Understandably, the environmental community tends always to focus on what still needs to be done. But sometimes that causes us, problematically, not to recognize our victories.
As 2015 comes to an end, it's important to realize that a Republican-led Congress proud of its anti-environmental agenda failed in its concerted attacks on the President's climate programs and the rest of his environmental initiatives.
On climate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had gone so far as to try to persuade foreign ambassadors that the U.S. would not be true to its word in advance of the Paris agreement, and he and his House counterparts tried multiple times to kill the President's Clean Power Plan. But when the dust settled last week and Congress recessed for the year, the President's domestic and international climate agenda emerged entirely intact.
All told, over 100 anti-environmental riders were in play in the end-of-year budget discussions. See www.nrdc.org/riders for a list of those riders.
One of the fiercest Republican attacks was directed against the Clean Water Rule. This rule to protect our water quality was the target of a well-orchestrated and funded campaign of developers, agribusiness, the oil and gas industry, and Republican state attorneys general. Until the last hours of the negotiations over the budget, the Clean Water Rule remained at risk. The under-funded but effective counter-campaign of the environmental community on behalf of the public interest won the day.
Republican leaders also failed to remove endangered species protections for Midwestern wolves. That surprised many. Funding for oceans research was higher than anyone had any reason to expect, as were the new higher tax benefits for transit commuters. Tax policies to promote alternative energy were extended to give the wind and solar industry a strong tailwind going into the future. Attacks on building, automobile and appliance efficiency standards, forest protections, flood protection standards, a handful of endangered species, ocean spatial planning, pedestrian and bicycle options, even the attempted reversal of the Keystone pipeline decision, all failed. So did attempts to seriously undercut NEPA, the statute that assures public participation in reviewing projects that could affect the environment, and the President's authority to protect lands by declaring national monuments
These were not easy or guaranteed victories. They built on many months of groundwork by the environmental community, and they were the result of steadfast by the House and Senate Democratic leadership and the White House.
Yes, there were concessions, as well. But in the midst of the holiday season, we should not forget these victories, and I am proud of the part that NRDC played in them.
But there's more work to do, and more battles ahead. I am looking forward to them as we approach the New Year.