Global temperatures are rising, violent weather is increasing, chemicals in the air, food supply and water have led to soaring rates of allergies, asthma, certain cancers, hormone disruption, male infertility. Forest lands are vanishing at unprecedented rates, vast dead zones are spreading in the world’s oceans, we are running out of non-renewable fossil fuels. Everyone knows that we are facing an unprecedented environmental crisis– right?
Wrong. This news seems never to have gotten to America’s Republican legislators. In the face of these huge and escalating threats, the GOP majority over the last year has voted no fewer than 247 times (nearly once a day for every day the House was in session) to weaken environmental protections that have been in place for decades and to defeat needed legislation.
This according to a report released on Monday by Representatives Henry Waxman, a member the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and Edward Markey a member of the Committee on Natural Resources. They have called the 112th Congress the most anti-environment ever. Here is how Waxman and Markey break down this dismal record.
•77 votes to undermine Clean Air Act protections, including votes to repeal the health- based standards that are the heart of the Clean Air Act and to block EPA regulation of toxic mercury and other harmful emissions from power plants, incinerators, industrial boilers, cement plants, and mining operations.
“…the GOP majority over the last year has voted no fewer than 247 times (nearly once a day for every day the House was in session) to weaken environmental protections that have been in place for decades and to defeat needed legislation.”
•39 votes to weaken protection of public lands and wildlife, including votes to halt reviews of public lands for possible wilderness designations and to remove protections for salmon, wolves, sea turtles, and other species.
•37 votes to block action to address climate change, including votes to overturn EPA’s scientific findings that climate change endangers human health and welfare; to block EPA from regulating carbon pollution from power plants, oil refineries, and vehicles; to prevent the United States from participating in international climate negotiations; and even to cut funding for basic climate science.
•31 votes to undermine Clean Water Act protections, including votes to strip EPA of authority to set water quality standards and enforce limits on industrial discharges; to repeal the EPA’s authority to stop mountaintop removal mining disposal; and to block EPA from protecting headwaters and wetlands that flow into navigable waters.
And House Republicans have not been content merely to shoot down vital new environmental legislation. They have pushed through laws that tie the hands of government agencies making “the issuance of new regulations more difficult, if not impossible.” Three bills were passed with unanimous Republican support that require federal regulatory agencies to:
“Use time-consuming quasi-judicial procedures to issue major rules, add more than 60 new requirements to agency rulemaking, prevent new rules from going into effect unless approved by both the House and Senate, and subject the rules to new judicial challenges, such as lawsuits contesting the agency’s cost-benefit analysis.”
Why are these conservative politicians so anxious to gut environmental laws and cripple US regulators? That’s easy– just follow the money. The people who gained the most from these votes, according to Markey and Waxman, were, you guessed it, the oil and gas industry. They report that in little over a year the House has voted 109 times for policies that would advance the interests of the oil and gas industry at the expense of the environment, public health, and the taxpayer.
So nobody will be surprised to learn that Republicans were far and away the largest recipients of oil and gas industry largesse in recent elections. House Republicans received more than four times the campaign contributions as Democrats ($38 million as opposed to $9 million) from these corporations, according to data published by the Center for Responsive Politics. The coal industry too contributed over 8 million dollars last year– their highest level on record– 85 percent of it going to House Republicans.
What can we expect in the future as cash from Big Energy continues to pour in to corrupt our legislative process?
“These votes are just a preview of coming attractions if the fossil fuel industries get their way and place more Republicans in Congress and the White House,” Markey stated in a press release. “With that kind of cast, anti-environmental blockbusters will be the norm, sending more mercury into our kids, more air pollution into our lungs, and more carbon pollution into our atmosphere.”
Richard Schiffman is the author of two books and a former journalist whose work has appeared in, amongst other outlets, the New York Times and on a variety of National Public Radio shows including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.