12/28/2011 11:07 am ET Updated Feb 27, 2012

Who Are the Extremists?

Most contemporary Republican politicians reflexively denounce as "environmental extremists" any group of individuals who aggressively crusades for stricter anti-pollution regulations and a crash program to slow global warming.

Hence, it's no surprise that GOP lawmakers routinely characterize the opponents of the ecologically controversial Keystone XL tar sand oil pipeline as "radical, anti-energy environmentalists." The sad truth is that in the Republicans' "green" lexicon, the epithet "extremist" usually applies to those who cite health benefits in support of tough environmental laws that the GOP opposes at the behest of powerful business interests.

A year ago, the proposed 1711-mile Keystone pipeline from Canada to our Gulf Coast refineries was a mere blip on the radar screens of many House GOP members. Suddenly, the project has become a major cause célèbre, supposedly indispensable for its job creation and energy production potential.

Let's face it. The proposed project is not really about jobs (the numbers have been greatly inflated and most are short term). Nor is it really about energy. Most of the Canadian crude would be shipped overseas from our Gulf Coast refineries. Even worse, the tar sand oil is an extremely dirty fossil fuel that would pose major air and water pollution threats to the mid section of our country and delay our inevitable transition to clean, renewable energy.

What the pipeline is really about is the House Republican majority's ideologically-driven vendetta to damage President Obama's reelection chances. In this case, they have drafted legislation pressuring the president to make an early decision on the pipeline, a decision that is bound to antagonize some of his core constituencies no matter what option he chooses.

You want to know the real "environmental extremists"? A well-documented report prepared for some Democratic House members provides the answer, and it is an eyeful. This survey of Capitol Hill statistics reveals that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in 2011 registered the worst environmental record in the history of Congress.

The House averaged more than one anti-environmental vote (191) for every day (165) it met in session during the year. Indeed, one out of every four votes the Republican majority bulldozed through the House was an assault on environmental regulation. Several important anti-environmental bills were railroaded to passage without any hearings, markup, and little more than perfunctory debate on the House floor. Among the most egregious actions were 27 votes to block the federal government efforts to address global warming and 77 to relax in one variation or another Clean Air Act safeguards.

The good news is that most of these initiatives were mercifully quashed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Nevertheless, the barrage of ad hominem invective heaped on environmental activists continues unabated and is not the Republicans' cruelest swipe at the "Green" movement. That is reserved for Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell who declared during open debate that he couldn't imagine why anyone would call the Keystone Pipeline "controversial."