Memo to Shutdown Fans: Americans Really Like EPA Protecting Our Air, Water and Health; and Dis Pols Who Don't

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During this month, we have blogged on the impact of the shutdown on the environmental and health services that taxpayers pay for, and expect from, their government.  The comments from our readers on the switchboard website and the NRDC Facebook page has been overwhelmingly opposed to the shutdown and the impact on the Environmental Protection Agency and its sister agencies.  Today I want to share a poll commissioned by NRDC that found overwhelming opposition to the way the government shutdown was preventing EPA from doing its job.  Nationally, 65 percent “oppose the EPA being prevented from doing its work because of the government shutdown.”  Even in Speaker Boehner’s own Congressional district, (a district Mitt Romney carried with 61 percent of the vote) 58 percent oppose the impact the shutdown is having on EPA. 

(chart credit, Pete Altman, NRDC)

Not surprisingly, then, the public takes a dim view of elected officials who attack EPA.  Nationally, 70 percent of Americans say they would feel “less favorable” about an elected official who said it was “a good thing for the EPA to be closed.”  Even 64 percent of Speaker Boehner’s constituents shared that sentiment.  

As in other areas of policy, the shutdown is opposed even by those with doubts about federal programs.  The public broadly backs environmental protection: 60 percent of Americans think the EPA is doing just the right amount or not enough to protect the environment – but an even greater percentage of Americans oppose EPA being shut down.  That phenomenon also carries through in Speaker Boehner’s own district, where 52 percent think EPA is doing just the right amount or not enough, while 58 percent oppose it being shut down.  Even more oppose an EPA shutdown when reminded of specific EPA responsibilities.

The unpopularity of attempts to cripple or defund EPA is amazing when you look at the Republican agenda to cripple and defund EPA.  Last Congress, the House voted 317 times –yes, not a typo, 317 times--to neuter EPA. Besides cutting its budget by 23 percent since 2010, Congress voted to gut the Clean Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and virtually every other law that protects the public and improves our environment.  And even though they tried to attack the President for the shutdown of the national parks --- the shutdown they voted for—they even voted to elevate mining over other uses of our parks.

When the original debt ceiling bill was put together, the Republicans who are controlling the House wanted to go into default unless the bill included anti-environmental riders that include giving the Department of Energy a veto over EPA rules; requiring drilling off the coast of  Virginia, South Carolina and California;  and granting automatic approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.      

This poll should also be a warning to once-moderate House Republicans who have thrown in their lot with the Tea Party radicals including their shutdown strategy and their anti-environmental screeds.  Take, for example, Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey, who has waffled on the shutdown.  In his district, 63 percent of constituents oppose the shutdown and almost the same amount – 62 percent – opposes EPA being shuttered.  Even a majority of Republicans in Lance’s district oppose EPA being shut down.  His League of Conservation environmental voting tracks the views of the Tea Party, not those of his district.

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(credit: League of Conservation Voters)

At a time when we keep hearing about how polarized the country is, it’s important to remember that there is a broad majority opinion against what the Tea Party and Speaker Boehner have needlessly and destructively done over the past weeks.  Most Americans wanted the government reopened, most Americans support the work of the EPA, and most Americans want EPA to be able to get back to work.  That’s true nationally, that’s true in Speaker Boehner’s district, that’s true in the districts of weak-kneed moderate Republicans. It’s time to let the government work for all the people and the environment.

The next step is a conference of House and Senate members to work out a budget plan so the government doesn’t close, again, on January 15, 2014.  Despite the majority of members of the House supporting the budget deal, only one of the Republican conference members voted for the final deal.  It is hard to see this as a promising sign for a budget agreement that is balanced, ends the harmful sequester, and addresses our real deficit issues.

This is the end of these series of blogs – hopefully not to return in January.

See NRDC’s press release on the poll here:

And the poll results here: