Public Backlash Intensifies Against Polluter Bailout Bill

Pennsylvanians protest Rep. Thompson
Pennsylvanians Protest Rep. Thompson's Anti-Environmental Votes

Oil companies and other polluters have once again convinced a new crop of political leaders to take a crowbar to the nation’s environmental laws and try to wedge open a few new loopholes.

It first happened in 1995.  Congress’ attack on the Environmental Protection Agency and their efforts to add anti-environmental riders to budget bills became a central issue as President Clinton vetoed the bills, leading to the last government shut down (and Republican losses in the 1996 elections).

Fast forward to 2011.  The new GOP majority in the House is traveling down the same path, loading up their 2011 spending bill with assaults on the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act that amount to the largest assault on America’s bi-partisan legacy of environmental and wildlife safeguards in history.

Who are the House leaders making these decisions?  Meet Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky), the new chair of a key congressional subcommittee on energy, who explained to the National Journal why Republicans are trying to block EPA from enforcing the Clean Air Act:

“This is a much broader issue than the health of the American people and lungs and emphysema; it’s how can we balance that in the global marketplace for jobs.”

Rep. Whitfield’s premise that Americans must sacrifice our children’s lungs in order to protect jobs points to the huge gulf between the extreme views of some GOP House leaders and the American public.  The polluter bailouts nestled in the 2011 budget bill have become a liability for the House GOP.  The attacks on the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act are starting to expose the hidden agenda of members like Rep. Whitfield, and they are now a barometer of the extreme political agenda that is being advanced under the guise of deficit reduction.

Public Backlash to Attacks on Environment

The sneak attacks have also created a backlash among the public (not surprising, since 3-out-of-4 voters support the EPA setting tougher standards on pollutants such as mercury, smog and carbon dioxide).  After the vote, House members returned home for the recess, where they have faced tough questions from angry constituents.

Here’s a local press report of a town hall meeting held by Rep. Charlie Bass (R-NH), who recently won back his seat in New Hampshire’s second district:

“About 50 people crowded into the Salem Town Hall to hear from the Republican congressman, who took questions on illegal immigration, the national debt, health care, education, and other topics. But climate change and regulation of greenhouse gases dominated most of the discussion…”

Not many of Rep. Bass’ colleagues were as willing to have public meetings during this recess, but that didn’t stop concerned constituents from turning up at their offices.  A few that are being reported by local news stations and creating buzz include constituents of Representatives Glenn Thompson and Jim Gerlach in Pennsylvania and Steve Stivers in Ohio.

Congress’ attacks on the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Acts have also rallied a broad cross-section of civic leaders across the nation who are speaking out, including:

Hopeful Signs?

A piece of good news comes from the same House GOP leaders who initially opened the door to adding polluter favors to the budget bill.  A temporary 2-week extension offered Friday night is a clean bill without any of the oilmarks included one week ago.  While this is good news, it is a baby step and may be a fleeting victory.  The House GOP leaders are still threatening a showdown with the Senate and President Obama, and they have not given any sign that, as the additional 2 weeks expire, they will back away from the extreme and reckless bill they recently passed.

It’s still not clear where this showdown is headed when any short-term extension expires.  President Obama promised a veto of the House budget bill passed last week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) got it right when he said this week:

“We believe that the hundreds of riders and legislative matters [added to the House CR] are strictly the worst kind of politics. How do they expect us to agree to any of that? And we’re not going to. … The CR is to deal with funding for our government, not all these other goodies they think are cute at this time.”

House GOP leaders have proven with the 2-week extension that they are capable of leaving the polluter favors and oilmarks out of the spending bill.  They would be wise to do so.

Editorial Boards and Opinion Leaders Speak Out

The backlash against the extreme environmental attacks in the budget bill have also attracted the attention of editorial boards and opinion leaders across the nation.  Rob Perks at NRDC has been tracking these stories on his blog, which you can read here.  I have captured a sampling of media below.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA) Editorial:  Pollution pinata: Budget cutting becomes an excuse for EPA attacks

But for a sense of spending cuts made solely for political sake, nothing quite beats the attack on the environment in this spending bill. The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act were assaulted repeatedly. Much of it took the form of stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of its enforcement powers to protect the health and well-being of the American people.

