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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

The debate over climate change legislation is heating up. And as members of Congress grapple with which position to take, they'll be bombarded with opinions from many different sides of the debate.

But last week, as members of Congress arrived at work in the morning and left in the evening, they were greeted by the silent stares of one important (albeit non-voting) constituency: the plants and animals likely to be impacted by rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, and other impacts of climate change.

One of President Obama's first acts was to call for a revolution in energy efficiency. Simply by making our appliances and electronics use less energy, Americans can save money, create jobs and fight global warming. Efficiency is the fastest, cleanest and cheapest energy source.

It's not just about changing light bulbs. It's about setting benchmarks to make all the products we use more efficient. Adopting strong national energy efficiency standards could save consumers $16 billion a year in utility bills by 2030.

Spring is in the air in Washington, DC and hope seems to permeate every corner of this storied city. Along with the promise of longer days and warmer weather, there's hope that the new congress and administration can help us return to a true participatory democracy. As a member of Earthjustice's legislative team, my biggest hope is that we're witnessing the dawn of a new era when it comes to environmental policy.

On February 17, Earthjustice called on Congress to introduce and pass legislation that would fix a glaring loophole punched in the Clean Water Act during the Bush years. The Supreme Court, with Bush administration backing, held that only "navigable" waterways could enjoy protections of this law.

Today's congressional hearing on the Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash spill from last December in Harriman, TN, started out with opening remarks from Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) who said that it’s been "nearly a decade" since this committee held oversight hearings on the Tennessee Valley Authority. She also said the committee maybe plans to continue TVA oversight now every 30 to 60 days.

Minority committee leader Rep. John Boozman from Arkansas said, "New laws will not replace homes…and family treasures," but bet they will certainly do much to make sure that others who live near these coal ash sites don't have to lose their homes or valuable family treasures and heirlooms in another preventable spill.

Rep. Lincoln Davis, whose district is where the TVA spill happened, offered strong words for the committee, saying, "My constituents and the land they live on must be made whole again."

The Republicans seem to be pushing their talking points aggressively: while this particular spill is bad, this doesn't mean coal is bad and there shouldn't be talk of stopping coal burning. It seems like they're not quite able to see the forest for the trees, and despite the nature of this hearing (to find out what went wrong and how it can be prevented) some members just can't resist a small shot at those groups fighting for a cleaner environment.

Sarah McCoin, a Harriman, TN, resident said: "Harriman is now a toxic wasteland, and we urge that guidelines and laws are in place to make sure that this never happens again... residents are scared if they are being exposed... we are a community that hunts fishes and swims in the rivers and we need to be ensured that it is safe to be in the river... Harriman is home to people who rely on the fish for their meals... too many residents are experiencing respiratory problems... we desperately need to have testing for our community to find out if our children are being poisoned…we have been neglected. There are people who have been satisfied but there are many are not."

Strong words from someone who is living in and near this tragedy. Committee is on a break now for a floor vote. More to come later.

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About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.