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Tensions in West Virginia Echo National Debate: Will Polluters Face Reality?

1:09 pm in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

When a group of Senators tried to kill standards that protect Americans from mercury, arsenic, and other toxic pollution from power plants, 53 Senators stood up for our health and preserved the standards.

Senator Rockefeller

Senator Jay Rockefeller (Photo: Sen Rockefeller / Flickr)

There were many heroes that day, but one really stood out to me: Senator Jay Rockefeller.

Senator Rockefeller represents West Virginia, and though coal companies have often had a stranglehold on state politics, Rockefeller gave a clear-eyed speech from the Senator floor that set the record straight.

“The shift to a lower-carbon economy is not going away, and it’s a disservice to coal miners and
their families to pretend that it is,” he said. “We need to focus squarely on the real task of finding a long-term future for coal that addresses legitimate environmental and health concerns.”

Back in West Virginia’s capital, the Charleston Gazette covered the speech on its front page with a headline declaring: Jay to Coal: ‘Face Reality.’ The paper endorsed Rockefeller’s position with an editorial called, “Go forward, not back, on coal.”

I spent a lot of time in West Virginia as a kid. My grandfather was a minister there, and we attended his services every weekend. I remember how proud he was of his state and its long history of rugged independence. In many ways, West Virginia is a place apart. Its craggy ridges and hollows, music and culture, and long tradition of coal mining give it a unique flavor.

Yet the debate raging in the state right now echoes the tensions running through the 112th Congress and the current election cycle.

Will polluting industries continue to resist public health safeguards at every turn? Will energy companies keep looking backward or will they start embracing change? Will we elect leaders who represent special interests or ordinary citizens?

Dirty fuel companies are pulling out all the stops to maintain the status quo, both in West Virginia and around the nation. They have saturated West Virginia air waves with ads saying coal is under siege by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The truth is coal is struggling because of market forces, not clean air standards. The President of Appalachian Power recently told the Charleston Gazette, “Nobody is building any new coal [plants]. The economics just aren’t there. Gas is just so cheap. … I don’t think anybody is going to build a coal plant, given natural gas prices. It’s just economics.”

You don’t hear many coal executives acknowledging this reality. As Rockefeller said in his speech to the Senate, “The reality is that many who run the coal industry today would rather attack false enemies and deny real problems than find solutions. Instead of facing the challenges and making tough decisions like men of a different era, they are abrogating their responsibilities to lead.”

West Virginians—and all Americans—deserve leaders who will face the facts and prepare for a better, more sustainable future. Leaders who will help coal miners and power-plant operators train for the low-carbon economy. Leaders who will promote responsible energy development and protect our kids from toxic air pollution at the same time.

Rockefeller has proven capable of that kind of leadership. I don’t always agree with him, but I know his vote and his comments last Wednesday will help lead his state into the future. It’s time we listen to that wisdom and elect more lawmakers who can lead us into the cleaner future.

Portrait of a Flip Flopper: Mitt Flips on Mercury

6:16 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Yesterday, Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney waded into the “current” Congressional battle to clean up power plants, taking the side of industry over public health.

It is a sad day on a number of levels.  Not only is a Presidential candidate turning his back on millions of children in favor of his dirty air backers, but he is also turning his back on his legacy as an environmental leader during his tenure as Massachusetts’s governor from 2003 to 2007.  

In 2003, then-Governor Mitt Romney stood in the shadow of a power plant and chastised the industry for their toxic emissions that were killing people.  He stated in 2003, “Massachusetts has been a national leader in the effort to clean up our oldest and dirtiest power plants. The implementation of these new mercury standards, coupled with major reductions in other air pollutants now underway, will ensure that the citizens of the Commonwealth will breathe the cleanest air possible.”

His campaign’s statement shows that candidate Romney is willing to say anything, do anything, and promise anything to please his dirty air backers.

Senator Brown Tries to Distract From the Real Issue

11:37 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

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.

Champs Stand Up And Fight For Clean Air As Tea Party Loses Steam

5:10 am in Uncategorized by Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund

Clean Air Day

Clean Air Day by, on Flickr

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.

Strong leadership certainly helps. Environmental, public health, labor, and clean tech groups have bombarded lawmakers with data demonstrating how the Clean Air Act promotes health and prosperity. We also shared polling numbers showing that the vast majority of American voters—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike—support the law and want to let the Environmental Protection Agency continue to do its job.

Lawmakers heard us and began standing up for the protections that Americans want. Last Friday, Senators Sanders (D-VT), Whitehouse (D-RI), Carper (D-DE), and Kerry (D-MA), these lawmakers introduced a resolution calling for a continued commitment to the Clean Air Act.

Senator Durbin (D-IL) drove home the message on the Sunday talk shows. He said some of the policy riders in the spending bill “were totally unacceptable,” and specifically decried the “idea that we’re going to close down the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to keep our air clean and our water pure.”

Senator Durbin represents a heartland state with a large Tea Party constituency. But rather than pandering to Tea Party faithfuls who will never vote for him anyway, Durbin is standing up for the values that matter to the working families he represents.
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