The range and destructiveness of these assaults were breathtaking. They include provisions to curtail the scientific study of climate change, blocking the EPA from protecting wetlands and streams from harmful dumping, stopping the EPA from dumping waste from mountain top removal in stream valleys, and, that old GOP favorite, barring the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

The National Wildlife Federation called the spending bill a “pollution pinata.” It identified 14 egregious examples of environmentally damaging amendments for which the total budget savings was zero (although many of them will end up costing the nation money by endangering public health). It also noted that an amendment that would have eliminated billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to oil companies was defeated. So much for this being all about the deficit.

New York Times: Why Wouldn’t the Tea Party Shut It Down?

Look to Washington for the bigger story. As The Los Angeles Times recently reported, Koch Industries and its employees form the largest bloc of oil and gas industry donors to members of the new House Energy and Commerce Committee, topping even Exxon Mobil. And what do they get for that largess? As a down payment, the House budget bill not only reduces financing for the Environmental Protection Agency but also prohibits its regulation of greenhouse gases.  Here again, the dollars that will be saved are minute in terms of the federal deficit, but the payoff to Koch interests from a weakened E.P.A. is priceless.

USA Today Editorial

If [entitlement] costs are contained, there will be no need to live with dirtier air or other cuts rooted more in ideology or corporate self-interest than in governance that is effective, affordable and responsibly financed.

Times-Picayune (LA), House Republicans are cutting a lot more than the deficit

Last November Americans demanded that Congress take immediate action to shrink fish and wildlife populations, speed the end of duck hunting, reduce the safety of our drinking water, destroy more wetlands, dirty the air we breathe, increase the rate of sea level rise swamping our coast- and protect profits for oil companies.

Didn’t know that?

Then you haven’t been listening to Republicans like our own Steve Scalise (R-Jefferson) and Tea Partiers who now control the House of Representatives. All those changes are included in the budget resolution they sent to the Senate last week.

Patriot-News (PA) Editorial:

“The BP oil spill, the worst in America’s offshore drilling history, is not even a year old. Only weeks ago, lawmakers demanded more accountability in drilling and oversight. Now Republicans see no issue chopping away at that oversight.”

Albany Times Union Editorial:  An Assault on the Environment

The new House Republican majority likes to say that the American people spoke last year. If the GOP’s spending bill is any indication, it seems the American people are clamoring for more mercury in their fish, oil on their coasts and pollution in their drinking water. Those would be just some of the environmental highlights of a House spending bill to keep the government running through Sept. 30. Or perhaps anti-environmental highlights would be more apt. Anti-health, too.

Detroit Free Press Editorial:  U.S. House Republicans swing a dangerous budget ax

The budget passed by U.S. House Republicans — it got zero Democratic votes — early last Saturday morning is rash and dangerous. Designed to get the country through until Oct. 1, the House resolution slashes programs in midstream and ties the hands of several departments, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency.

New York Times Editorial: The Dirty Energy Party

Yet even this retailored approach is sure to whip the Republicans into a fresh frenzy of opposition. They have already made clear their determination to cut off financing and otherwise undermine the Environmental Protection Agency, which plans to regulate carbon emissions from power plants and other industrial sources using its authority under the Clean Air Act.

But basic scientific research? Energy efficiency? Cleaner fuels? The House Republican budget resolution gives the back of its hand to even these worthy and unobjectionable strategies, which until now have enjoyed reliable bipartisan support.

Concord Monitor (NH) Editorial: A Vote for the Environment is a Vote for N.H.

Generations of 2nd District congressmen (including Bass himself, in an earlier congressional tenure) have consistently argued that representing New Hampshire means looking out for the environment. In this case, the health of Bass’s constituents could be improved by better regulation of aging power plants to the west. The health of everyone’s constituents will be improved by more fuel-efficient cars and trucks. And, of course, there is an economic component to that environmentalism too: New Hampshire’s tourism and recreation industries depend on climate protection.

Raleigh News & Observer Editorial (NC): Mercury Rising

In one of history’s sorrier twists, Republicans in the U.S. House are down on the Environmental Protection Agency, way down. This week they’re trying to gut its powers to regulate pollutants in the air, on farmland and in water. Yet the national movement to protect our environment had its roots in the heyday of Republican Theodore Roosevelt, and Richard Nixon helped create the EPA. So why all the animosity now? Overreaching regulations that stifle business, agency opponents say. However, the EPA generally proposes rules that are required by law – and common sense. The more we know about ill-health in humans and ill-effects on the natural world, the more obvious it is that industrial processes must be regulated for the common good. Some pollution is inevitable, but the government is right to put a lid on it.

