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For the past month, the klieg lights have been squarely focused on attempts inside the Beltway to cobble together compromise legislation to address global climate change (AKA the Waxman-Markey bill), and President Obama's commitment at the G-8 summit to keep the planet from heating up more than two degrees celsius.

Meanwhile, out here in the West, it's CO2-emitting business as usual, with the federal Bureau of Land Management this month proposing to lock in long term federal coal leases to giant mining firms. And not small amounts of coal either.

American politics is a wonder. Let’s say you’re unhappy with the climate bill narrowly passed by the House of Representatives a while back. You think you might be able to influence the Senate and an eventual conference committee if you could get an opinion piece published in the Washington Post. Who would be your best messenger? A respected scientist to argue about the science? A Nobel prizewinning economist to attack the economics of the bill? Maybe a former government energy official from the not too distant past? How about Sarah Palin?

A good case could be made that the most important U.S. federal environmental laws are the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. And what do they have in common? They were enacted (amended since in some cases) in the early 1970s and signed into law by Richard Nixon, a conservative republican.

Which makes the reaction of the Republican right wing to the recent House passage of a compromise climate bill so interesting.

Dr. Margaret Palmer is a world renowned water biologist who works at the university of Maryland, but has a home in West Virginia and family from the Appalachia region. "Headwater streams are exponentially more important than their size would suggest," said Dr. Palmer in testimony before the Senate. She compared headwater streams to the small capillaries in our lungs that distribute the oxygen necessary for life to our bodies.

Last week the U.S. Senate moved forward on important legislation that ensures our streams, lakes, rivers and wetlands remain clean and safe. By a vote of 12-7, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced a compromise version of the Clean Water Restoration Act, important legislation that reinforces the scope of the Clean Water Act by guaranteeing that our nation's waterways are clean to swim and fish in and safe to drink.

Road construction in national forests can harm fish and wildlife habitats while polluting local lakes, rivers, and streams. The Roadless Area Conservation Rule—which was made on the basis of extensive citizen input—protects 58.5 million acres of national forest from such harmful building. I will be proud to support and defend it.

—Senator Barack Obama, 2008

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