Put the Pollute-a-Rama to Bed

The U.S. Senate is expected to pull an all-nighter on Thursday, potentially voting on more than four dozen budget-related measures by dawn before blowing out of town for a two-week spring break.

It's what Beltway types call a "Vote-a-rama."

Under the new Republican leadership, though, it looks more like a Pollute-a-rama, with possible votes to weaken common sense environmental safeguards, slash funds for clean air and water and put the brakes on our efforts to combat climate change.

Talk about March madness.

This would put the big polluter agenda first -- and put our future at risk.

The Senate Republican leadership has no plans to address our environmental threats and, instead, seems set on trying to tear down the protections already in place.

The Senate needs to pull back from its Pollute-a-rama and stand up for our environment and health.

At issue Thursday night are dozens of potential amendments to the $3.8-trillion Republican budget resolution for the fiscal year that begins in October.

A resolution is not an actual budget. It's a blueprint for future tax and spending policy.

It may sound wonky, but the budget resolution is an important document. This is where the rhetoric meets the road, part of how we express our priorities, as a nation, and commit collective resources to achieve common objectives.

What we want, as Americans, is clean air and water, healthy wildlife and lands.

We want responsible public oversight and for agencies to have the tools they need to do their jobs.

And we want to live up to our obligation to protect future generations from the widening dangers of climate change.

We don't want our Senate to put polluter profits ahead of those national values and goals.

And yet, the Pollute-a-rama will likely include efforts to delay or slow President Obama's signature effort to combat climate change: the Clean Power Plan.

The president's plan calls for striking a blow against climate change by cutting the dangerous carbon pollution from the nation's power plants.

Those plants account for 40 percent of our national carbon footprint and yet, astonishingly, there are no federal limits as to how much of that pollution power plants may cough up.

The president wants to change that, with a good plan to cut those emissions 26 percent by 2020 and 30 percent by 2030.

We need the Senate to embrace the plan, not undermine it for the sake of fossil fuel interests that spent more than $720 million in just the past two years to promote their agenda and allies in Congress.

Beyond that, the Pollute-a-rama could include votes on amendments that would:

  • Block, delay, hamper or weaken needed protections under the Clean Water Act for millions of miles of American streams and tens of millions of acres of wetlands that, together, impact drinking water supplies for some 117 million Americans. We need our Senate to protect these headwaters and marshes, not give them away to polluters and developers.
  • Weaken or undermine enforcement of recent standards to cut the amount of mercury and other toxic chemicals released into our air by cement plants and other industrial facilities. The mercury cuts will prevent an estimated 1,500 heart attacks, 17,000 cases of aggravated asthma and 2,500 premature deaths every year. The standards need to be enforced, not weakened.
  • Block incentives for wind, solar and other sources of renewable power. What a step back to the past. We got nearly 5 percent of our electricity, nationally, from the wind last year. The Energy Department says we can make that 20 percent in just 15 years. We need the Senate to promote progress, not stand in its way.
  • Open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. This land was set aside by President Eisenhower so that future generations would know the natural splendor of our country. That's a promise and we need to keep it, not turn our wildlife refuge into an industrial oil patch.
  • Try, yet again, to force approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. President Obama has already vetoed one such attempt from Republican leaders in Congress, and for good reason. The tar sands pipeline won't help this country: it's about big profits for big oil, and big pollution for the rest of us.

We could also see measures aimed at weakening wildlife protections under the Endangered Species Act; so-called "regulatory reforms" that make it harder to protect our environment; and efforts to restrict public access to our federal courts in matters of environmental protection.

A "Vote-a-rama?"

What it could actually be is an all-night legislative assault on the nation's environment and health.

The Senate needs to turn this around and defeat these pernicious attacks on the air we breathe, the water we drink and the natural systems that support all we do.

Let's put this Pollute-a-rama to bed early Thursday night - and put the big polluter agenda to sleep.

Then let's get about the serious business of putting together a budget resolution that faithfully reflects our values and goals, by protecting the future we'll hand down to our children.