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The Attack on the Environment Must Stop

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Since Republicans gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 2010 elections, the body has waged the single worst legislative assault in history against the foundational safeguards we all depend on to protect our environment and health.

In little more than a year, the GOP-led House has voted more than 200 times to undermine existing protections or to weaken, delay or block new measures we need to defend clean air, waters, wildlife and lands.

In lopsided votes before committees and on the full floor of the House, Republicans have been joined by a handful of Democrats, mostly from fossil fuel producing states, to sustain this relentless and reckless campaign.

The votes have targeted foundational protections like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, created over the past four decades by Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress.

They've gone after needed public investment in energy efficiency and the renewable power technologies of tomorrow, including support for programs set up by President George W. Bush to promote American innovation.

They've undermined the Environmental Protection Agency, created by Richard Nixon, and its authority to hold polluters to account.

And they've threatened iconic places from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Appalachian Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay, turning away from the national wildlife and preservation legacy first enshrined more than a century ago by President Theodore Roosevelt.

All that stands between the nation and the dark vision behind these destructive votes is a Senate that has voted down or so far ignored the worst impulses of the House.

The
effort to eviscerate our environmental safety net is not about jobs, as its proponents claim. It's about putting polluter profits first -- and putting the rest of us at risk.

Government regulations of all kinds account for less than 1 percent of all large layoffs, according to exhaustive data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Decades of experience make clear that our economy has been strengthened by efforts to keep our workers healthy and our environment clean. And investing in renewable power and the next generation of energy-efficient cars, homes and workplaces is helping to put Americans back to work while reducing our reliance on foreign oil.

These goals don't divide us by party; they unite us as a nation.

That explains why the American people didn't ask for this unconscionable assault, but someone else did: the fossil fuel industry and other top-line polluters that spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year lobbying our officials in Washington and bankrolling the campaign war chests of any candidate willing to carry a smokestack agenda up on Capitol Hill.

These corporate polluters have the right to be heard. The rest of us have an obligation to speak up for ourselves about what's best for the country. Eight in ten Americans want our environmental safeguards strengthened or left alone, according to a February Pew Research Center poll. We need to stand up and say so.

We've come a long way since the first Earth Day in 1970, but our job's not done. Not when a copper mine in Alaska can still threaten one of the world's great salmon grounds. Not when a renegade oil well can still put the Gulf of Mexico at risk. Not when communities across the country are terrified by hydraulic fracturing. Not when thousands of our children suffer from asthma aggravated by air pollution. And not when the ravages of climate change reach deeper into our lives every day.

Neither political party can empower this country to address these challenges alone.

Safeguarding our future is bipartisan work, as leaders from both parties have long understood.

We can debate how best to do that, just as we have in the past. But this is no time to turn our backs on four decades of environmental progress made by Republicans and Democrats alike, working together, when leaders of vision and courage from both parties stood up for nature and put into place the responsible public oversights we all depend on to protect our environment and health. It's time, instead, to honor that shared legacy, make good on the debt we owe to our children and rebuild the bipartisan majority for our environment.

Bob Deans, of the NRDC Action Fund, is the author of Reckless: The Political Assault on the American Environment.

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