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Time for a Congressional Flip-Flop
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by D. A. Tewell | 2006

On the stump, Representative Roy Blunt made a campaign promise, a promise best left unkept. Blunt, a Missouri Republican currently serving in the House as majority whip, pledged to oppose global warming mandates if his party remains in control of the House of Representatives after the upcoming election. “I think the information is not adequate yet for us to do anything meaningful,” he said.

Blunt, alas, is not alone in his determination to keep action on global warming off the legislative agenda. Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, debuted a new technique to make life unpleasant for scientists who dared to suggest that human activity is accelerating global climate change. His weapon? Subpoenas for three leading climatologists whose studies on climate change were not to his liking. Barton’s demands for detailed data and computer code for every study which the scientists authored or co-authored aroused opposition from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Foundation, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Like Blunt, Barton opines from a lofty perch. As chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he shepherds the interests of the oil, gas, and power generation industries: Gutting the Clean Air Act. Permitting refineries on wildlife preserves, including the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. Shielding the manufacturers of MBTE from product liability lawsuits. If it’s on Big Oil’s wish list, Barton has dumped it into the legislative hopper. The industries have returned the love by making him their top legislative recipient of campaign cash, over $2M since 1989.

 

A Congressional Riddle

Blunt and Barton’s positions are hints for solving a Congressional riddle. Question: Where will you find the lowest scorers on the League of Conservation Voters’ (LCV) most recent scorecard? Answer: Like Blunt and Barton, they are leading both the Senate and the House, and chairing the most important committees charged with the stewardship of the environment.

Blunt and Barton, who scored 6 and 0 out of a possible 100, respectively, are typical of the Republicans who have been selected by their party to ensure that industries’ concerns are addressed, regardless of the impact on our increasingly stressed planet. The health of the people, and of the land, air, and water from which we draw life, are all deemed expendable in the service of the corporations that fund their campaigns and whirl their families, friends, and former Congressional colleagues into lucrative employment.

 

Bipartisan Environmentalism

For decades environmental protection was a bipartisan concern. Republican Theodore Roosevelt, an accomplished amateur naturalist, camped with John Muir and established our network of treasured national parks and wildlife refuges. Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Environmental Protection Act. A few current Republican office holders, such as Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, continue the tradition of supporting environmental conservation that used to be valued in both parties. But the health of the environment has been scorned by the Republicans in favor of short term economic gains to be reaped by their financial backers.

 

An Era of Republican Hostility

Ronald Reagan and his Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, ushered in this era of Republican hostility. Who can forget Reagan’s assessment that it is trees, not automobiles, which spew more pollutants into the air, or Watt’s statement that “We don’t have to protect the environment—the Second Coming is at hand.”? These statements suggest three elements of Republican anti-environmentalism: ignorance about the value of the natural world, indifference to the by-products of industrial production, and end-times theology which actually welcomes environmental destruction as a sign of the coming apocalypse.

The majority of Republicans in the House and Senate have turned away from their heritage, their tradition of conserving the environment. But across the aisle, Democrats are still committed to environmental protection.

 

76 or 2?  81 or 2?

What could change if the Democrats become the majority party once again? Compare the voting records of Senator Frist, the current majority leader, and Senator Reid, the Democratic minority leader. Frist’s LCV score is 0, while Reid rings the bell at 100. In the House, Representative Boehner, the majority leader, scores another 0; Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi earns a 94.

In the important committees overseeing environmental legislation, the chairs of both the House and the Senate committees have an average LCV score of 2. But the ranking members, those Democrats likely to assume the chairs if their party becomes the majority, average 76 in the House and 81 in the Senate. 76 or 2. 81or 2. Clearly, the environment will be better served if we have leaders who care about it, and who vote accordingly.

Sometimes we don rose-colored glasses when we look to the past. We remember things being a bit sweeter than they really were. We remember comity when perhaps there was little, eager cooperation that was actually, perhaps, grudging. Our environmental record, even before Ronald Reagan, wasn’t perfect. Legislators from both parties have always chased campaign cash, and rolled over after they fetched it.

But for environmental protection laws, the past was better. It was better when both parties worked to clean up the air and the water, to ban hazardous pesticides and to set fuel economy standards for cars. Now one party has turned away from the bipartisan tradition of environmentalism. That party shouldn’t be running Congress. Its leaders are dangerous, and their cavalier attitude toward the despoliation of the earth threatens us all. We need for the people in charge of our public  lands, our rivers, our farms, our parks, and our wildlife to be committed to their preservation. We need a Democratic majority, so that legislators committed to protecting the environment are the ones who set the legislative agenda.

 

Vote for a New Majority

You can help. Support Ben Cardin,the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, and your Democratic Congressional candidates, with a campaign contribution, a yard sign, and most important, your vote. Volunteer for a campaign. Talk to your family and friends about why environmental protection matters, and why it’s important that their votes help to put Roy Blunt and Joe Barton back in the minority.

> 2006 Table of Contents

   
   

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