody Energy Corps. So I wonder whose bidding he is doing here.

Injecting money into the political system gets results. Until Congress passes a law to prevent these kinds of dirty quid pro quos, our only defense against deep-pocketed polluters is the coal opposition of citizens.

ExxonMobil seems to be spreading as much money around as possible to get its way in Congress these days, and so far it has no reason to be disappointed with the results

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.

Champs Stand Up and Fight for Clean Air As Tea Party Loses Steam

Things are looking up in the effort to preserve clean air protections and to keep the Clean Air Act intact. For months, polluters and their allies in Congress have been trying to strip away the protections that keep our air safe to breathe. But in the past few days, 4 anti-clean air amendments have failed miserably in the Senate, 34 senators have declared their support for the Clean Air Act, and now some members of the GOP are indicating they might give some ground on the dirty policy riders they’ve attached to the spending bill — policy riders that don’t save a single red cent.

Two forces are helping break up the logjam: the renewed leadership from clean air champions and the apparent waning influence of Tea Party supporters. But the fight is definitely not over. We need to keep the pressure on until the dirty air bullies back down.

There's more...

Clean Air Act Attacks Continue and Intensify

A legislative storm is brewing in Washington right now. Three Senators have proposed amendments to the Senate’s SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011 bill—commonly referred to as the “Small Business Bill”—that could undermine the Clean Air Act.

If you would like to curb global warming, prevent more asthma attacks, and preserve America’s best tool for making our air safer to breathe, I urge you to tell your lawmakers not to support these amendments. This is a law that touches all Americans. I remember going to elementary school in Kentucky next to an oil refinery. The air was so polluted that children would get sick after running around at recess and the paint on teachers’ cars literally started to peel. Now, when I go back to my hometown, the air in my old neighborhood is safer and less polluted. That’s thanks to the Clean Air Act.

You might have a similar story to tell. Maybe you grew up Los Angeles in the 1970s and remember when the air was deemed unhealthy to breathe more than 200 days a year. By 2004, that number dropped to 28 days. That was thanks to the Clean Air Act too.

This law has achieved amazing successes. It has saved more than 2 million lives and slashed the pollution in our air by 60 percent since it was passed 40 years ago. Now the Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to reduce the most dangerous pollutants of the 21st century: greenhouse gases.

But the amendments introduced this week would handcuff the agency and allow big polluters to keep spewing the emissions that cause climate change and threaten our health. Here is how these senators are trying to help polluters.

The McConnell Amendment: Would permanently repeal the Clean Air Act’s authority to set limits on carbon pollution, threatening the CAA’s health benefits and increasing our dependence on foreign oil.

The Rockefeller Amendment: Would delay implementation of EPA's carbon standards for stationary sources under the Clean Air Act for at least 2 years.  But this proposal is just repeal by another name. As history has shown, legislative delays are nearly impossible to exterminate. Blocking the EPA from updating Clean Air Act safeguards with new standards to reduce emissions of life-threatening pollution from power plants and other major sources– whether initially just one year or two – will be extended again and again.

The Baucus Amendment: Would prevent accurate accounting of emissions from agricultural activities as well as allow large emission sources to be built or modified with no requirement to limit their carbon pollution.

Unfortunately, these three amendments are not the only front of the battle. Congress is also in the midst of negotiating the next resolution to keep the government running.  Just as in the Small Business Bill, the House of Representatives is pressuring the Senate to accept language that could permanently limit the EPA’s authority to address carbon pollution.

Lawmakers need to realize that a vote to block the EPA from reducing air pollution puts millions of Americans at risk for serious health conditions.

Twenty-four million Americans suffer from asthma. Millions more will feel the impacts of climate change—the punishing storms, the extreme heat waves, the exhausted city emergency budgets—if we don’t allow the EPA to do its jobs and limit carbon pollution.

Tell your lawmakers to protect the integrity of the Clean Air Act.

Representative Upton wrong about his bill

Yesterday, at a townhall meeting in Portage, Michigan, Representative Fred Upton – Chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee – misrepresented a bill he sponsored, saying it “doesn't undermine the Clean Air Act.” Despite what Rep. Upton says, his bill very much undermines the Clean Air Act:

  • Rep. Upton’s bill exempts carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants from the Clean Air Act’s definition of “air pollutant,” overturning the Supreme Court’s landmark decision Massachusetts v. EPA -- which required the EPA to act on carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act if it determined the pollution to be a public health threat (which it did).
  • Rep. Upton’s bill blatantly ignores scientific findings. The bill repeals EPA’s scientific finding that carbon dioxide and other climate-changing pollutants are bringing Americans death, illness, and injury. Rep. Upton's bill thereby disregards the findings of the National Academy of Sciences and countless other scientific experts.
  • Important health groups agree his bill would strip away protections under the Clean Air Act. The American Lung Association issued a statement urging Congress to "to reject Chairman Fred Upton’s draft bill that will undermine the Clean Air Act."