Wisconsin State Journal: Lawmakers should reject cuts to EPA

To ensure that the health and environment of Wisconsin’s families are protected, Wisconsin’s members of Congress should reject the funding cuts, and instead stand up for cleaner air, cleaner water, and preserving our environment.

Providence Journal (RI) Editorial:  EPA Under Attack

Republicans in Congress, and some Democrats, are bent on blocking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from curbing greenhouse gases. For that matter, they would be happy to have the agency stand back in a number of areas, from safer toxic coal-ash disposal to improving the efficiency of industrial boilers and solid-waste incinerators. One reason they give is that regulation is bad for business. The main source they cite: senior business executives desirous of maximum short-term corporate profits, and thus maximum compensation for the execs. The other aspects of the equation — public health and welfare — are rarely mentioned. Indeed, the long-term health of the U.S. economy stands to benefit greatly from a shift to cleaner and more efficient energy.

St. Petersburg Times (FL) Editorial: Serving Ideology, Not Voters

The House plan also takes aim at specific regulations that Republicans find politically objectionable. For example, it bars the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing limits on carbon dioxide pollution. Like a tea party manifesto, the plan strips funding from federal regulatory agencies that protect workers, food safety and the environment.

Battle Creek Enquirer , Stop Attack on Clean Air, Water

What do clean water and clean air have to do with the budget? Absolutely nothing – the budget deficit is being used as cover to mount a reckless and irresponsible sneak attack on the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act that endangers the air we breathe, the water we drink and the wildlife and lands we cherish.

South County Independent (RI): Don’t Water Down Clean Air Act

Some members of Congress have launched a stealth attack on one of the most important laws protecting our health and our children’s future by adding amendments to the Continuing Resolution – a stop-gap measure to keep the government running through the end of this fiscal year – that would roll back portions of the Clean Air Act.

Miami Herald, Fouling the Clean Air Act

Largely hidden in its attack on the federal budget, the House of Representatives has approved a key Republican campaign promise to big business: Protecting it from what the new majority argues are the handcuffs of environmental safeguards. The Republicans would cuff the Environmental Protection Agency instead.

The Colorado Independent, Gardner Hammers on EPA Re Clean Air Act But Poll Says Voters in CD4 Want More Regulations

U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., helped lead last week’s GOP onslaught against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, despite polling in his congressional district showing two-thirds of his constituents feel “Congress should let the EPA do its job.”

The Tennessean: Air Standards Have Saved Lives for Decades

Having personally experienced a child struggling for breath during an asthma attack, I can assure you little else matters when children’s health is at risk. This is why I’m so offended by a number of professional politicians’ attempts to undermine life-saving protective health standards enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Concord Monitor (NH): An assault on our air, water

Passed under cover of night on Saturday, this bill endangers the health of New Hampshire’s children, elderly citizens and other vulnerable populations by blocking the Environmental Protection Agency from doing its job and cleaning up coal-fired power plants and other large sources of dangerous carbon dioxide pollution. It also cuts the EPA’s overall budget by the largest percentage in 30 years, severely threatening the agency’s ability to ensure that all New Hampshire residents have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.

AlterNet, Get Ready: The GOP Has Declared War on the Environment

Republicans are trying to take down the EPA and with it environmental regulation that seeks to protect our air, water, food and health.

Des Moines Register (IA):  Budget Deficits and the Environment

H.R. 1 cuts the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by almost a third and hamstrings the EPA’s ability to protect the environment and Americans’ health. For example, the measure prevents the EPA from protecting communities from mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from cement plants, leaving thousands of children exposed and at risk of asthma, slowed brain development and other neurological disorders. The EPA safeguard that the measure blocks would have reduced mercury pollution by more than 90 percent and saved 2,500 lives each year.

Chicago Tribute Local (Libertyville, IL), Dold Out of Touch on Environmental Issues in the 10th Congressional District Illinois

Salem News (OR), Editorial Backlash to Republican Budget Attack on EPA Health Protections