Out of Sight, Out of Mind

We’ve seen poll after poll: Congress is out of touch with what Americans want. On my last trip to Washington I was curious to see why even some who have traditionally recognized the importance of a healthy environment have gone south. What I found were not answers but fear and a clear sense that they live by the old adage: out of sight, out of mind.

Here’s how it works in Congress: if you're not in their face or calling them constantly you don't factor into the decision. Period. Those who have decided to vote against our health are afraid. Afraid of the big polluters in their districts who camp out in their offices warning them of the dire scenarios that will ensue if they support clean air.  Campaigns cost money and they need to keep their friends who have it happy. And since the average person who is affected by pollution doesn’t send their lobbyist into their office regularly to ask them to protect their family’s health (after all average people don’t have lobbyists), they’ve decided we must not care or worse, we just don't matter.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

According to new polls conducted for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the League of Women Voters (LWV), and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Americans oppose attacks on clean air.

Among the national poll’s major findings:

  • Roughly seven out of 10  Americans (69 percent) agree with health experts who support reducing toxic air pollution from industrial sources and oppose those in Congress who say they must overrule the EPA to protect jobs;  three out of four women overall and 73 percent of Latino women agree with health experts.  
  • Seven out of 10 support EPA requiring stricter limits on the amount of toxic chemicals that industrial facilities can release and 69 percent favor EPA limiting the amount of carbon pollution that power plants and industrial facilities can release. Among women overall, 77 percent support stronger toxics limits and 78 percent support limiting carbon pollution; 76 percent and 77 percent of Latino women support those limits, respectively.  

Clearly, we care. 

  • 70 percent of Americans disapproved of Obama’s decision to block the smog standard while only 30 percent approved. Roughly eight out of 10 women (79 percent) overall and 71 percent of Latino women disapproved of Obama’s decision on ozone.  
  • Nearly four out of five Americans (78 percent) want EPA to hold corporate polluters accountable for pollution they release. Of these, over four out five women (83 percent) and 80 percent of Latino women share this view.  

Clearly that shows we care.

These results should not be surprising, after all, who wants to live in a place where the air is unsafe to breathe? The answer seems logical, yet to many in Congress these answers don’t seem to matter. What matters is protecting polluters and ultimately, they think, their jobs. 

This is not only unacceptable, it’s also false. Sure, polluters may back and fund campaigns, but voters are not stupid.

We no longer buy the mantra that protecting our health from polluters who don’t want to clean up their mess will cost jobs. Protecting families from the pollutants that cause asthma, neurological disorders, cardiac disease, and premature death has put millions of Americans to work. We’ve seen past Republican and Democratic presidents alike support environmental regulations without the alleged “the sky is falling” scenario come true. And most of all, we’ve had enough of watching our congress, who are supposed to represent our interests, ignore us simply because we don’t have lobbyists knocking down their doors.

Americans support stricter safeguards against the toxic pollution and chemicals released by power plants. That much is true. Women and Latino women particularly want stronger protections from toxic air and carbon pollution. As those seeking reelection know well: women and Latinos will vote in large numbers right alongside the millions of black, white and other voters who are just as tired of watching Congress protect tax breaks for big (talk about rich!) oil companies, coal companies and polluters, at our expense.

After all we know that at the end of the day it’s our families, our children who will have to deal with the pain and expense of asthma, lung disease, cardiac problems and even deaths that will result from failing to make polluters clean up their act. Neither the government, nor any big polluters are going to bail us out when that happens.

It’s time to call them and tell them we care and we vote. Only then will they stop ignoring us.