As David Doniger explains, Rep. Upton’s bill “would give the biggest polluters a free pass for unlimited carbon pollution ".

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Rep. Upton has made incorrect statements. The Washington Post recently awarded Rep. Upton two “Pinocchio’s.”

The NRDC Action Fund recently ran an advertisement in the Kalamazoo Gazette signed by dozens of his constituents.

This week, we will be distributing flyers at Upton’s town hall meetings to highlight his misguided actions. Please stay tuned as we continue to cover this important issue.

Out of Both Sides of His Mouth

Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich is in mourning. He is very saddened by the sudden passing of Knut the polar bear in Germany. He tweeted:

“Sad news! Just learned Knut the polar bear died suddenly at 4,” Gingrich tweeted over the weekend. “Callista and I visited him in Berlin when he was 5 months old. He was cute.”

Knut’s passing was very sad. There is no question.

What I can’t get my head around is why Newt only cares about Knut? The government's own models show that polar bears face over an 80% chance of becoming extinct by mid-Century throughout much of their range. Polar bears may be extinct in my expected lifetime.

One of the major contributors of their decline is climate change. Newt Gingrich, who actually seems to believe in the perils of global warming, has flip-flopped on whether he will support doing anything about it.

In fact, instead of seriously exploring solutions that could address our changing climate, he played dirty politics by running an inaccurate TV ad labeling policy proposals as a tax. Those kinds of fear-mongering ads have set us back in the fight to pass federal legislation that will strengthen our security, create jobs, and reduce pollution.

That doesn’t sounds like someone who is serious about addressing real problems, which should be a prerequisite to be President. He is just someone looking to score political points with his base.

If you think Knut’s passing is sad, just wait until all polar bears are gone.

Jamie’s Important Update

Jamie Consuegra, a legislative advocate with the NRDC Action Fund, gave us the latest on Rep Fred Upton's attacks on our health:

Jamie's got it right: if Rep. Upton and his allies have their way, it will cripple the EPA's ability to protect us from corporate polluters. But we still have time to stop their attacks.

When we meet with members of Congress and their staff, they often tell us what they are hearing from their constituents about an issue. We know they are listening. So please call the Capitol Switchboard (202 -224-3121), ask for your Representative's office, and urge them to support protections on our health:

"As a constituent, I urge you to oppose any efforts to rollback protections on our public health. Congress should not take away the EPA's ability to enforce the Clean Air Act. These safeguards help protect all of us, especially our children and the elderly. What is the Representative's position on this issue?"

Want to do even more? We're collecting stories from regular people about how the environment has impacted their quality of life. We want to show elected leaders that public health safeguards are working and should be strengthened, not discarded. Click here to share your own story.



The Tea Party’s Takeover of the Republican Budget

A great post by my colleague Rob Perks:

Today the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass the Republicans’ reckless plan to cut $100 billion in government spending. This includes a 30% budget reduction for the Environmental Protection Agency, which would inflict grave harm to our economy and to our health. (NRDC’s experts have analyzed the GOP budget proposal’s negative environmental impacts. ) While we’ve seen hostility toward federal environmental and public health safeguards before from Republicans in Congress, the far rightwing Tea Party stance has hijacked the GOP agenda to extremes not seen in previous budget battles.

The New York Times, in an editorial aptly titled “Out of Control House”, outlines the severe real-world consequences to the Tea Party-fueled fiscal cutting frenzy:

“In all of their posturing, Republican lawmakers have studiously avoided making clear to voters what vital government services would be slashed or disappear if they got their way — like investment in cancer research or a sharp reduction in federal meat inspections, or the number of police on the street, or agents that keep the borders secure, or the number of teachers in your kids’ schools.”

