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.
The Latest On: Congress
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.
On Wednesday, Congressman John Shadegg (R-Arizona) attacked Earthjustice in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, and called on Congress to prevent environmental organizations from suing to prevent expansive offshore oil drilling. Here is the response from Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen.
Six years after the head of the Environmental Protection Agency resigned because of political interference, almost every EPA employee is begging the current administrator to quit—as in, quit letting politics drive agency decisions.
The stimulus package has pretty much disappeared from the front pages with Super Tuesday upon us and the New York Giants pulling off the greatest upset since David smote Goliath. But, in case you missed it, the suggestion we echoed last week that this moment offers a rare chance to get some green projects going quickly is being trumpeted in the Senate. The House has already passed a single-purpose show-me-the-money bill that would give most of us a few hundred bucks to stimulate with. The Senate Finance Committee, meanwhile, has approved a bill that includes cash for us taxpayers but also would provide some $5.5 billion in renewable energy tax credits, energy bonds, and other encouragements to renewables and energy efficiency. Here's what like-minded groups think about it. And a recent study by the Blue-Green Alliance, a Sierra Club-United Steelworkers project, suggests that such federal encouragements could create upwards of 820,000 new jobs to boot. The President will scorn this approach no doubt, but it'll be interesting to see whether the Senators hold firm. This really is one of those historic opportunities, or so it seems to us—a chance to make concrete the argument that combating global warming offers great economic opportunities.
This town is obsessed with the coming election. I guess most everyone is, but here, not surprisingly, it's topics A, B, and C. Every conversation I had quickly turned to the primaries, and there was no consensus about what would or should happen. At the gift shop at my hotel you could buy buttons and bumper stickers for Obama, Clinton, Romney, McCain, and all the rest, including those who have called it quits. Collectors' items someday, perhaps. In my experience, however, campaign trinkets like that are passed out free gratis for nothing.