Turning Point: Senate Rejects Anti-Environmental Agenda

For the third time in two weeks, the Senate has rejected extreme measures that would expose Americans to more pollution. Today, Senators voted down Tea Party attempts to block what is known as the Good Neighbor Rule and voted against a bill, misleadingly called “The Republican Jobs Bill” that gives polluters and dirty fuel companies a holiday from environmental protection.

This happened on the same day the Obama Administration put the brakes on the dirty Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department will conduct a new review of the project to consider alternate routes as well as “environmental concerns, including climate change.”

Today marks a turning point. Our politicians are listening to what Americans are telling them: we want clean air, we don’t want to poison our kids or our neighbor’s kids, and we want to embrace innovation instead of getting stuck in the dirty fossil fuel past.

Poll after poll shows Americans rely on the government to hold polluters accountable, whether they are oil companies from Canada or power plants from the next state over.

The recent votes in the Senate show our lawmakers have gotten the message. Six Republicans voted to keep the Good Neighbor Rule in place and four voted against the so-called jobs bill.  Two Democrats voted for the Good Neighbor Rule, no Democrats supported the “jobs bill.”

The Good Neighbor Rule, also known as the Cross-State Pollution Rule prevents out-of-state smog and soot pollution from poisoning the air of neighboring communities. Reducing these pollution to levels called for by the rule would prevented up to 34,000 premature death, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, and 400,000 cases of asthma every year.

The Tea Party, however, doesn’t want to make dirty power plants invest in modern pollution control technologies. This is rooted in ideology to some extent, but there are parochial concerns as well. The attack on the Good Neighbor Rule is lead by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). The rule would require several Kentucky utilities to modernize.

Americans are struggling to find work, feed their families, and keep their children safe right now. But instead of addressing the challenges facing our economy, these GOP leaders are trying to make life easier for big polluters.

They pay lip service to Americans’ hard times by saying their attack on environmental safeguards is a jobs proposal. But simply using the word “jobs” doesn’t translate to actual jobs.

Indeed, blocking the Good Neighbor Rule would stymie job creation. A February 2011report by the Political Economy Research Institute and Ceres estimates that the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Utility Air Toxics Rule would create 290,000 jobs.

Americans know they can have good jobs and good health at the same time. That’s why a survey conducted in October by Public Policy Polling for NRDC found that 78 percent of Americans want the EPA to hold polluters accountable for what they release into the community. 

The Tea Party assault on clean air safeguards represents an extreme position. It does not reflect what the majority of American people want.

Later this afternoon the Senate again rejected another attack on the environment. On a vote of 40-56, the Republican Jobs Bill failed.  This bill would not create jobs. Instead, it is a polluter’s wish list of measures to block current and future environmental and health protections.  The bill, for example, includes the radical REINS Act, which would make it almost impossible to issue new environmental safeguards. 

Indeed, the bill incorporated virtually every bad idea the House has conceived this Congress and put them before the Senate.  This included riders to allow more off shore drilling in the Gulf and Alaska with less protection, allow pesticides and mountain top removal coal mining to be discharged into streams, create major new exemptions to the Endangered Species Act and many, many more provisions aimed at turning back the clock on needed protections.

These two votes today follow a key vote last week when the Senate stood strong against another excessive attack. The Senate voted down Senator Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) Long-Term Surface Extension Act of 2011—a compilation of dirty measures, including killing health safeguards against mercury and toxic pollution from dirty industries and the REINS Act. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) joined the effort to shoot this polluting package down.

Thanks to the lawmakers who are standing up for public health standards, most of the Tea Party attacks will never become law. After these three votes, the writing is on the wall --it is time for the Tea Party and their industry supporters to give up on their anti-environmental crusade.