Even better is an essay making the rounds on Facebook, entitled “Joe Republican”, which exposes the short-sighted mentality behind the Tea Party’s “cut it all, let God sort it out” attitude toward the federal budget and the role of government in the lives of all Americans. It’s worth reading the entire post, but here I’ve excerpted some of the environmental protection aspects:

Joe gets up at 6:00am to prepare his morning coffee. He fills his pot full of good clean drinking water because some liberal fought for minimum water quality standards…

He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs this day. Joe’s bacon is safe to eat because some liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry…

Joe takes his morning shower reaching for his shampoo; his bottle is properly labeled with every ingredient and the amount of its contents because some liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained.

Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some tree hugging liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air.

He walks to the subway station for his government subsidized ride to work; it saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees. You see, some liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe is home from work, he plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive to dads; his car is among the safest in the world because some liberal fought for car safety standards…

After his visit with dad he gets back in his car for the ride home. He turns on a radio talk show, the host’s keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. (He doesn’t tell Joe that his beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day.) Joe agrees: “We don’t need those big government liberals ruining our lives; after all, I’m a self made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have.

Truth be told, the essay should probably be entitled “Joe Tea Party” since it is this virulent anti-government faction that is forcing the Republican Party to dig deeper to slash federal spending. So that makes today’s vote the moment of truth for House Republicans. Will they pass H.R. 1, the Continuing Resolution that the Tea Party has effectively shaped into an assault on basic government services, including health and environmental protections? It’s no overstatement to say that the lives of all Americans depend on the outcome.




Ignorance Rages at CPAC

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference is taking place this week. Billed as the largest gathering of conservatives in the nation, it is known for giving participants a chance to kick the tires of potential presidential candidates.

This year is no exception. The list of confirmed speakers reads like a primary ballot for 2012 or 2016, including Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, John Thune, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Johnson, John Barasso, and Rick Santorum.

When I read through these names, I realized that every single likely candidate in the early GOP field is claiming to believe that climate change does not exist or opposes doing anything about it. Climate denying has become a litmus test to the far right wing of the Republican Party – what a sad commentary when there is a tacit requirement for someone to REJECT SCIENCE in order to even be in the running to win the nomination.

Take Senator John Thune of South Dakota.  When asked his view on climate science, he said, “I guess the answer to the question is I’m not sure. I think there’s a real mix of data on that.” Representative Ron Johnson of Wisconsin goes farther. He claims that record spikes in temperature are the result of “sunspot activity” – an idea that scientists have checked and explicitly rejected.

And that’s just two CPAC speakers. The entire conference seems dedicated to walking America backwards.
Most of the conference speakers decried the comprehensive clean energy and climate bill that Congress abandoned last year.  It would have unleashed technological innovation and generated nearly 2 million jobs. Representative Michelle Bachman urged the people of Minnesota to be “armed and dangerous over this issue.” And most of them have spoken out against the EPA’s efforts to make our air safer by reducing carbon pollution. Newt Gingrich wants to abolish the agency altogether, while his fellow CPAC speaker Senator Barasso introduced a bill that would, in effect, prevent states and every federal agency from doing anything at all based on concern about climate change. That goes even further than Senator Jim Inhofe’s bill that would block EPA from limiting carbon dioxide emissions.  Inhofe – who infamously called climate change a “hoax” – has been joined in his effort by Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, the former moderate who chairs the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.
This position may generate applause lines at CPAC, but it is out of step with what Americans want. According to a new poll  done by Opinion Research Corporation for NRDC, almost two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) say “the EPA needs to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water.”

The folks at CPAC fail to see how cleaner air and climate solutions will take America into the future. Instead of embracing sustainable energy resources, they prefer burning black rocks like we’ve done since the 19th century. Instead of putting American companies at the forefront of the 21st century global marketplace, they prefer to keep us addicted to ever diminishing supplies of oil.
This U-turn into the past will put America in a dangerous position. Over the past 12 months, we have witnessed devastating floods in Pakistan that further destabilized an already precarious nation, we have watched Russia endure a punishing drought that economist Paul Krugman linked to both climate change and rising food prices, and we have seen Australians battle a flood that submerged an area the size of Germany and France combined. We can’t tie any single weather occurrence to climate change, but scientists have repeatedly stated that more severe weather events are a hallmark of what human beings are doing to the climate.

CPAC speakers like to pretend climate change doesn’t exist, but what the facts on the ground reveal are impossible to ignore. And the GOP can continue to build its house of cards on a bunch of deniers, but most Americans want to build a safer, more sustainable future.

This blog was originally posted in NRDC’s Action Fund blog, The Mark Up.




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